On Monday, February 1, 1988, shortly after 9:00 a.m., I spoke with Dr. Wilfred Carter for the first time, his title back then as head of the Atlantic Salmon Federation was Executive Vice President, and I was calling to apply for a job. My wife, Suzanne, and I were living in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, and we had read in Saturday’s Halifax Chronicle Herald that ASF was looking for a person to fill a new position-Manager, Affiliate and Public Information Services.
I remember the exact date, because on Saturday we had celebrated my 27th birthday.
Dr. Carter took my call, but politely advised me that he already had a person in mind for the position. He also told me he had not yet made the person an offer and I was able to talk him into at least meeting with me the next day. The rest, as they say, is history.
At that time, next to Suzanne, I had two passions in life, hockey, and Atlantic salmon fishing. Dr. Carter was one of my heroes, right alongside Lee Wulff, Bobby Orr and Gordie Howe.
I clearly recall that Tuesday morning interview in Dr. Carter’s office. To say I was a little nervous would be an understatement. There I was at ASF’s International Headquarters in Chamcook, New Brunswick, surrounded by handsome salmon sculptures, framed antique flies, and historic Pleissner prints, about to meet a man whom I had long admired and attempt to convince him to hire me. Dr. Carter was tall and strong, with a firm handshake, bushy red hair, and even bushier red eyebrows below which twinkled two friendly steel blue eyes.
Dr. Carter smiled, welcomed me into his office and immediately put me at ease as we talked salmon conservation and fishing for nearly three hours. He told me about the job and the important work that needed to be done coordinating the activities of ASF’s 7 provincial and state councils and over 100 affiliate groups. Dr. Carter strongly believed that for ASF to have success, its conservation efforts and policies had to be in step with those of the grassroots salmon conservationists. As he explained to me more than 21 years ago, and I can hear him now as if it was just yesterday, the government decision makers cared little about the whims of a few wealthy salmon anglers living in New York, Toronto, Boston or Montreal. Government laws and policies were then, as they are today, influenced by the views and concerns of the tens of thousands of salmon anglers, guides, outfitters, and men and women living along the salmon rivers of the Quebec North Shore, Gaspé, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, Maine and Newfoundland and Labrador. To achieve its salmon conservation goals, ASF needed to be clear that it was speaking on behalf of the people who voted for, and sometimes against, the politicians.
I must have made an impression because to my pleasant surprise, I was hired the next day and soon began my career with ASF and my friendship with Dr. Carter. Suzanne and I moved to St. Andrews and bought our first house overlooking the picturesque Bay of Fundy and right across the street from the Carters.
Dr. Carter and his wife, Pauline would become the best of friends with Suzanne and I as we shared celebrated holidays, the births of our daughters, school graduations and our families comforted each other during sickness and difficult times.
On our first fishing trip together, Dr. Carter took me and a few other close friends to his comfortable little camp, Grande Fourche, on the York River. That first evening, fishing with Dr. Carter at my side, pointing out the best taking lies in the pool, I hooked my first Gaspé salmon, a spirited 12-pound hen fresh from the sea. It was like scoring a seventh-game play-off goal on a pass from Wayne Gretzky.
Later that same trip, in the same pool, after Dr. Carter and I had spent a full morning casting an assortment of wet and dry flies over every inch of the best taking water, he confidently announced there weren’t any salmon left in the pool and that he was going back to camp to open the bar. I pleaded for a little more time, tied on a Green Highlander and on the next cast hooked a very big fish that thrashed the pool into a froth before tearing off down a series of rapids and breaking off. Dr. Carter didn’t say a word and it almost seemed he wasn’t as pleased as I was about my good luck. He suggested I join him back at the camp for a cold beer, to which I once again delicately asked for a couple of minutes to make a few more casts. He shook his head, but agreed. I tied on another Green Highlander and promptly hooked another salmon, smaller than the first, but still a fine, bright 15-pounder that we safely landed. Not wanting to press my luck, I agreed to join Dr. Carter back at his camp where we opened the bar and waited for our friends, John Swan, Dr. Tom Taylor, Jack Fenety, and Pierre Lutz to join us. I was quite pleased with myself, barely able to suppress my grin as our friends returned. I did my best to play it cool. Dr. Carter had barely said two words to me since we’d left the river and I was a little worried that maybe he wasn’t thrilled about me having proved him wrong. Actually I was wrong, as it turned out he was anxious to share our morning success with our friends. After all were assembled, Dr. Carter proudly told our fish story, more pleased than if he had hooked the salmon himself, and announcing that if he and I were going to be friends and continue to fish together that I would have to stop calling him Dr. Carter and start calling him Wilf. I couldn’t hold my smile any longer.
