It was with sorrow that I learned a good friend of mine had passed away Thursday, March 7. Charlie Brian will be missed by many people, Cree and non-Cree alike. Anyone who had ever gone to his restaurant knows that he embodied Cree hospitality. He greeted everyone with a smile and his good humour brightened many an otherwise dismal day.
Charlie was in many ways was a pioneer. Without any grants he opened up a little coffee shop where he served tea and donuts. He started this on proceeds from pulling a toboggan around to construction sites when they were building houses in Mistissini. He had sandwiches and stuff like that for the workers to buy. He also brought in the first TV where he would show hockey games and this was before Mistissini had electricity. It quickly became a meeting place for community members. I remember when he turned his Indian Affairs log house into Mistissini’s first real restaurant. He had a stove, fridge and French fry cooker, all of them operating on propane. He also had the first pool table in Mistissini and this was before there were any roads so they must have brought it in by boat. Charlie’s was the place to hang out even when you didn’t have any money.
Charlie was always there and willing to talk seriously or just joke around.
I remember when he expanded into Denis Restaurant. I was working with SODAB at the time. Various people were trying to convince him to go for more than what he asked for. Charlie wouldn’t do it as he wanted to add on only when he could afford it. He was wise that way; never going beyond his means. I learned about hard work and patience by watching him over the years. I also discovered that it was something you needed to make your dreams come true. In this way Charlie passed his work ethic on to more than just his children.
You see, Charlie was a family man and he told me once that everything he did he had done for his family and his actions showed that. After Charlie stepped down as the manager of the Denis Restaurant, he went back to the bush. I visited him once out there and asked him how retirement was going. He said he liked being back in the bush and would go to Mistissini every now and then to see how things were. “I’m just an advisor now,” he laughed. He was still the comfortable soul to be around that I always knew. I was always relaxed in his company. He was that way with everyone I knew.
Ernie Webb says what he remembers best is that Charlie opened up his own home to guests like him even though he already had a very large family. Like I said, he embodied Cree hospitality as well as caring and sharing.
His presence and love of life will be missed by all.