A Tribute to Howard D. Guptill
Howard spent his early years on Grand Manan Island, NB, with his father, mother, and siblings. Grand Manan's economy is primarily dependent upon fishing, aquaculture, and tourism. Many of the residents have historically and continue to derive their livelihood and culture from fishing, whale and bird watching, camping, and kayaking. For those who inhabit the island, it is said that they live, “off the water.” It is important to recognize and contemplate these otherwise bland facts, because for Howard, the early life experiences that he enjoyed on Grand Manan Island would forever influence his choices in life and who he would inevitably become.
An electrical engineer, Howard Sr. was required to travel abroad with his family for employment. In relocating to multiple communities throughout Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, Howard Sr. attained a job as a radar technician at Dome Mountain in Happy Valley – Goose Bay. Though Howard Sr. was soon to relocate yet again, Dale, Timothy, and Howard – all of whom were in their early twenties – felt a deep-seeded connection with the community and decided to stay.
During this time, Howard gained a significant appreciation for Indigenous Peoples in Labrador and their ways-of-life. Howard would frequently carry his toboggan through portages and stay from tilt to tilt in the deep and perilous woods of Labrador, wearing snowshoes that he learned to craft from Horace Goudie. He made Innu tents and sewed his own clothing, in addition to modifying the clothes that he already owned to better suit his needs. Either by foot carrying a canoe, or by snowshoe, dog team, or snowmobile, Howard was able to pursue his innate interest in hunting, fishing, and trapping. It is rumored that Howard was the first resident of what is now known to be Johnny Hill. Although the teepee he built and stayed in was not worth a million dollars in real estate value, the freedom and reverence that he likely felt as he gazed upon the stars at night, was assuredly priceless.
In 1962 Howard joined the Navy to test his sea legs and, while his sea legs were certainly strong, his relaxed and inherently rebellious personality was not well-suited for the stand-up-straight, chin-tuck, follow-thy-command conformity that the Navy persistently drilled into their recruits. While it remains unknown exactly how long Howard wore the uniform, he eventually returned to the only lifestyle that he ever felt bore any form of meaning and significance: a modern nomad.
Whether it was the Navy or the increasingly modern society that grew around him, Howard was always a square peg in a round hole. He worked as a town beautification worker, skate sharpener for the local arena, millwright and mechanic along side his brother, Dale, and more in order to make ends meet. At one point, Howard went to work in Nain as a cook. After discovering his knack for wood working, however, his employers hired him on as a finish carpenter. In his spare time, Howard built boats, bird watched, and sailed; he made crooked knives, drums, crafted tools, repaired machinery, and was an avid reader and photographer. In his earlier years, his mother would sing Kitty Wells while he played the guitar, which would inspire his life-long affection for music of all genres. Further, Howard had a particular taste for fine wines and cheeses, and was a staunch agnostic and conspiracy theorist enthusiast. Certainly, Howard was a man of many talents, interests, and accomplishments: a particularly square peg.
In the late 70’s, Howard met Andrea Webb. They separated approximately 10 years later but, not before becoming a father to three children and eventually another. Though Howard made a sincere effort to live within the tight confines of a traditional nuclear family, he eventually felt compelled to return to a living situation better suited for his complex and luxurious tastes: a shack next to his brother Dale’s house large enough for a bed, desk, and nightstand. While Howard was unable to be pinned down to a traditional family lifestyle, he remained a father to these four children for the rest of his life.
In 1979, Howard landed a job with Minipi Camp in Happy Valley – Goose Bay, where he worked for twenty-seven years until retiring. Howard guided people from all walks of life and from all over the world on fishing tours, and was often the preferred guide of fat cats who were in the know. One of Howard’s many secrets to successful fishing tours was that he paid little attention to where the fish were, “supposed” to be. Instead, Howard followed the flies – caddisflies (Trichoptera), mayflies (Ephemeroptera), stoneflies (Plecoptera), etc. – knowing that where there were flies, there were fish. Of the many lakes that he traveled while conducting guides, for one reason or another, his favorite was Ann Marie Lake. It seems that Howard finally found a round – or more likely oblong – hole that he could fit into. This position allowed him to relive the days and nights on the land that he cherished from his earlier years in Labrador; it permitted him to engage in the activities that he either observed or directly took part in as a child on Grand Manan Island. Howard was finally in a place to be able to think freely about all of life’s greatest questions.
While Howard found happiness in this new chapter, not once did he stop thinking about his children. Howard would be gifted trinkets, souvenirs, keepsakes, and foreign money by his clients. As he received them, he would send them in the mail with letters to his children. In at least one letter, Howard made sure to note, “bring this money to the Royal Bank because they have the best exchange rate.” Humor alongside a cold sense of utilitarianism and practicality were staples of Howard’s personality. Along with curio, Howard passed on a love for the land to some of his children; to others, he passed on patience, kindness, and subsistence. To some, he passed on a deep and profound ability to question the status quo. To all of his children, Howard was an unmovable rock upon which they would always be able locate a sense of calm within the violent and unwavering seas of life that they would come to endure.
Howard lived the rest of his life alongside his immediate family, continually making, doing, and caring for his children and grandchildren. Howard was a son, brother, uncle, partner, father, grandfather, and friend to many. He passed doing what he loved: sailing the waters of Labrador in a boat that he hand-crafted with a razor-sharp attention to detail, and with patience that outlasted the tools that he worked with. Though he is and forever will be dearly missed, his essence will be built upon and passed down through generations to come. In his honor, Howard’s family are organizing, ‘A Tribute to Howard D. Guptill’ for his close family and friends, which will take place at noon on July 21, 2021, at 37 Tenth Street in Happy Valley – Goose Bay.