The path leading to Clarence Hester was an interesting one, in that it rarely proceeded in a straight line. The first link came in the form of an email from Alex Mapachee who was taking pictures at a minor and old timers hockey tournament in Waskaganish, and had taken a picture of a 61-year-old man who was participating in his 16th tournament.
The chain proceeded to Neil Cheecho in Waskaganish who had been coaching in the tournament. Upon hearing a description of the veteran player, it was no time before he started to explain who Clarence Hester was, since it happened to be that Clarence was Neil’s wife’s uncle.
Clarence grew up in Waskaganish but now lives in Moosonee, Ontario where he works for Air Creebec doing freight, and training new employees. Not only has he been playing the Waskaganish tournament for close to two decades, but he also manages to take part in a number of others year-round.
In fact, he was even on hand with his team as they tied their skates in Timmins this year. And if you were on hand two years ago for the competition in Waskaganish then there would be no second-guessing the tenacity of a man who defied a snowstorm just to play – even though the rest of his team couldn’t make it. Their equipment did, however, and they eventually made a third team for Clarence to play on. But who would have known it would happen twice in a row?
Finding out more about Clarence meant another detour and a phone call to his brother. According to Walter Hester, his brother had left Waskaganish for Moosanee in the sixties. In the late 1960s he went south to Virginia, Ontario, to work in the gold mines, and it was in the early 70s when he moved back to Moosanee and married Sally Morrison.
Prior to his tenure at Air Creebec Clarence worked with Austin Airlines. As far as Walter can tell, Clarence went to go work in the airport back in 1973, and since Air Creebec was founded in 1979 that means he has been with the now 100 per cent Cree-owned airline for 23 years.
He has played ever since his days at residential school, and now keeps it to about three or four tournaments a year. Still, it was not so long ago when he was 57, and decided to sign up with the “over-eighteen” team in the Moosanee hockey league.
“It was interesting,” laughed Walter, “when they read that list and saw his name.”
At the end of road, Clarence will no doubt carry on skating forever. When asked if Clarence Hester said anything to him that might help readers understand him. Coach Neil Cheecho remembered something: “I’ll be back next weekend.”