The city’s mascot, ‘Frozen John’ is actually ‘Honest John’, another nickname of August Hjalmer Melquist, a Swedish trapper who died of exposure in March 1918 near Fish Creek.City of Fort St. John

Ever wondered about the origin of Frozen John, the winter mascot of Fort St. John?

So did the City of Fort St. John, which recently hired the North Peace Museum to research who the mascot was named after, following concerns that the mascot was potentially offensive, based on rumours that it was named for an Indigenous person who froze to death. 

‘Frozen John’ is actually ‘Honest John’, another nickname of August Hjalmer Melquist, a Swedish trapper who died of exposure in March 1918. Melquist was found frozen near Fish Creek by two members of the Doig River First Nations, Aku and Japesia. 

Because of the concern about the story potentially being about an Indigenous man who died from exposure, Doig River First Nations were consulted about the story, who then provided oral history from their elders about Melquist’s death.

Melquist was born in Sweden and immigrated to Canada on November 20, 1905, on the ship Parisian, and his occupations were listed as ‘Glass Blower’ and ‘Labourer’ explained the report. 

Following his death, the area north of town, near Fish Creek where Melquist perished had been referred to as “Frozen John” for many years, where tobogganing and other outdoor activities often taken place. 

Combining the oral history and research notes from the North Peace Museum, City CAO Milo MacDonald prepared a small report on the true events that led to the creation of the mascot, which was discussed during city council’s regular meeting on Feb. 12. 

“One of things that was nice about doing the research on this report was to be able to involve the museum and accessing those historical records,” said MacDonald. “You know, they opened up all kinds of information that none of us knew, and it was actually really rewarding.” 

Doig River First Nations takes no position on whether the mascot should continued to be used, noted the report, as relayed by their band manager, Shona Nelson. 

Coun. Sarah MacDougall said she feels it would be better to honour Melquist through his ‘Honest John’ nickname rather than ‘Frozen John’ to highlight his pioneering spirit, instead of just focusing on the circumstances of his death. 

“I don’t think that we should be having a mascot that talks about how someone died,” she said. “It sounds like this was a great local historical figure in our community, he was nicknamed ‘Honest John’, he was like many of us are in this Peace Region, kind of a go-getter. He came across from Sweden and he forged a new life in our area.” 

While celebrating the death of Melquist is odd, Coun. Byron Stewart suggested that they continue to honour Melquist by better educating the public about the real story behind the mascot, expressing his gratitude for the report. 

“This person now has a historical relevance to our community, that story is significant. Having his name as ‘Frozen John’ or ‘Frozen Honest John’ I think could be something we could transition to,” said Stewart. “I don’t think we need to actually do a change, it’s just something that we as a council, we as staff, we as community members could carry on as reference, this is the historical nature of where this mascot came from and why it’s important to celebrate that.” 

Coun. Trevor Bolin said he agrees with the perspectives of both MacDougall and Stewart, but noted he feels the real win is having clarity on the story. 

“Now that we know, I think staff could take it too, and have a little segment on our website about why. Why is our mascot named ‘Frozen John’? Where is he from? You know, what was his nickname then, and I think that may then put all of our kind of worries to bed and everybody can celebrate the fact that this is who our mascot is,” said Bolin. 

‘Frozen John’ as a mascot was first introduced to council in 2005, by the city manager of the day and Sue Popesku, a local icon and well-known advocate of arts, culture and heritage in the North Peace. In 2006, Frozen John made in his first appearance at the city’s High on Ice festival, helping to celebrate winter with residents. 

By Tom Summer, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Feb 13, 2024 at 17:07

This item reprinted with permission from   Alaska Highway News   Fort St. John, British Columbia

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