I’m starting to notice an accelerating pace of our losses among the giants of Alberta’s outdoors recreation and conservation worlds, most too soon, many the victims of myriad maladies.
Latest to pass, on Feb. 28, of mesothelioma, a rare and virulent cancer associated with asbestos, was Barry Mitchell, 67, of Red Deer. Appropriately his obituary was illustrated by the happy image of Barry that was the cover of the 2008 edition of his annual Alberta Fishing Guide.
I met Barry’s parents, George and Joan of Edmonton, at Alberta Fish and Game Association conventions, long before I ever met Barry.
In 1971, father and son founded the annual Alberta Fishing Guide. In the fifth, 1976 edition, (price $1.50) I noticed some errors in their fishing spot locations, including making my beloved Pincher Creek a tributary to the Crowsnest River instead of the Oldman, and said so in my column.
Neither George nor Barry got mad. Instead, I received a copy of the guide from George for several years with a standing invitation to point out any errors.
I cherish the copy of the 1978 guide George sent me, hand inscribed: “April 23. Thanks for the information. May a sucker never strike your fly. George Mitchell.”
In 1980, Barry and spouse, Ann, took over ownership and production of the Guide. To this day, its foundation is the painstakingly compiled accurate directions to and descriptions of nearly 1,500, basically all of the best fishing places in Alberta. Ironically, one year a competing Alberta guide came out using all the Mitchell’s listings, but making them appear original by introducing errors. Barry and counsel quickly ended that.
Barry and Ann made each year’s Guide a new and essential spring buy for thousands of Alberta anglers by including articles by many of Alberta’s best outdoors writers; over 43 years, it became the most successful such production of the dozens I’ve seen. After Barry’s diagnosis and prognosis, the Mitchells sold the Guide, and the 2014 edition was the first for the new ownership.
Barry passed on and away just at the start of what was always a busy and exciting season for him: taking delivery of the new edition, transporting them to a valued string of distributors, invoicing, collecting, etc. Among all that, somehow he’d work in a too-early fishing trip to his beloved North Raven River.
Over the years, Barry Mitchell served hard labour on the rehabilitation and maintenance of the North Raven, just one of the reasons for his 1998 induction into the Order of the Bighorn, one of Alberta’s highest conservation awards. I hope the serious current gravel pit threat to the very existence of the North Raven did not worsen Barry’s last year.
I engaged much more in hunting, maybe half a dozen trips, than fishing with Barry.
Back when I was still writing for the Guide, I enjoyed delivering my copy and pix to Barry and Ann at their nearby home in Red Deer so I could admire Barry’s trophy wall of mostly his exceptional white tail mounts. Several times in the early fall, I enjoyed watching Barry install his tree stands so high that I feel a nosebleed coming on now, just thinking about it.
In 2000, Barry lost both his parents in a motor vehicle accident. Yet, very late that year, in Safeway, he had the time, patience and compassion to hear my greatest personal hunting dilemma, and the wisdom to give me the only answer to it that made any sense to me.
The stormy morning of election day, Nov. 27, 2000, afoot and north of the dugout in an immense tract of Crown land, I was once again foiled by a Horseshoes, one of a line of huge mule deer bucks that lived there in that “cougars are rare” era. Since the first time I had seen one 30 years before, I had been cursed with bad luck and blown chances at Horseshoes.
At the gate to the pavement as I headed home to vote, there, to the right, in bright sunshine, 50 metres off, on land to which I had access, was my Horseshoes of the morning, mooning around his harem of a dozen does. I sighed, elected to shoot my lifetime trophy with a camera, and then proceeded home to vote, agonizing about my sanity all the way.
Barry heard me out and ignored the easy diagnoses others were giving me: it wasn’t really big enough to be a Horseshoes, or I didn’t want the hunt ever to end.
Then he gave me a recent personal parable of taking flak from his hunting buddies for taking a small chili buck from right under one of those high stands of his. “It was the right thing to do,” he said, “sometimes it isn’t.”
“Hell, Bob,” he said, “you knew it was the wrong thing for you to do. All those years of hard hunting would be nothing if you lucked into getting Horseshoes out by the road.”
Amen and farewell, Brother Barry.
Bob Scammell is an award-winning columnist who lives in Red Deer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.