MNO: Robert “Senator Bob” McKay passes
Earlier this week, Robert “Senator Bob” McKay, a much beloved figure across the Métis Nation passed away just a little short of his 80th birthday. He was born February 24, 1935. Métis Nation of Ontario President Margaret Froh stated: “I have passed on our deepest condolences to Senator Bob’s wife, Gloria, on behalf of the Metis Nation of Ontario. Senator Bob was such a beautiful man with such an amazing spirit. While we will feel this loss for a long time to come, we are blessed to have so many memories and prayers that he has shared with us.”
Jean Camirand, President of the MNO Thunder Bay Métis Council stated: “We will miss this amazing Métis elder, Senator and citizen.”
Former MNO President Gary Lipinski said: “Bob was an amazing person, a true Elder and Senator. Someone who was filled with historical and traditional knowledge and always willing to share. His sense of humor was another gift and he knew just when to interject it to lighten the mood or keep a meeting on a positive track. A true statesman, a gentleman, father, husband, and friend to all. He will be deeply missed but not forgotten in that he will always remain with us in so many ways.”
Bob will be sorely missed by his wife Gloria and their three daughters. Bob worked as a light keeper and caretaker for Lighthouses on the Great Lakes until 1979 and then worked as a heavy equipment operator until his retirement.
A colourful character who lived a colourful life, Bob was the last light keeper and caretaker of Point Porphyry Lighthouse near Thunder Bay, which closed in 1979. An article published in 2014 by Wilderness North magazine about the Lighthouse really caught Bob’s spirit:
… and what a memory this gentleman [Bob] has! Whether it is the location of overgrown trails from past decades, grave sites from the eighteen hundreds, rare flora, stories of run aground ships, past light keepers, local fishing lore, and much more, Bob is a waling specimen and testament of a rare and what seems to me as a dying breed. History oozes from his every word and his recollection of events includes the smallest detail; you know your talking with the real McCoy, or in his case, McKay!
In 2014, Bob was one of the founders of the non-profit organization Saving the Lighthouses of Lake Superior.
The MNO has been blessed that Bob chose to share so much of his time and his amazing talents with his fellow Métis. Bob became an MNO citizen in 1995 only a few years after the MNO’s founding in 1993. He joined the MNO Thunder Bay Métis Council in 1997 and became the Council’s Senator in 1999, a position he served in until 2015. As a Senator and a Métis Traditional Knowledge Holder he volunteered countless hours to teach the Métis way-of-life and increase awareness and pride in Métis culture and heritage. He especially placed importance on passing on his knowledge to younger people and made many presentations to schools and youth groups.
In his capacity as a Senator and Métis Knowledge Holder he also served on numerous committees and advisory boards including the Northern Ontario School of Medicine, Lakehead University, the City of Thunder Bay, Lakehead School Board and the Labour Council for Aboriginal Youth. His wise counsel and experience were highly valued as evidenced by awards he received from the Ontario Public School Board (OPSB). Bob had been a member of the OPSB Aboriginal Education Advisory Committee between 2008 and 2014 and in 2014 OPSB presented him with both their Achievement Award and their Award of Excellence to recognize his outstanding community service and leadership. Suzanne Tardif, the parent representative on the Committee explained why Bob had been selected for these prestigious awards: “When Senator McKay shares his stories, he not only helps children and youth understand an earlier way of life, he also helps preserve the right cultural history of the Thunder Bay area.”
In 2013, Bob received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal that acknowledged his long-term dedication to the cause of achieving Métis rights and self-government, and in 2014 he was the recipient of the MNO Suzanne Rochon-Burnett Volunteer of the Year Award. When presenting Bob with the Award, former MNO President Gary Lipinski stated: “Your commitment to Métis youth and the Métis community is unprecedented. You actively keep Métis culture alive by sharing our culture and passing on our traditions through the many events that you attend. Through your volunteerism you also educate our youth and the general public on what it means to be Métis. I personally would like to thank you for your many years of dedication to the betterment of the Métis Nation.”
While Bob’s work on behalf of Métis people was truly inspiring, what many appreciated even more was his warmth and humour. Until very recently, he was a fixture at every MNO Annual General Assembly (AGA) and when he approached the microphone to speak he would always introduce himself, to everyone’s delight, as Brad Pitt. MNO Executive Senator Joseph Poitras said “Bob has a real presence and a quiet, dignified and courteous demeanor. Bob was always willing to give a leg-up to anyone who needed or asked for help; there are many examples of him doing so. One example that I know first hand, is that when I got elected to the PCMNO, he gave me copies of his prayers because he knew I would need them.”
In his final years, Bob was afflicted with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Even faced with this challenge, Bob retained his spirit and wrote MNO citizens to express his gratefulness for their kindness and support. He closed the letter with one of his favourite proverbs (especially for Métis youth).
“A vision without a plan is just a dream.
A plan without vision is just drudgery.
But a vision with a plan can change the world.”