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Heart of Our City: Metlakatla fisherman returns for love

Since moving back to Prince Rupert Wayne Haldane coached the women’s basketball team to victory

Down at the Metlakatla ferry dock, Wayne Haldane waits for his interview on his day off.

He’s 72 years old and still spends much of his time in the wheelhouse. The boat he runs for Coastal Shellfish harvests scallops from a farm just off Digby Island and Wolf Island.

But life at sea began at 15 when he went on his first fishing trip with his uncle.

“I was down at the back and I would help him take the fish out. I think it was 15. That was the taste of my first beer because I got feeling good on one, and since then I haven’t slowed down,” he said with a laugh.

Back then, the Vancouver-born commercial fisherman didn’t know he’d find the love of his life on the North Coast, or that he’d help the Metlakatla women’s team win eight All Native Basketball Tournament championships.

“We made $17,000 every year, just about, on salmon alone,” Haldane said, shaking his head.

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For four months of the year he’d catch salmon, and for three months he’d harvest herring roe-on-kelp, a nutrition bomb filled with protein, minerals and vitamins that Haldane likes to eat fried in butter and garlic, he’d rather skip the ooligan grease.

“When we’re having meals, like fish and stuff like that, everybody uses ooligan grease, even my grandchildren,” he said, making a face.

Although born in the big city, he moved to Prince Rupert when he was two. His mother was from the Musqueam Indian Band, his father was from Metlakatla. He moved back to the Lower Mainland in his mid-twenties, continued to fish, and would visit Prince Rupert from time to time.

For 20 years his base was in Vancouver until his heart took him back.

He was 45 when he first met Gwen.

There was one moment when he just knew she was the one. They were out on a commercial fishing trip. He was bossing the crew around, and she stood up to him.

“I was on top and I was up there swearing at them and she turned around and said ‘F you Wayne’ and ever since then I fell in love with her,” he said. Oh, and he never spoke to her like that again.

Moving back to Prince Rupert meant he was a part of the All Native Basketball scene again. He’d played basketball when he was younger with Ken Shields, who coached the Canadian national team and the men’s team at the University of Victoria. Haldane was also the Athlete of the Year at Mount Royal University.

When he was back in Prince Rupert, he was watching the women’s Metlakatla team when he thought maybe he’d try coaching them.

“I was watching them… What they had done is they were hit by about 20 points and they lost. That was because of poor coaching. I thought I would get a team together and start from there. See if I can’t better it, and I did,” he said.

“We won that year and two years after. That’s pretty good for the small village that we came from.”

When asked what his coaching style was, he said quiet. He doesn’t go out there and scream at everyone. He would pull a player aside, tell them what to do, and they’d do it.

In the 12 years he coached the team, he said they won eight championships. He retired two years ago.

Coaching wasn’t his only imprint on the Metlakatla community. He was elected in 2013 as an off-reserve councillor on the Metlakatla Council, and continues to work for the First Nations-owned aquaculture business, Coastal Shellfish.

Two hip replacements, and a knee replacement later, Haldane said he doesn’t dance or play much basketball anymore. He does, however, do a floss dance for his wife. She took a photo of him while in action, and sent it out to family and friends.

“Anybody who wants to laugh can take a look at that,” he said with a chuckle.

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Wayne Haldane, who has been commercial fishing since he was 15, moved to Prince Rupert after meeting the love of his life. (Shannon Lough / The Northern View)