January 24, 2016 - 8:58 AM
LA LOCHE, Sask. - La Loche is a community with roots that date back before the fur trade, but in recent years its mostly aboriginal population has faced conflict between the traditional lives of trappers and modern industries like mining.
Aboriginal peoples had traversed the area near the Saskatchewan-Alberta border for generations, according to the Encyclopedia of Saskatchewan, but it says the origins of La Loche began with the arrival of fur traders and, later, missionaries.
La Loche, which is French for burbot, a variety of freshwater cod, has struggled with unemployment since the fur trade has waned.
And now the community of about 3,000 is in the headlines for the most tragic of events — a mass shooting at a school and home that has left four dead and seven injured.
Over 90 per cent of the region's population self-identify as aboriginal, the Keewatin Yatthe Regional Health Authority said in its 2014-15 annual report.
The report also noted population in the region remained young, with 27 per cent less than 15 years of age and only seven per cent over 65.
There's one road from the south and most of the year, it's a six-hour drive to Prince Albert. A second road leads to Fort McMurray, Alta., but it crosses ice and is only available in winter.
A report from the area's health region in 2007-08 noted that the sprawling geographic region in the province's northwest had a suicide rate that was three times the Saskatchewan average.
Premier Brad Wall told a news conference on Saturday that suicide prevention programs were started for affected communities by the previous government and continued by his own.
"There's a suicide prevention initiative specifically that government has moved on since we have been witness to some very terrible numbers with respect especially youth suicides," Wall said.
"It's an ongoing effort on the part of government and the communities themselves."
Companies drilling for minerals, oil or uranium represent hope for some in the community. But others, such as the Northern Trappers Alliance, feel industrial activities have degraded the land and water and animal populations are decreasing.
In late 2014, the group blockaded a gravel road near La Loche to stop vehicles from exploration companies from passing. Tensions rose between those who supported development and those who don't.
Candyce Paul, a spokeswoman for the trappers, said they "don't want any more toxic development."
But Georgina Jolibois, who was mayor of La Loche at the time and is now the area's MP, reacted to the blockade by saying that companies tried to accommodate trappers. She noted that she, herself, grew up on the trap lines and didn't think there was much support for the group's actions.
The remoteness brings challenges. But it can also bring people closer together, and the school that was the scene of two of the four shooting deaths on Friday was a centre of La Loche activity.
The school's Facebook page includes posts about the Grade 1 ski club, a student-made, Star Wars-themed bulletin board for a family reading picnic, and a graduate who's been featured on the Saskatchewan Polytechnic website.
"Our entire school and school division community are in shock and in mourning after the tragic events in La Loche," the Northern Lights School Division posted on the Facebook page following Friday's tragedy.
"Our hearts are broken for each of the victims and their families and for all the students and staff at the La Loche Community School."
Here's a look at those who died:
Marie Jaqueline Janvier
The 21-year-old began working at the school in La Loche this school year as a teacher's aid. Friend Ashton Lemaigre says she loved her new job. She was kind and patient with children and talked about getting her teaching degree someday. Deegan Park, her boyfriend of three years, said he would have given up the rest of his life just to spend another year with her. "I grew up not a good guy, but she turned me right," Park said. "She was that much of a great person to turn me right from all the wrongdoings I used to do ... She was a fantastic person."
The 35-year-old started his teaching career in September in La Loche. "Adam was quite an adventurer, had a passion for life, and would often make you laugh until your stomach hurt. He was always up for a good challenge and lived each day joyously," his family, which lives in Uxbridge, Ont., said in a statement. Wood had previously worked with youth at an urban farm in Thunder Bay, Ont. "There are some people out there that hold a light. Adam was one of them," the group member said on its Facebook page. "I think about the darkness that came over the school in the moments before his death. And then I think about his light… how he would have offered that to everyone around him, and how, maybe, that would have made that horrible situation somehow a little bit easier for the people near him who survived."
Police say the 17-year-old was killed at a home before the shooting at the school. His friend Brittney Lemaigre remembered him as a caring person. "I just started to know Dayne a couple weeks ago, I felt like I've known him a life time." Lemaigre wrote in a Facebook conversation with The Canadian Press. "He was such a caring person, so thoughtful ... He had a heart of gold. Made anyone around him laugh. His time on Earth is cut too short."
Police say the 13-year-old was found dead in the same home as Dayne. The mother to both boys, Alicia Fontaine, posted about her grief on Facebook. "My heart shattered into a million pieces," she wrote. "So sad I don't have no more babies." Loren Lemaigre, calling himself a family friend, posted on Facebook: "So young and for nothing."
News from © The Canadian Press, 2016