Byron Thrasher knew the late John Wayne Kiktorak well when he was putting the final touches on the sign for the warming shelter’s namesake.
“I knew John personally,” said Thrasher, whose sign for the John Wayne Kiktorak Centre was unveiled Monday, Oct. 2.
“All my life I known that guy and it’s too bad. He was a good guy when he was alive, kind-hearted.”
His sign displays a canvas tent and wood stove in the snowy winter. Next to a fire on the right lays Kiktorak’s firefighter hat with his number, 214.
“I put his firefighter’s hat in there just to make sure they don’t forget him,” said Thrasher. “He’s willing to run into fires and saving our lives and a lot of people don’t see that. He was just that kind of guy. Help you out in any way. No matter how small he was, big-hearted.”
A horizon in the background of the sign is meant to signify better futures for those who use the shelter of last resort.
“Even though those guys that go there are down and out, there’s always a brighter future ahead,” said Thrasher. “Right now the economy’s kind of slow and there’s hardly any work around. You can’t really blame people for going there and asking for help. I just hope that everything will get better for those people over there.”
Joey Amos, manager of the centre, says the artwork encapsulates the essence of the facility.
“The origin of the sign is something that is cultural,” he said. “It’s something that we as Indigenous people have started off with many times when we needed an emergency shelter. It’s an old canvas tent with a wood stove and stove pipe sticking out and fire outside and background scenery. To us that was the perfect setting for an emergency (shelter), such as what we have here.”
The Inuvik Firefighters Association, which has donated substantial sums of money to the centre this year, helped cover the cost of the sign.
Jonathon Michel, vice-president of the association, said supporting the centre is one of the most meaningful things he’s been involved with in the firefighters association.
Fire Chief Jim Sawkins recalled when he first met Kiktorak in 2011.
“He was one of our, as I say, eager beavers,” said Sawkins. “He was the go-to person when I wanted to get something done around the fire department.”
He hopes the centre can carry on the vision that Kiktorak had, one of helping people overcome challenges, continued Sawkins.
More than two dozen people showed up for the sign unveiling, which took place on a cold, windy day, the onset of winter biting in the air.
One of those was Veronica Kiktorak, youngest sister of John.
“I thought it was pretty cool they set this up for my brother,” she said through tears. “I’m proud of that.”
She said John was a good person who liked to help people and that he would appreciate everything the centre is doing now.
“It means a lot to me,” she said. “People don’t have a place to stay, they come here. It’s nice and warm and they’ve got a roof over their head.”
The centre re-opened for winter in late September, after closing during summer due to lack of funds.