'It’s a great honour': Memorial statue of Fred Sasakamoose could join Gordie Howe at SaskTel Centre
SASKATOON -- Plans are underway to memorialize a Saskatchewan hockey legend who lost his life to COVID-19.
A memorial statue of Fred Sasakamoose could be joining Gordie Howe on the steps leading up to SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon.
His son Neil Sasakamoose said he’s eager to celebrate the legacy of his father.
“My dad was such a large image, I didn’t know the impacts he had on people,” Neil said. “When he passed it was like all of North America engaged and they wanted to do something.”
Sasakamoose died at Victoria Hospital in Prince Albert on Nov. 24 after being hospitalized with COVID-19. He was 86 years old.
His family, friends and Saskatchewan supporters have been working to honour Sasakamoose’s legacy as Saskatchewan's first Indigenous player to suit up in the NHL. He played 11 games with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1954.
“He’s beside one of the legends Gordie Howe, you can’t have a larger name in hockey in Saskatchewan,” Neil said of his father’s memorial statue currently in production. “It’s a great honour for my dad to be thought of in that limelight with Gordie Howe.”
The city’s governance and priorities meeting Monday will confirm funding and a location for the memorial according to city councillor Troy Davies, who is also a member of Synergy 8, a local organization involved with the Sasakamoose memorial.
“From what he overcame in residential schools and racism just to see how he overcame that not only to become an excellent hockey player but also the ambassador side too,” Davies said. “His passion within our city was tremendous so to be a part of that and to be associated with Fred is huge for us.”
Holding back tears, Neil told CTV News, the last days of his father’s life were incredibly difficult. After Fred was admitted to hospital, Neil said because of the pandemic restrictions, his family couldn’t go see him and he ended up dying alone. Neil said the family has barely had a chance to grieve.
“It’s hitting us now, images are coming now of him,” Neil said. “It’s going to be hard for us to go see (his memorial) to be honest. It’s going to be really hard.”
On May 18, Sasakamoose’s memoir titled ‘Call me Indian’ will hit store shelves. The book, according to Neil, details his life in residential schools, to his junior hockey career up to his NHL debut with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Sasakamoose is already working with the province of Saskatchewan and the City of Saskatoon to declare May 18 Fred Sasakamoose Day. It’s something Davies said the city should be deciding on later this month.
“May 18 is going to be an emotional day,” Neil said.
Following his playing career, Sasakamoose became a band councillor and eventual chief of Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation. He also developed sports programs for Indigenous children, most notably the annual Fred Sasakamoose Chief Thunderstick National Hockey Championship in Saskatoon.
Sasakamoose is a member of the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame and was named to the Order of Canada in 2018.