Umingmack: inspiration from a life lived

Stuart Hodgson speaks with an Inuit mother and daughter

Stuart Hodgson speaks with an Inuit mother and daughter at Grise Fiord on Ellesmere Island, Nunavut.

Lt(N) Gwil Roberts, HMCS Discovery ~

A memorial service was held for a Canadian legend, Stuart M. Hodgson at HMCS Discovery in Vancouver Jan. 14.

Hodgson was grandfather to Able Seaman Evan Hodgson, a naval reservist.

The large gathering of family, friends, dignitaries, colleagues, military and RCMP members was an opportunity to commemorate the man who believed so strongly in one ideal: service to Canada.

While best known for his time as the Commissioner of the Northwest Territories (1967-1979); Hodgson also served as the Chairman of B.C. Transit and B.C. Ferries, and was a citizenship judge, and before all those careers, a sailor in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN).

He was born in east Vancouver in 1924. He dropped out of high school to work as a labourer in a local plywood mill. In 1942, at the age of 17, he joined the navy, much to the dismay of his Quaker father, but to the delight of his Anglican mother. Recruited at HMCS Discovery, Stuart was trained as a naval gunner and sent to Northern Ireland for convoy duty on board HMCS Monnow, which included the harrowing and bitterly cold Murmansk run.

“It was there that he got a taste for the Arctic air,” quipped the Honourable Suzanne Anton, Attorney General and Minister of Justice for British Columbia.

The Monnow was credited with sinking a German U-boat and Hodgson’s gunner crew downed a German Junkers Ju 88 aircraft. That action and the ensuing death of a German survivor would affect Hodgson for decades to come.

Discharged at Discovery as a Petty Officer in 1945, he returned to work at a south Vancouver plywood mill.

“The navy set the course for the rest of his life,” said Commodore Marta Mulkins, Commander of the Naval Reserve.

“He joined as a boy and left as a man,” added Eugene Hodgson, Stuart’s son.

Hodgson later became financial secretary of local 1-217 of the International Woodworkers of America, and fought hard for workers’ rights in B.C. for 16 years.

In 1964, he was called upon by Prime Minister Lester Pearson to be the next Commissioner of the North West Territories. Hodgson lamented that he knew nothing about government. “That’s why I’m sending you,” Pearson famously replied.

For the following 12 years, Hodgson transformed the north and overcame mammoth obstacles. He was a great communicator who listened and genuinely cared about the people around him, and gradually earned the respect of the northern community people. Hodgson’s imposing figure, determination and forthright approach earned him the Inuit name “Umingmak” or muskox.

“He planted flags, built cairns, and looked for the Franklin expedition before it was fashionable,” recalled Eugene.

He was appointed to the Order of Canada and received dozens of awards and accolades over his life. He finally retired to Richmond, B.C., where he entertained his grandkids. In 2014, his grandson, Able Seaman Evan Hodgson, joined the RCN as a member at HMCS Discovery, carrying on the family’s naval tradition.

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