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O-J loses nature photographer in crash

BY Juliette Danger Feb 13, 2020

John Wapachee, a 50-year-old nature photographer from the Cree Nation of Ouje-Bougoumou, died last month in a car accident. He was driving south on Highway 113 near Senneterre in the early morning of Sunday, January 26, when he appeared to lose control before colliding with a snow-plow truck in the opposite lane.

Wapachee worked as a nature photographer and is remembered fondly for his persistence and passion for capturing the beauty of birds, wildlife and natural landscapes in his work.

“They only had two TV channels in Ouje when John was growing up,” noted Danielle Wapachee, John’s wife. “The first time he saw a photographer was in a documentary, and after that he was hooked. He promptly went out, made his own ‘camera’ out of cardboard, and sat in the bush pretending to take pictures. Later he got his own camera and he was never without it.”

Describing him as an avid birder, Danielle recalled his fascination and natural comfort with the subjects of his photos.

“He really focused on their behaviours. I’ve seen him lay in one spot, in the snow no less, for five or six hours watching them interact with each other,” she said. “He wouldn’t lure the birds or set up shots. He’d make himself a part of their environment. John was adamant about his photos being as natural as possible. He was unbelievably talented and dedicated to his photography.”

The two had recently moved back to Eeyou Istchee from Toronto, where the couple relocated together after meeting in real life following a long but virtual friendship.

“John and I actually met 20 years ago. We met online, but pre-online dating, pre-Facebook in fact,” exclaimed Wapachee. “We met playing cribbage online and played together for five years before we met in person.”

The pair left the city to move to Ouje-Bougoumou about 20 months ago.

“I’m sure it must have been difficult all those years for John to be living in that concrete jungle, not constantly seeing the things that really soothed his soul,” Danielle mused. “But for the first year we moved back to Ouje, we got to live on his mom’s camp near kilometre 2. I’m so thankful for him to have had that chance to spend that time on the land with his family and his mom.”

“They moved back and took mom by complete surprise,” recalls Minnie Bosum, John’s sister. “The look on mom’s face when she saw them was priceless. It was such a blessing to have them close by.”

John is survived by his wife Danielle, his son Jacob Morrison, his mother Hattie Wapachee, sister Minnie Bosum and six other brothers and sisters. His memorial service was held January 30 in Ouje-Bougoumou.

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Juliette Danger is a writer and media-creator living in Montreal.  She studied communications at Concordia University and currently works as a Marketing Director at an Indigenous communications agency.