The life of Gordon Gill is one that is begins on a trapline in northern Alberta and makes its way through Hay River, eventually turning into one of entrepreneurial success.

Gill’s life has now been turned into a book authored by someone who has known him for approximately 50 years — with some help from Gill’s family.

A Métis Man’s Dream: From Traplines to Tugboats in Canada’s North tells the story of Gill making his way to Hay River to work as a cook’s helper on a tugboat at the age of 15 and eventually going on to found two successful companies: Northern Arc Shipbuilders and Northern Crane Services, which is now known as NCSG Crane and Heavy Haul Services.

Neil Gower, a retired lawyer now living in Edmonton, has written A Metis Man’s Dream: From Traplines to Tugboats in Canada’s North, a story about the life of Gordon Gill. Photo courtesy of Neil Gower

Neil Gower is the author of the book and said he first heard of Gill when he worked during summer seasons for NTCL in the 1970s.

Gower would end up practicing in Hay River as a Legal Aid lawyer in the mid-1970s and began performing legal work for Gill’s companies in the 1990s. He became Gill’s personal lawyer around the time when Gill sold NCSG and remained Gill’s attorney until he retired from practice in 2016.

Gower said while he knew about Gill’s story in general, there were some things he didn’t know until he began writing.

“A lot of that history are firsts and lasts, which are detailed in the book,” he said. “Many were because of Gordon’s skill, ingenuity, and business sense (and) some were just happenstance.”

The book tells of how Gill was the engineer on the first tug to take drill rigs and pipe into the Alaska oil fields and being the last engineer on the last wooden tug boat to operate as part of the major marine transport links in the North. He was also the engineer on the final journey of The Radium King, the former NTCL flagship.

Gill would also have a short-throw tugboat named after him, the MT Gordon Gill, in 1982.

“But the big stuff were things like founding the first Indigenous shipbuilder in the North, building the most Northern ferry in Canada, building the first island drilling barge on the Mackenzie River, the first modern gold dredge in the NWT, and the first drilling platform barge in the Beaufort Sea,” said Gower.

Gill himself had significant input on the content, he added, with plenty of help from Marvelle Kobbert, his niece.

“One of our methods for writing the book was that I would ask Gordon questions and then follow up with a memo of things I wanted him to talk about,” he said. “Marvelle would take Gordon’s answers and type them into a number of emails. She and I would talk about what was appropriate, what was a joke, what was the real meaning – those kinds of things.”

Gower said Kobbert provided both historical and family context and helped dig up family photos with her brother.

He said the book could not have been completed without their help.

“They also gave me lessons in humility and Métis issues, and the sense of what it was like to grow up Métis, in northern Alberta, and in the NWT,” he said.

Kobbert provided a review of the manuscript and said she loved it.

“You have gotten his story written that I was so scared was going to be lost,” she wrote. “I do believe being Métis, we were raised not to boast or talk about our accomplishments. I’m not sure why – maybe it has to do with a tribe mentality where everyone worked together and it was a combined contribution and not just one person that made the world go around back in those days. Either way, Gordon’s story is not forgotten and lost now.”

The book is now available at several locations in the NWT and Alberta. In Hay River, both the black-and-white and deluxe colourized versions of the book can be purchased at the Hay River Museum or the Hay River Visitors Centre.

Gower said he’s also donated copies of the book to the museum, NWT Archives, the Hay River Centennial Library and has offered a copy to the Northern Life Museum in Fort Smith.

Proceeds from the sales of the deluxe colourized version will be donated to charities involved in literacy improvement and Métis betterment, said Gower.

One of those charities receiving a portion is United for Literacy (U4L), of which Gower is a member of the board of directors. The Hay River Métis Governing Council and NWT Métis Association will also receive a share and Gower said he and Gill are asking the Métis Nation of Alberta for programs that might benefit Métis youth in northern Alberta. In particular, the Peace River/Mackenzie District area where Gordon spent his first 15 years.

Gower hosted a book signing at Indigo South Edmonton on April 15, where he said he spoke with a number of former and current NWT residents about the book.

He said he hopes to be able to come North and have a book signing as soon as he can.

Join the Conversation


Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.

  1. As a Metis and a Survivor , I would appreciate if I may purchase this book for it shows the resilience of Métis .I starten our Métis community in 1996 and would appreciate putting this book ( after I read it ) in our library and to use during story time .
    Respectfully Marie Bercier

  2. I knew Gordon and Trina Gill when we lived in Hay River in 1969-1974. I would love to purchase a copy of this book to give to my e husband Verne MacRoberts. If this is the same Gordon Gill I know he would remember us. We had such good times together. Where can I order book from?

  3. My uncle Ambrose lived and fished all his life in Hay River, Fort Chip and lake Athabaska ..
    I can image its a hard life making a living on fishing..