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Margaret Thrasher

Margaret Thrasher at Caribou Carnival - mid-1980s

Margaret Thrasher at Caribou Carnival – mid-1980s

In the early 1990s, at a time when he reach fame, Eric Schweig was finaly able to track down his birth mother. The history of this dramatic quest was told in the Inuvik Drum and Cariboo Observer newspapers.

“The name given to him at birth was Ray Thrasher. But at 6 months, he was adopted by a German father and French mother. His father was in the Navy and they moved from Inuvik to Bermuda. Schweig said his adoptive grandmother told him who his birth mother was. Than one day in Vancouver […] he met Willie Thrasher on the street. The two got talking and before long Schweig realized he must be related to Thrasher.” Inuvik Drum, 1993.

Following this amazing discovery, Willie Thrasher called his sister Agnes to say he had found her son she had left for adoption about twenty years earlier. An appointment was arranged and Eric Schweig went to Quesnels (British-Columbia) to meet Agnes. If the meeting was warm, Agnes had doubts from the beginning about her affiliation with Eric Schweig. After verifying with the adoption agency, it was indeed found that the famous actor was not the son of Agnes, but the son of her sister Margaret, who lived in Yellowknife. We can imagine the frustration that may have felt Eric Schweig while receiving this information, as he was emotionally and psychologically prepared to recognize Agnes as his biological mother.

“When she told Schweig about the mixup, he didn’t take it well. He got pretty upset. He had been looking for his mother for so long and he wasn’t very happy about not having found her. Schweig made plans to travel up north to Yellowknife to finally make the connection. Then, two days after he got the news, his mother, Margaret Thrasher, died of a massive heart attack in Yellowknife.” Cariboo Observer, October 13th 1993.

« Schweig said he had a strange feeling that he might never meet his mother after a dream he had when he was 18. In the dream he was walking towards a house where he could see a woman that he knew was his mother, but when he was 5 feet from the open door it slammed shut. I was crying when I woke up…it was so vivid”, Schweig said. » (ID)

Notherners D Homes 1989If this sad turn of events is surprising, it is even more astonishing to discover that a book about Margaret Thrasher (and other northerners) was published in 1989 by the Toronto publishers James Lorimer & Company. Written by Douglas Holmes, this book compiles 24 profiles of people in the Northwest Territories, including one about Margaret Thrasher, titled “Town Drunk”. It is not a pretty story, since “Holmes detailed the sad alcohol-sodden life she had, her runnins with the law, her binges, her poverty.” (CO) But people had a lot of respect for her because she encouraged the homeless population to get involved in the community by helping keep the downtown area nice. “Margaret Thrasher ran also for mayor in the City of Yellowknife and was known for her kind heart and for helping homeless people.” (CO)

Margaret Thrasher was a big woman, with a red face and a loud voice. Her Metis husband was a small and timid man who usually walked a few steps behind her. They both lived in an old one-room shack in Yellowknife. They did not remembered exactly when they were married, but it was sometime in the 1970s.

Margaret was born in 1947. Thrasher’s mother, an Inuk from Alaska, and her father, a Portuguese fisherman and whaler, raised their family in the communities of Aklavik and Inuvik. Thrasher went to catholic mission schools there and learned to sketch and paint, like her famous sister, the artist Mona Thrasher. As a teenager and in the 1960s, she lived in Edmonton before returning north sometime in the early 1970s.

Alice Thrasher, Agnes Thrasher Langston and Margaret Thrasher, 1960s

Alice Thrasher, Agnes Thrasher Langston and Margaret Thrasher, 1960s

See also this poem about Margaret Thrasher by Indio Saravanja.

Mona Thrasher

© Mona Thrasher

© Mona Thrasher

This article has been modified since its first publication.

Born Ray Dean Thrasher, adopted at the age of six months by a German / French family, Eric Schweig has mentioned in some occasions what were his ties with his biological Inuit family. He mainly talked about his mother, Margaret Thrasher, and about his “Inuit, Portuguese and German” roots in an interview for Windspeaker in 2003. The “Portuguese” part of these statements has intrigued me, so, I did some research to clarify this point.

