North Is­land fish­er­man spent his life on the sea

Times Colonist - - Remembering - JEFF LEE

VAN­COU­VER — For al­most all his life, Pat Al­fred had fished. A de­scen­dant of the blue-blood na­tive fish­er­men who had made Alert Bay fa­mous, he’d rid­den the in­dus­try from its apogee, when salmon and her­ring seemed lim­it­less, to the bot­tom when fish stocks de­clined and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment bought back com­mer­cial fish­ing li­cences.

Al­fred, who died when a fish­boat cap­sized in a storm Mon­day night, had been on fish­boats for nearly 60 of his 70 years.

He started out on his fa­ther Ge­orge Al­fred’s seiner when he was just into his teens. He skip­pered his own seiner, the Pa­cific Lad No. 1, for years. When he gave it up, he con­tin­ued to help friends and rel­a­tives when­ever the in­creas­ingly scarce her­ring and salmon sea­sons would briefly open.

Of late, his wife Pauline — who had cooked on the Pa­cific Lad for years — had talked with friends about want­ing him to tie up for good. Pat had tried it once be­fore, for a few years, but al­ways ached to be back on the boats.

Last week, Pat signed on to help Chris Cook, an­other Alert Bay fish­er­man, crew the 23me­tre seiner Westisle dur­ing a short food her­ring fish­ery near Gabri­ola Is­land. All but one of the six-man crew were from Alert Bay, and were by ex­ten­sion all re­lated to one an­other. On board were Cook’s son Dempsey and deck­hand Arthur Hunt, and two oth­ers.

On Mon­day, as they ap­proached Py­lades Chan­nel, a storm front ap­proached B.C., bring­ing with it gale-force winds and blind­ing snow. But for a sturdy ves­sel like the steel-hulled Westisle in the hands of sea­soned fish­er­men, the wors­en­ing weather would have meant lit­tle, es­pe­cially in the rel­a­tively pro­tected chan­nel.

Still, the trip wor­ried Pauline. As re­cently as Sun­day, when she at­tended a rel­a­tive’s funeral at Gil­ford Is­land, she con­fided to life­long fam­ily friend Bob Joseph that she wor­ried that Pat was get­ting too old to fish and might have an ac­ci­dent.

“She was up­set that he still wanted to be out on the wa­ter,” Joseph said. “She thought it was time for him to stop fish­ing.”

On Mon­day night, as the storm bat­tered the coast, whip­ping up waves and cre­at­ing white-out con­di­tions, Pauline’s prophecy came true.

“It’s sort of a prophetic end,” Joseph said of his friend. “There was no deny­ing his pas­sion for the sea. He was pas­sion­ate about life, about fish­ing. It was what he liked to do.”

But Al­fred was also more than just a fish­er­man. For 12 years he was the chief coun­cil­lor of the Namgis First Na­tion, and was also deeply in­volved in the pol­i­tics of fish, First Na­tions and com­mu­nity de­vel­op­ment. The Al­fred fam­ily has a large foot­print in Alert Bay, home to 800 band mem­bers.

“Pat was born and raised in Alert Bay, and he was ac­tive in pro­mot­ing fish­ing rights of First Na­tions up and down the coast,” said Namgis Chief Bill Cran­mer. “Fish­ing was his life, but so was his com­mu­nity and his fam­ily.”

Cran­mer said Alert Bay will now be­gin to pre­pare for funeral on the week­end, and at a later date will hold a me­mo­rial pot­latch.

The last time Joseph spoke to Pat was a few days be­fore the trip.

“We talked about fish stocks, about op­por­tu­ni­ties for youth, about the lives that need to be im­proved. He was a man full of en­ergy and life, and he was an in­spi­ra­tion to me.”

Pewi Al­fred, Pat’s grand­daugh­ter, said he was a re­mark­able man who was de­voted to his seven chil­dren and seven grand­chil­dren.

“He would call us up ev­ery day and tell us he loves us,” she said. “I will miss that very much.”

Pa­trick Al­fred with his bride Pauline at their wed­ding. Al­fred died af­ter the Westisle, the her­ring seiner on which he was work­ing, cap­sized in Py­lades Chan­nel Mon­day.

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