On what would have been Victor Thunderchild’s 56th birthday, Carlton Comprehensive High School paid tribute to the late educator, and also received a gift from his family and Thunderchild First Nation in honour of his memory.
Thunderchild, who passed away from COVID-19 in April, was a much beloved teacher and counsellor at Carlton for 29 years. His sisters Melvina Albert and Lorenda Thunderchild represented the family and Thunderchild First Nation School or Piyesiw Awasis (Thunderchild) School principal Florence Kanhai presented a special shirt to remember him. The presentation was made in the Carlton Gallery on Tuesday afternoon.
The Thunderchild family made the ribbon shirt. Similar shirts were worn by pallbearers at Thunderchild’s funeral.
“When I attended the funeral the baby sister gave me this shirt and I thought, he did work at our school but he wasn’t there a lifetime,” Kanhai said during the presentation. “I thought it would be fitting that we brought this shirt and gave it to you guys because he lived and breathed Carlton,”
Thunderchild’s friend and colleague Kelly Klassen, and Carlton vice principal Corinne Cey represented Carlton at the presentation.
Lorenda and Kanhai came up with the idea to present the shirt to Carlton. After dry-cleaning the shirt, they placed the name ‘Victor’ inside the apple.
“When the baby sister gave me the shirt, I was honoured that we had it, but at the same time my heart was telling me that the shirt needs to be at Carlton,” Kanhai explained. “We were given an apple that said ‘An Apple for Victor’, so when I took it I wanted to make sure that his name was inside the apple. That represented his cause—fighting COVID—and for insuring that teachers and students got their vaccinations,” Kanhai explained.
While he was in hospital Thunderchild advocated for vaccinations to Premier Scott Moe. Kanhai said his advocacy inspired students and staff in their school to get vaccinated.
Lorenda explained that the apple represents his 29 years in teaching. Teaching has become a tradition in the family, with the youngest, who presented the shirt to Kanhai, now teaching Grade 5.
“The apple is an awesome, remarkable thing for him,” Lorenda said.
As part of the ceremony they also gave representatives Thunderchild’s favourite breakfast—a bacon and egg kaiser sandwich with hashbrowns—which was also served in the cafeteria
“The meal that was given to us, this hasn’t been touched, so on our way home we are going to make an offering on the side so he can enjoy it too,” Lorenda said.
Cey explained that he would eat this meal on an almost daily basis.
“For as thin and fit as Mr. Thunderchild maintained he always had his hash browns and his bacon and egg kaiser,” Cey said.
“In our culture we always make our loved ones favourites so the fact that you remember what his favourite was is amazing,” Kanhai said to Cey.
Cey added that Bannock tacos were Thunderchild’s favourite lunch
“He was probably the most regular person in the cafeteria,” Cey said,
Cey began teaching at the school in 2000. She was previously one of Thunderchild’s students, but began to appreciate him even more when she joined the school staff as a teacher, and then a vice-principal.
“I started as a 23-year-old,” Cey remembered. “He was my next door neighbour, (and) classroom neighbour. When I was terrified he was the one who calmed me down.”
Cey said Thunderchild always showed compassion to students, and to her own kids too.
“That’s Victor. He was a loving, caring guy,” Lordenda said. “It didn’t matter (what happened,) he was always there.”
Lorenda said the family has lost two brothers to COVID-19. Victor passed away in April, 202, while a second brother died in April, 2020.
A third brother, Vancouver-based Ray Thunderchild, carved the Thunderchild Memorial Totem in memory of both of his brothers that have passed but also the strength that his mother continues to carry.
Along with the shirt presentation and cafeteria tributes staff and students were encouraged to wear the uniform of Thunderchild’s favourite hockey team, the Montreal Canadians, as a tribute on his birthday.