The archives of “Eric Schweig Rose and Joni’s Fan Site” mention that the Inuit painter Mona Thrasher is Schweig’s aunt. It is known that the paternal grandfather of painters Mona and Agnes Thrasher was indeed a Portuguese whaler. Margaret Thrasher and Eric Schweig could therefore have the same ancestor as Mona and Agnes Thrasher.

Also, an article in Inuvik Drum in 1993 mentions a meeting between Schweig and Agnes Thrasher: “Than one day in Vancouver, where he now lives, he met Willie Thrasher on the street. The two got talking and before long Schweig realized he must be related to Thrasher. He said Thrasher hooked him up with his Aunt Agnes in Williams Lake, B.C. in the hopes of finding his [biological] mother. But three days later, his birth mother died and he was too late“. It seems here that Agnes knew Margaret well enough to help Schweig find her: indeed they were sisters. Mona, Agnes and Margaret Thrasher all lived in Inuvik and Yellowknife. The filiation between Eric Schweig the artist, and Mona Thrasher the artist, is then perfectly true. So, here is a brief description of this famous member of Ray Dean Thrasher’s family.

Mona Thrasher, Inuvik, 1982

Mona Thrasher, Inuvik, 1982

Mona Thrasher is a Northern Canada Artist, well known throughout Canada’s Northwest Territories. She was born on February 24th, 1942, with a hearing disability, in a bush camp in the Mackenzie Delta between Aklavik and present day Inuvik. She was always a bright spirit and very smart.

Her father’s name was Billy Thrasher, and he worked a trapline. He was the son of a Portuguese whaler, who came to the Arctic during the last century. He used to sketch on a piece of paper, just drawing here and there. He drew with pencil and he used to keep pencils until they turned to nothing, right to the end. Her mother, Alice, was an Alaskan Inuit and Billy’s second wife.

At the age of 10, Mona Thrasher left her family’s log cabin to attend the Aklavik Roman Catholic Mission School, where she remained until the age of 17, returning home only during the months of July and August. Mona Thrasher began taking art classes in her early teens and was encouraged to pursue her artistic interests by Sister Leduc and by such instructors as Father Adam and Bishop Dennis Croteau. The same year her father died, when she was 18 in 1960, Father Adam invited her to paint the Stations of the Cross in the newly constructed Igloo Church in Inuvik. Since that time, she painted more than 800 oils and pastels.

Mona wrote “I enjoy painting different scenes of the Eskimo life of my forefathers. Igloos are a things of the past, dogteams are on the way out, seal hunting has almost become a sport with people, but the very fact that I paint those scenes reminds people that not so long ago, men lived that way and survived amidst hardship and found happiness in a climate whose harshness is unparalleled anywhere else in the world.

© Mona Thrasher

© Mona Thrasher

You will notice that my basic colors are whites and blue because that is the way my country appears to me. It is made of blue sky and blue water. Even the snow which covers the ground for 9 months out of 12 has a bluish tint on account of the semi darkness.” Mona Thrasher moved to Yellowknife in 1990 and stayed there for the rest of her life. She died April 1st, 2013.

Sources:

Deaf Culture Centre, The Visual Arts, p. 338.

Joanne Carolyn McNeal, Western Arctic Women Artists’ Perspectives on Education and Art, University of British Columbia, June 1997, pp. 271-276

A Dream

An article published in April 1993 in the newspaper Inuvik Drum reports the testimony of Eric Schweig about one of his dreams:

« Schweig said he had a strange feeling that he might never meet his mother after a dream he had when he was 18. In the dream he was walking towards a house where he could see a woman that he knew was his mother, but when he was 5 feet from the open door it slammed shut. “I was crying when I woke up…it was so vivid”, Schweig said. »

The article in Inuvik Drum also reported this event:« One day in Vancouver, where [Eric Schweig] now lives, he met Willie Thrasher on the street. The two got talking and before long Schweig realized he must be related to Thrasher. He said Thrasher hooked him up with his Aunt Agnes in Williams Lake, B.C. in the hopes of finding his mother. But three days later, his birth mother died and he was too late. »

Just as in his dream, Eric Schweig was so close to find his biological mother, but death locked an insurmountable door on Margaret Thrasher only a few days before Eric Schweig had the opportunity to see her.

Source: Inuvik Drum

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