On Thursday, Doreen Wedzin-Brazeau discovered an Elder in her home community of Behchokǫ̀ had been living for a month without a fully functional furnace.
The same day, a technician from Polar Ice Mechnical – the company she co-owns with her husband – was able to fix the furnace, free of charge.
First reported by CBC, Adele Camile’s furnace at the home she owns in Behchokǫ̀ hadn’t been working properly for weeks. Temperatures in the region have lingered below -30C for days.
Getting by with temporary solutions like a block heater, pellet stove, and neighbours leaving wood outside her door, Camile told the broadcaster she was afraid – and turning to the local housing authority hadn’t yielded results.
Wedzin-Brazeau, who is Tłı̨chǫ and from Behchokǫ̀, said she read the story on Facebook and made plans to help Camile.
“I wasn’t looking for a big headline or social media, we did it out of our own heart,” she said. “They’re like your grandma. I know Adele.”
Polar Ice Mechanical is an Indigenous-owned company, Wedzin-Brazeau said, co-owned by herself and husband Victor Brazeau, who is Métis. The four-year-old company employs four staff and is based in Yellowknife’s Kam Lake.
Wedzin-Brazeau said she moved other clients to later times to assess Camile’s issue and then fix the furnace free of charge. The work would usually cost $400 to $500 and take two to three hours, depending on what shape the furnace is in, she said.
Wedzin-Brazeau said Camile told her: “Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.” (Reached on Friday by Cabin Radio, Camile indicated she was not able to conduct an interview in English. The CBC, which employs dedicated Indigenous-language broadcasters, interviewed her in Tłı̨chǫ.)
‘They don’t have money’
Camile is not alone in needing help having crucial household appliances fixed, according to Wedzin-Brazeau, who said issues with Elders’ furnaces in Behchokǫ̀ keep cropping up.
She suspects most furnaces in the community are old and some haven’t been recently inspected, or others have been looked at by unqualified people.
Doreen Wedzin-Brazeau, pictured in a submitted image, co-owns Polar Ice Mechanical with her husband, Victor.
Meanwhile, the cost of replacing old equipment could run from $2,400 for a new, high-quality stove to $4,000 or more for a new furnace. Wedzin-Brazeau said once you add that to the cost of heating a home, purchasing food, and providing for other necessities, new furnaces are often out of reach for Elders on a limited pension.
“There are a lot of Elders out there that have their own house. It has become an issue because they don’t have money, they’re only surviving with their pension,” Wedzin-Brazeau said. She feels a program is needed for Elders who are dealing with similar issues.
To prove her point, Wedzin-Brazeau said, another Elder has already called the company on the back of its work to repair Camile’s furnace. This Elder says he is having issues with his furnace and hot water tank, which have not been serviced for a year.