Chrissy Wade brings clothes to Northern kids, returns with rescue dogs and works too

SHEGUIANDAH—For an Island dental worker, her new job brought with it both an anticipated additional mission of bringing needed winter boots and clothes to impoverished Northern reserves and an unanticipated role as a one-woman canine rescue unit. “It’s clothes in and dogs out,” said Chrissy Wade, of Sheguiandah.

Ms. Wade spends a lot of time in the air, boarding the small aircraft of Bearskin Airlines and Wasaya Airways as part of her job providing dental services to remote Northern reserve communities through the Ontario Dental Association. When she first learned that she would be dropping in on fly-in communities across the North, news of the hardships facing the people of Attawapiskat was dominating the national media.

“I had just found out I was going to be flying into communities and I had heard about the Attawapiskat disaster—that people there needed clothes,” she said. “I didn’t want to go in empty handed when I had so much weight I was allowed to bring with me.”

So when Ms. Wade learned that she would soon be flying into the Oji-Cree community of Muskrat Dam First Nation, far to the north of Thunder Bay, she set about marshaling the resources of her family and friends to collect winter clothes to fill up her travel allotment.

“Kendra Madahbee was really helpful, she had a lot of children’s clothing and baby’s clothing that people had given her,” said Ms. Wade. “There were a lot of people across Manitoulin who helped out.”

The clothing travelled to Muskrat Dam with Ms. Wade, who dropped the women’s clothing off at a women’s transition shelter. The shelter assists women dealing with substance abuse issues. “A lot of women arrive there with nothing more than the clothes on their back,” she said.

Children’s clothing she held onto for her trip into New Slate Falls, far to the north of Sioux Lookout, didn’t make it, as an event occurred just before she left for that community that caused her to change her plans. “There was a tragic accident at Sioux Lookout,” said Ms. Wade. “There were four or five young women in their late teens to early 20s whose vehicle left the road and wound up upside down in the water.”

Ms. Wade gave the clothing to a friend who was going to the funeral for the families of the young women, some of whom left behind young children.

“Even though I didn’t get there myself, I felt wonderful that because of the kind generosity of the people of Manitoulin Island this family were being kept warm and knew that other people cared about their tragic loss,” said Ms. Wade.

Ms. Wade continued to collect winter clothes, hats and mittens, half filling her living room with donations, but she soon found that she was a victim of her own success. “When I flew into Fort Hope, I was way overweight,” said Ms. Wade. Although she was allowed a total of 50 pounds of weight, her load tipped the scales 100 pounds over the limit. “And I had to pay two airlines,” she laughed.

She attempted to get the airlines to let her off the hook, but although they were sympathetic the answer was not yet what she wanted to hear. “They told me that if I had called before I might be able to make some kind of arrangement,” she said. “I dropped that load off at the Ontario Works and they dealt with it from there.”

Realizing that this was costing her a lot of money, Ms. Wade took the nice lady at the airline’s advice. “I called Dianna at Bearskin and she said that if Wasaya would match them they would help out,” she recalled. Several phone calls later, a 200 pound airlift was arranged.

A deluge of winter boots, ski pants and jackets, quilts, duvets, bedding and a host of other household items poured in when Ms. Wade put out the call this time. “I even got two bags from Toronto,” she said. “Stuff came in from Espanola and from all across Manitoulin. There were these gorgeous blankets and bedding.”

The bedding came in very handy when Ms. Wade flew into Sandy Lake, a family who had lost everything to a fire were able to outfit two beds for their family.

But it was a little boy wandering around in a light jacket and running shoes in the midst of winter that really struck deep into Ms. Wade’s heart. “Brice, this little boy, was standing there and I asked him ‘where are your hat and mitts?’,” she recalled. She told him that she had some rubber boots and a jacket for him. “He showed up later at the dental office, asking me ‘where is my winter stuff? I want to go tobogganing’.”

Ms. Wade brought him into the office and outfitted him in a slightly over-sized snowsuit and winter boots, hat and mittens and sent him on his way. Later she dropped by the young man’s home with the clothes she had promised for his sister.

“His mitts were hanging over the wood stove drying out,” said Ms. Wade. “He came and gave me a big hug on my last day. Just to see him smile warmed my heart.”

Ms. Wade is heading north again soon and she is still collecting winter clothing. “There are a lot of children who need winter boots,” she said. “I am hoping to go up to Sandy Lake soon and I will be trying to work with Bearskin and Wasaya again.”

Ms. Wade notes that it costs about $50 for 50 pounds of freight just from Sudbury to Thunder Bay, so any option that moves the material closer would be greatly helpful. “If someone is travelling up to Thunder Bay and can take some boxes with them that would really help out,” she said.

Another option to assist would be using the excess capacity of other travellers. “If anybody is flying up into Northern communities and could bring some up with them (it wold really help),” suggested Ms. Wade.

But what about the other side of the equation, that canine rescue role?

“I discovered dogs and puppies in need of medical attention,” she said, noting her first discovery was of a family of eight puppies living under an old transport trailer. “I was able to get out three puppies and a pregnant mother from Fort Hope.”

Her reward for her efforts was to see one mother from Sandy Lake find a new home in Vancouver, others have received badly needed medical attention.

But there are steep challenges. For one thing, the airlines insist that each animal be contained within their own travelling case.

Ms. Wade’s one-woman rescue efforts, like most such stories, really relies on the good will and assistance of many people, from the folks who find homes and assistance for the animals to those who make donations to the cause. She gives high praise to PetSave Sudbury and exhorts anyone who can provide a good home for a puppy or a dog in need of love and attention, or who has winter clothes, particularly for very young children, to contact her at 705-368-3182.

Michael Erskine