May 31st, 1996 will be the day that Bill Sleaver retires. Bill Sleaver’s paying job is manager of the Moosonee LCBO store. He was asked 24 years ago to take a hardship posting for two years only. He’s still in Moosonee.
Sleaver’s other job seems to be Mr. Community. Upon retirement he hopes to stay in Moosonee. “This is my home and I’m already up here so I’d like to stay” Bill told The Nation in a recent interview.
Sleaver is the founder of the local community radio station. It has eight studios located both in Moosonee and Moose Factory. One of the studios is located in the arena so local residents can hear a play-by-play broadcast of local hockey games. A new transmitter allows CHMO to be heard even in Waskaganish. It is a largely volunteer-run community radio station with only one paid full-time DJ. The 25 volunteer DJ’s range in age from 14 on up to 65. Broadcasts are Cree and English. They start at 6:00 am and finish at midnight seven days a week. CHMO still has the boast that it has the youngest DJ’s in Canada. A boast from the time I was on air at CHMO 20 years ago.
In those days CHMO was run by the Canadian Armed Forces and Bill Sleaver (his air name was Kil-Bil back then) was one of the few civilians allowed on-air. When the base closed down in 1975, the license for the radio station became null and void. Bill, known today on the airwaves as Doctor Sleaver, said, “At that time three others and myself who had an interest in radio applied for a CRTC license. After a period of time we got our license and were back in business. We covered our two communities and part of the coast as well.”
I was surprised to learn that station breaks and safety messages I recorded back in the 70’s were still being played. Bill told me that hearing them brings back memories of those early days. “I can remember when I started the junior DJ program on the base. We also brought in the Tommy Hunter Show, the Alan Sisters, Rhythm Pals, Stompin’ Tom Connors and others,” he said.
“You were part of that as well. No other radio station could compete with that, DJ’s who were 13-15 years old. Even today no other station has that That’s why we called you the youngest DJ’s in Canada. It’s been checked out. You guys were the youngest.
As a matter of fact, Will, we still have you on the air. Cuts that you made back in 1974-75.”
Bill is trying to make the junior DJ program part of the local school cirriculum.
One of the CHMO studios is located in Jaybec, a local community education center. He says that the teachers are quite willing to make use of the studios as part of the communications program. Bill would also like to see CHMO’s signal reach other James Bay communities all along the coast He says that the present systems are mostly CBC and have no real bearing on the northern communities in most cases.
Fundraising for the radio station comes in the form of bake sales and cruises. Local businesses also advertise on CHMO for atotal cost of $5 per week. Saturdays feature a radio bingo for the Lion’s Club, which gives back a portion of profits to CHMO. All this has ensured that CHMO has never been in the red.
Sleaver is also actively involved in both the Moose Factory and Moosonee Lion’s Clubs. Bill, at 28, had the distinction of being the youngest District Governor for the Lion’s. The Lion’s Clubs runs the Saturday Radio Bingo. While I was there they invited me to go on the air once again to call out the numbers for the Bingo.
I quickly learned that radio bingo is very serious business in Moosonee and Moose Factory. People called to slow down and then to speed up. Bill told The Nation that “this bingo helps to raise money for those less fortunate than ourselves and people here are very much into the games.”
Even with the Liquor Store, radio station and Lion’s Club, Bill still finds time to take on other activities. He’s also the Parade Marshal, organizes community special events, is a collector of Native art and a host.
By host I’m talking about the 2,000-plus people who have been in his home in just the last four years to check out the art he’s collected. He’s collected paintings, soapstone and wood carvings, tamarack geese and moose and just about everything else that Native people made. His house is like a museum drawing in many visitors. Bill told me that the many pieces have been from trips he took with the RCMP into the Inuit communities and the pieces he’s collected from the times the Inuit used to come to the Moose Factory Hospital as well as other trips he’s taken from time to time.
In 1993 the Mushkegowuk Council asked that the Moosonee LCBO store be closed down as they felt it was contributing to alcohol abuse. Bill Sleaver was sympathetic but felt that it wouldn’t solve all the problems.
“There’s gas and glue sniffing as well as other substance abuse. You would see that go up as well as people just importing beer by train from Cochrane. I think some of the ways this store operates is innovative.”
The store doesn’t serve anyone who comes in intoxicated and is the only LCBO store closed on Saturdays. They also do not carry inexpensive fortified wines and support socially responsible drinking. They do this by placing articles in the local paper about the Challenge and Refusal programs as well as other alcohol-related information.
I asked Bill what change holds the best memories for the communities he is so involved with. He told me, “I think the best change is the sports. Both communities are very involved in sports and before there were only natural ice rinks. The same with curling. You could only play for a certain amount of time. Now both communities have built sports complexes which have included skating and curling rinks. This has been good for the sports-minded people. The other change is the housing. It has changed a lot since you’ve been here. Tent city has been replaced with good housing. It started to change about 10 to 15 years ago and the growth continued at a rapid pace until about 1994.”
The thing Bill missed the most was the Armed Forces Base when it closed. “One of the things I missed was you guys. Fridays would come along and you would be looking to visit for the weekend and use my studio. You and Mike Kilby would come down. There are a lot of good memories and times we shared. I miss that companionship we shared. I miss the Base too, being a bachelor. They used to serve me with all kinds of food stuffs without cost for my work with you guys and the radio station.”
Bill says that his involvement in the community has been time well spent with friends. “I’ve only tried to do what I could,” he said.