In Dawson City, Jack Fraser was known, he was respected and he had status.
Fraser was a trapper. He passed away earlier this month, and like his peers before him, he leaves a significant hole in Dawson as well as in Yukon’s trapping community.
I met Fraser more than 30 years ago. As a young wildlife manager with the game branch, I quickly learned Yukon’s trapping community had leaders in every town in the territory. People you wanted onside if you hoped to get local support for programs and/or regulations.
Fraser was the go-to person in Dawson City. That doesn’t mean he was always in agreement. You still had to do your homework. He had zero tolerance for poorly supported theories.
Fraser had a wealth of information on wildlife in the Klondike region. He kept detailed records of his observations on the land, of the animals he caught, tracks he encountered and weather conditions at the time. Keeping a written record is not uncommon for trappers, but Fraser is the only Yukon trapper I know who organized his observations and presented his theories on furbearer population cycles to a very appreciative gathering of professional biologists at an international wildlife symposium. From the reception he received, there was no doubting the value of local knowledge of a lifetime spent on the land.
Fraser was very much aware of his responsibility, and that of his profession, for animal welfare. He cared. He embraced new technology. He encouraged training, not only for new trappers, but for veterans as well.
And with the respect he had, he could fill a community meeting with trappers, even the skeptics. He knew the world was watching, and he knew he had every reason to be proud.
Fraser was also a placer miner, but, first and foremost, he was a father and grandfather. Nothing pleased him more than to have his family involved in the lifestyle he loved. Combining his trapline with that of his wife’s, Fraser convinced government to establish the first family group trapline, a designation historically reserved for First Nation communities. Each and every member of the family was a member of this new group trapline, and they couldn’t have had a better teacher and spokesperson.
One of Fraser’s legacies is the Dawson City Fur Show held every two years. Fraser wanted an occasion for trappers to get together, share stories and trade secrets and engage in a little friendly competition.
He also wanted an opportunity for people, perhaps less familiar with trapping, to experience, firsthand, something of Canada’s founding industry, and the dedication and pride of the folks who are still very much engaged. It is a much anticipated event by trappers and nontrappers alike.
I know Fraser will be on the minds of the organizers and attendees of the fur show, scheduled for March 26 this year.
I regret I can’t be there in person, but I will be there in spirit. Change is inevitable, and not all of it is bad, but I am saddened nonetheless by the passage of a time and era defined by people like Fraser.