By Stephen Hendrie
At 4:10 pm on Tuesday, May 11, I received a text from Taqralik Partridge letting me know Bob Mesher had died the previous day. She apologized for texting the news so bluntly. It was a total shock. He was a very special person, sensitive, with incredible talent. She texted, “aalummi,” a term of endearment said to loved ones, as a way to console, to express kind sadness.
Later that evening Lisa Watt sent messages on LinkedIn, expressing grief at Bob’s passing, noting she was glad she went to visit him a few summers ago in Goose Bay. Lorraine Brooke sent an email commiserating about the tragedy. And that’s how it is in the North. News spreads quickly. Bob worked at this magazine for over 20 years.
He was first hired at Makivvik in 1993 as an Associate Editor of Makivvik News. In 1995 Bob was promoted to the position of Editor, and also produced Makivvik’s Annual Report and calendars until he left Makivvik in 2017.
Bob published over 80 editions of the magazine during that time. The job was very much a labour of love. He would talk about what it was like to write articles for the magazine. “I’ve got the story in my head, I just have to transfer it to the computer,” he would joke.
As editor, he would write many of the articles, commission texts from freelancers, take most of the photos, and source others, track down countless facts, names, places, and dates. In the early years he would do the layout on Apple desktop computers, sending English texts to translators via dial-up modem for translation. He put in endless hours beyond the call of duty.
Bob was from a large family, one of 11 brothers and three sisters. The listing on the Fillatre’s Funeral Home’s website in Goose Bay noted that he will be sadly missed by family and friends, which include his son; Robert (Rocky), mother; Dorothy Sarah, his siblings, as well as a very large circle of nieces, nephews, other relatives and friends. He was predeceased by his father Victor Grenfell Mesher, his brother Stewart, and daughter Hollie.
His younger brother, Harvey Mesher, works as General Manager at Makivvik’s Kuujjuaq office and spoke to me on the morning of May 19. “He wrote a book. I was so impressed by that.” The book is a photo essay on Labrador published in 2014 by the University of Quebec Press.
“He was quite a guy. He really liked working at Makivvik, the travels involved, seeing different places, and especially working with George Berthe,” said Harvey. “Bob had people around him a lot, but at the same time he was a bit of a loner. He kept to himself. He was a very humble guy, didn’t toot his own horn. Most of us are just finding out now that he published that book of photographs about Labrador.”
Harvey also conceded that Bob had an eccentric side to him. “There were silhouettes being painted around Kuujjuaq of Elisapie, and Beatrice, and Inuit faces, anywhere, on a piece of wood on the beach, or on an electrical box on the side of the road. There has to be about 10-20 of these things around town. And I’m sure it was Bob. It was one of those things that he did at six in the morning, or four in the morning, and nobody knew about it!” Harvey asked Bob about it, and said he never confirmed nor denied he had made the art. “I am sure it was him as I know he studied art in some of his educational journey and was very secretive in his own way.”
Harvey says the family grew up in Goose Bay, Labrador. Bob and Harvey moved to Kuujjuaq in the ‘70s. Bob was about 20 and became a cook at the airport restaurant, which is now the Air Inuit staff house.
One thing about Bob, was that he set many personal goals for himself. This included education. Lisa Mesher, Bob’s niece, is Director of the Department of Post Secondary Services at Kativik Ilisarniliriniq (KI). She confirmed Bob’s degrees. He completed a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1992, a Master’s Degree in Education Technology in 2003, and a Graduate Diploma in Journalism in 2017, all from Concordia University. In 1993 he obtained a Diploma in Education from McGill University.
Jason Annahatak is a Business Development Associate at Makivvik. I spoke to him about his relationship with Bob, both professionally, and personally. “I helped him get enrolled at university when I was at the Kativik School Board managing university sponsorships,” he said.
Jason was completing a Master’s Degree in Psychological Counselling at Columbia University in New York. Bob travelled down to write a story for Makivvik Magazine, published in 2009 (Issue 88). Jason remembers it well. “Before he travelled to New York, he went to my home town of Kangirsuk and met with a few high school students. He asked them what questions they would ask me. He included the answers in the story, which was a combination photo essay and article.”
The Director of Communications for Makivvik, Carson Tagoona, hired Bob as a photographer for the Ivakkak dogsled race in 2018. He spoke about Bob’s photography. “It was very refined. We had a lot of candid photos of Inuit experiencing the event as it happened. He also called me from the trail to give me updates for our website.”
Bob’s intellectual legacy and contribution to documenting Nunavik history is established. Makivvik’s magazine and annual reports are part of Quebec’s online archives, known as BAnQ (Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec). They are at www.banq.qc.ca where Bob’s stories, photographs, and illustrations can be found, spanning close to three decades of publishing.
Many of his articles were also included in a series of books published by the International Polar Institute Press, called Voices and Images of Nunavimmiut. The 10-volume series was edited by Minnie Grey and Marianne A. Stenbaek. Bob is thanked, along with George Berthe and Pita Aatami, for enthusiastic support of the project.
In 1998, Bob also co-wrote the film script for Capturing Spirit – The Inuit Journey, with Sheila Watt-Cloutier, who was then Corporate Secretary at Makivvik, Taqralik Partridge, and Gail Richardson. The 70-minute Makivvik production was shot in Kuujjuaq, with local actors. Bob was also the creative director.
Shelia Watt-Cloutier came to know Bob when he was a post-secondary student in Montreal and she was Coordinator of Student Services. She recalled that he was an exceptional mature student and tackled everything he focused on with commitment and a commendable work ethic. She also remembered that he travelled to Bowdoin College in Maine, while she was there, to do a story on her work for Makivvik News, to be shared with all Nunavimmiut.
“That’s how Bob was, always finding ways to elevate what Nunavimmiut were doing and ensuring the stories were shared to the region. He will be missed by many with his quiet, calm and reflective demeanor. He contributed much to Nunavik and its people,” she said.
Bob was cremated and brought back to Kuujjuaq for burial on June 2.