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Important Figures

Fred Neegan

The municipal logo represents Mr. Frederick Neegan, paddling "his" river. Below, we’ve let one of his good friends describe this great character, whom many refer to as the "Guardian of the Missinaibi."

Guardian of the Missinaibi

Speech delivered by Marc Johnson in June 2016, when the University of Hearst granted an Honourary  Doctorate to Mr. Fred Neegan during its annual convocation. Mr. Neegan passed away on June 8th, 2018.

Fred Neegan was born Frederick Peter Neegan to an Ojibway father (Andrew) and a Cree mother (Frances née Sagabuckscum) on May 16th, 1931. As was the case with his other 11 brothers and sisters, he was born in the bush along the banks of the Missinaibi River, north of  Mattice, where his family spent most of their time hunting and trapping. Until the age of five, Fred lived out on the land where food was rarely scarce, and they  lived a traditional First Nations lifestyle.

Fred unfortunately became part of the sad legacy of the Residential School System, or "jail" as he often refers to it, in 1936, when upon turning five when he was forced to attend St. John's Anglican Residential School in Chapleau. There for 12 years he remained until he was 17, never seeing his family during the summer months when school was out, as the family did not have the money for train fare back to Hearst. For anyone who knows Fred, all the injustices and  sadness of this experience does not show in the personality of the man that he is today. And  while he cannot forgive the loss of his Native language that he was forbidden to speak during his internment , it is his gentle soft-spoken and easy-going nature that defines him.

Upon returning back to his home in Mattice in 1948, Fred worked many different jobs when he wasn't trapping with his family. Everything from staking mining claims in Fort McMurray and White River to manning a fire tower near the town of Missinabie. For many winters, he also drove the snow plow for the Hearst detachment of the Ministry of Transportation.

But it is the love and ability to share his knowledge of the Missinaibi River he has spent his  life on, as well as the traditions of his First Nations culture, that are the true measure of  Frederick Neegan. His teachings are wrapped in the details of his many stories, not speeches. And his classroom is not within the four walls of a college or university, but out in the school of the great outdoors, where you will find him still at the age of 84. It is not every man that was destined to be a teacher. Just as it is not every man's desire to be one. But sometimes the love to share your wealth of knowledge in a way that those around you can understand it and respect you greatly for it becomes your destiny without you even knowing  it. That I think is the path Fred Neegan is on, and we are all so much the better for it. Recognizing him with this honourary degree is such a great way to show it, and I can't think  of a man that deserves it more than him.

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Fred - Leafs & Jays.jpg
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