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Arts

First female NWT guide shares ‘inspiring’ story in new book

Last modified: June 24, 2021 at 2:08pm


In 1978, 23-year-old Susan Chaffee started working as a guide at Arctic Star Lodge, a remote fishing lodge in the East Arm of Great Slave Lake. 

And this year, with support from the Literacy Outreach Centre in Yellowknife, Chaffee wrote and self-published a book of stories about her time at the lodge called Happy Thoughts of Arctic Star Lodge.

Each page features a photo from Chaffee’s time at Arctic Star Lodge and is written to be accessible for all reading levels.

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The Literacy Outreach Centre, made possible through a partnership between Inclusion NWT and Aurora College, offers free and accessible literacy programs for adults, seniors, and young families.

‘I wanted to go on the lake so bad’

Finding herself in the role of a fishing guide wasn’t all smooth sailing. 

Chaffee visited Arctic Star Lodge a few years earlier to work as a dishwasher and “laundry girl” —  and quickly fell in love with the place. 

“When I seen that land I cried. It was so beautiful. I couldn’t believe it. I just looked around and I fell in love with it. And I wanted to go on the lake so bad, so fast. I couldn’t wait,” she said. 

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When Chaffee returned a few years later, she wanted to be a guide “more than anything in the world.” But no one had the time to teach her how to drive a boat. 

“I was fooling around with a motor and it didn’t work. So I went to the dock and I sat there and I started crying because nobody would help me,” Chaffee said. 

Luckily, a man named Al Simon offered to support her dream. 

Chaffee said he told her, “’You’re going to be the number one guide and you’re gonna know the lake, inside out, like the palm of your hand.’”

From there, Chaffee worked as a guide at the fishing lodge for several decades until she gave birth. 

The cover of Susan Chaffee’s new book, Happy Thoughts of Arctic Star Lodge, that tells the story of her time as the first female guide in the NWT. Photo: Submitted.

Author never expected to write a book

During the book launch on Wednesday, hosted by the Literacy Outreach Centre, the first-time author said she never expected to write a book. 

Thomas Gagnon–van Leeuwen, Chaffee’s literacy instructor at the Literacy Outreach Centre, said “when she came to the program, one of the first things she told me was, she was the first female guide in the Northwest Territories. So I thought there must be a lot of stories behind that.”

Gagnon–van Leeuwen asked Chaffee if she would like to turn her stories into a book and she agreed.

Literacy Coordinator Xiaoyi Yan, Literacy Instructor Thomas Gagnon-van Leeuwen, author Susan Chaffee, and Smart Communities Intern Quinn Sanders at the book launch. Photo: Submitted

Over the course of a few months last summer, the Literacy Outreach Centre team helped Chaffee digitize her photos and write the story. 

“She decided to self-publish it, to share it with other adult learners, because it’s actually quite challenging to find material for adult learners who are beginner readers to read at an accessible level,” said Gagnon–van Leeuwen. 

Gagnon–van Leeuwen said the plan is to distribute copies of the book to other adult literacy programs across the NWT and country that “would really benefit from a really engaging, easy to read, northern story — which is really rare to have in these adult literacy programs.”

“People, especially here in the North in Denendeh, they have such great stories from their life. So this was a way for her to share her really inspiring story of being a guide in the East Arm in the 70s.”

Chaffee offered some advice to others that might like to turn their own life stories into print. 

“Don’t be shy and don’t be scared to try anything. You always can ask for help,” she said. 

As for what she hopes readers will take away from the story, Chaffee said, “Just enjoy it. That’s all I can say. Just enjoy it like I did.”

Physical copies of the book are available for purchase and a digital copy is available for anyone to read online

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