Wilf and I spent many happy days together fishing the Miramichi, Restigouche, Kedgwick, Upsalquitch, Matapedia, Margaree and his beloved Gaspé rivers. He introduced me to the Grand Cascapedia where one memorable August evening as the guests of Francis Goelet at Tracadie, we each released a huge salmon at Frazier’s Pool with the incomparable Claudie Harrison as our guide. Sitting on the old porch at Tracadie
that evening, looking down the magnificent Grand Cascapedia River, a view Wilf told me many times was his favorite, sharing salmon stories with dear friends and basking in the afterglow of good single malt and two beautiful salmon carefully released was, as they say, as good as it gets.
Another time I remember Wilf and I driving the long way home following a few days of fishing at Grand Fourche. Driving through New Carlise, Wilf asked that we stop to visit an old friend who wasn’t well. We’d already been driving four hours with another seven still to go and I wasn’t thrilled about a detour, but what could I say? We stopped for a couple of hours, Wilf sharing stories en français with an elderly gentleman who, as it turned out, was a retired commercial salmon fisherman and someone with whom Wilf had a long running feud. But the visit was pure Wilf; he treated everyone with compassion and respect. Sadly, I later learned the man succumbed a few weeks after our visit; I can only think he died a happier man because of the closure provided by Wilf’s unexpected display of friendship.
Last summer, Wilf and I and two friends spent three days as the guests of Fred Eaton at the Ristigouche Salmon Club. It was mid-August, the river was high and dirty following a heavy rain and there were few fish in our pools, but we didn’t care. We were fishing together. Wilf, as was often the case on our fishing adventures, ended up high rod for the trip. Each night we’d gather around the great stone fireplace in the historic old club that Wilf’s brother, Al, had managed for so many years and we’d share our day’s fishing stories. I had never seen Wilf happier; even though he had, I am sure, caught well over one thousand salmon, the fish he hooked, battled and released on that trip gave him as much pleasure as the very first salmon he hooked as a ten-year-old boy while poaching a private pool on the Dartmouth River more than 70 years ago.
Wilf had been retired seven years when I was elected President by the Directors of ASF in the fall of 1996. I was fortunate that he took me under his wing and shared with me the many secrets he had learned about conservation, fundraising, diplomacy, and business. He maintained an office at ASF until his death on March 18, 2009 where, long after retirement, he continued to help ASF and me in every way he could. He co-chaired ASF’s International and Government Affairs Committee until May 2008, providing sage advice and counsel on difficult international salmon conservation issues. Whenever I needed thoughtful advice, a second opinion, or just someone to talk to, Wilf was always there. We spent hundreds of hours talking salmon conservation and fishing in his office, just as we did on our very first meeting on February 1, 1988.
Wilf did it all for ASF during his 20 years of leadership. He was ASF’s chief spokesman, advocate, biologist, and diplomat. He did more for wild Atlantic salmon and ASF during his lifetime than anyone, but he would be the last person on Earth to make this claim. With Wilf at the helm, ASF grew from a small association of salmon anglers into a world renowned and widely respected international conservation organization. As ASF grew, Wilf took on more and more responsibility, including raising the significant amount of money needed to support ASF’s conservation, research, education and public awareness activities. Wilf was the consummate fundraiser. The best advice I ever received about fundraising was something our dear friend Joe Cullman had shared with Wilf 40 years earlier-successful fundraising is all about relationships, people give to people.
That is the thing that I will remember most about Wilf. Relationships were important to him. People mattered to him, his family, his friends, his colleagues, the guides he fished with, the people he met on the river, even his adversaries like the elderly commercial salmon fisherman we stopped to visit in New Carlisle. When you talked with Wilf, whether in the boardroom or on the river, time stood still. He engaged you in thoughtful conversation and he listened to you. He cared about what you were thinking and even if he didn’t agree with you he respected your opinion and your right to express it. No matter how busy he was he always had time to talk, to listen and to help a friend. Wilf cared deeply about the people in his life and we cared deeply about him. We will never forget him.