Pictured: Kids love to spell with Sr. Maggie.
By Mickey Conlon
Sr. Maggie Beaudette has found a little trash can go a long way.
For the past 14 years she has been turning discarded pop cans, water bottles, milk jugs and other recyclables into cash for various community projects for the kids in Hay River, Northwest Territories, and beyond. It’s a simple program, but one that has provided musical dreams in her own community on the south shore of Great Slave Lake and helped out street kids in Kenya with food and clothing.
Last year alone, Beaudette raised just over $3,000 from her recycling program and in total has collected more than $20,000 for her pet projects since she began collecting recyclables.
“It’s amazing how it all adds up. I see a pop can, I pick it up because it’s 10 cents,” laughs Beaudette, a member of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Canada. She is the Catholic Women’s League’s Spiritual Director and the “goto- person” for Catholic social teaching of the diocese of MacKenzie-Fort Smith, NWT.
All proceeds are spread among the three programs: extracurricular activities for Chief Sunrise School on the K’atl’odeeche First Nation in Hay River, the Kole Crook Fiddle Association and the program in Kenya run by Michael Botermans, a former teacher from Behchoko on the other side of Great Slave Lake, northwest of Yellowknife.
“I can hardly remember how it started,” said Beaudette, but it was during her years teaching science and special needs students at Chief Sunrise School, where she also taught music as an extracurricular activity.
The funds helped buy instruments for the program but went beyond as it also offset costs when she took students on “little ventures” around the area, she said.
It’s no surprise that music has been a focus of Beaudette’s fundraising efforts. Since childhood music has been near and dear to her heart, a passion fostered within her family when growing up in Maidstone, Ont., near Windsor, which she credits to her father.
“I think I get my natural love and ability from my dad. My dad was very musical and I’m sure he never had a music lesson in his life,” she said.
That passion followed Beaudette with her from the earliest days, in school, with church choirs and into her career as a sister and a teacher. She has only recently stepped down as choir director at Hay River’s Assumption Parish, but continues supporting children’s music programs, like the Kole Crook Fiddle Association. Recycling funds have helped the organization purchase a dozen fiddles and guitars over the years. It also helps cover registration for young fiddlers to take part in the two jamborees put on in Hay River each year which attract some of the best fiddlers from across Canada.
It began as a one-person project but over the years Beaudette has developed a string of supporters who donate the recyclables they’ve gathered for her program. Through word of mouth it has expanded with donations coming from as far away as Fort Smith, a town nearly 300 kilometres away from Hay River. Beaudette has also made it easy for people to contribute by setting up an account in her name with Tri R Recycling’s depot in Hay River where people can donate their recyclables.
There’s an environmental element to her project as well. “I’m hoping my actions will inspire people not to throw that can on the ground or in the landfill,” said Beaudette. “Either give it to me, I’m very willing to take people’s recycling, or at least use it for yourself.”
That’s another lesson she hopes to pass on to the kids. Many can’t afford music lessons, but they all drink pop. She tells the students to bring 10 cans to their lesson as payment.
“Little things like that are an incentive to make people aware,” she said.
It’s all part of Beaudette’s call as a Sister of St. Joseph, the order the 71-year-old has belonged to since she graduated high school 54 years ago. The last 20 of those years have been spent in Hay River, a small town of 3,500 on the shores of Great Slave Lake known as the “Hub of the North.” Prior to that she taught for six years in Yellowknife and another five years in Lutsel K’e, a fly-in Chipewyan community in the North Slave Region of the NWT.
“I try to be a presence in the community. Really, I don’t know what’s going to happen from day to day. My phone rings and it might be somebody who needs somebody to listen to them or I need to visit someone at the hospital. It’s all about being a presence.”
Though now retired from teaching, Beaudette maintains a busy pace beyond her recycling efforts. She also does plenty of volunteer work for the Mackenzie-Fort Smith diocese, helping out with liturgical music workshops, parish missions and reflection days.
“It’s using the gifts God has given me,” she said.
Her presence in the north has not gone unnoticed. In 2014 she was honoured with the Status of Women Council of the Northwest Territories’ Wise Women Award. The council recognized her for improving many women’s lives by helping advance literary skills in the community, fundraising for the local soup kitchen, women’s centre and the Ministerial Christmas music program, on top of her work with children’s music programs.
“Sr. Maggie was born to give to those around her and is a light that brings wisdom to those that seek it. Every day she demonstrates the qualities of kindness, charity and generosity. She is a strong woman who leads by example and reaches out to those in need,” the council said in honouring Beaudette.
It’s a long way from Maidstone, one of the most southerly parts of Canada, to the north, but Beaudette wouldn’t have it any other way. When given the choice three decades ago of two areas where her order did mission work, Peru or the Northwest Territories, it was an easy decision.
“I didn’t want to go to Peru because of the spiders,” she said, laughing.
“It was just God’s call within to go north and I’ve never looked back.”
Over the past 31 years she has developed a true love for the northern lands and its people. “I love the people.
I’m very much an outdoors, nature person. I love the beauty of the north,” she said. “The land is incredible.”
That doesn’t keep her from making the occasional journey south. She periodically heads south for meetings with her congregation and at least once a year makes it home to visit family, including her 98-year-old “ball of energy” mother who continues to live in her own home. “But I hurry back to the north.”