Yukon mourns passing of Alex Van Bibber

The Yukon lost a legend this week. Alex Van Bibber passed away Wednesday at the age of 98 in a Calgary hospital, surrounded by dozens of friends and family members.

The Yukon lost a legend this week.

Alex Van Bibber passed away Wednesday at the age of 98 in a Calgary hospital, surrounded by dozens of friends and family members.

Van Bibber is remembered for his contributions to hunting and trapping in the territory and his larger-than-life personality.

He was one of Canada’s oldest living aboriginal veterans of World War II, and received the Order of Canada in 1992.

Harvey Jessup was a close friend to Van Bibber for decades. He visited with Van Bibber on his last days.

“We all got word, through his brother, that he was not doing well, and so I made up my mind to go and see him. I was surprised – although I shouldn’t have been – when I got on the plane, oh my goodness well over 20 people from Champagne were also on the plane.”

Van Bibber was telling stories, right till the end.

He told Jessup about the time he snowshoed from Mayo to Norman Wells, pushing a U.S. Army engineer ahead of him on a dog sled.

“At one point he closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep and I thought that was it, and 10 minutes later he opened his eyes and said, ‘560 miles,’” Jessup said, laughing.

“In his mind, he was still thinking about it, I guess.”

The doctor said he had never seen so many people come for a single patient, said Jessup.

Near the end, the doctor called a meeting with the family.

“Before he got started, he said, ‘Unfortunately I can’t give you good news, but before I get there, I’d love to hear some stories.’”

Many Yukoners remember Van Bibber for his stories.

Jessup and Van Bibber travelled across the Yukon together teaching trapping skills to adults and children.

“There’s lots of elders that have experience like Alex and could probably tell the same sort of stories, but what Alex had, I think, was charm. He loved to tell a good story,” said Jessup.

“I just remember him talking in front of classrooms and he was very animated and he would set the trap and everybody would step back because they were so afraid of this big trap. And then while his arms were waving around and everyone was gasping, he would accidentally – well, I put quotations around that – he would ‘accidentally’ put his hand in the trap.

“And it would go off, and you could see the whole classroom jump. I always liked his expression, he says, ‘Well, there, now you’re caught in your own trap,’ he says. He says, ‘You can’t go home to wife because she’ll just laugh at you.’ So he says, ‘You have to get out.’ Safety, bush survival, was important to him.”

Like all of us, he learned from experience.

“If he buggered up, he would incorporate that story. He wasn’t afraid to tell students where he made mistakes,” said Jessup.

One time back in the day Van Bibber was out trapping by dog sled, being careful not to step off the sled and leave a scent, said Jessup. But right after laying a trap, he ran into some trouble.

“Before he could even pick up his gee-line his dogs took off and over he went, and he sat right in his own trap. It caught everything except his skin, he says. It caught his winter outerwear right down to his underwear. And he had to get completely undressed to get the trap off.

“If you ask him his longevity, how come he lasted as long as he did, he said you work hard, and you play hard. And get outdoors, he said. Get outdoors. Get a healthy life.”

Van Bibber was one of 14 children born to Eliza and Ira Van Bibber.

He celebrated his 65th anniversary with Sue Van Bibber before she passed away at the age of 99 in 2011.

Van Bibber is survived by four brothers and sisters and more than 150 children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and great great grandchildren.

A funeral service will be held Saturday, Dec. 6 at 2 p.m. in Champagne. The family has asked for donations to the Yukon Fish & Game Association’s outdoor education camps, in lieu of flowers.

Contact Jacqueline Ronson at

jronson@yukon-news.com

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