Cold Case North

2 December 2020

Cold Case North: The Search for James Brady and Absolom Halkett
by Michael Nest with Deanna Reder and Eric Bell
Published by University of Regina Press
Review by Michelle Shaw
$24.95 ISBN 9780889777491

In 1967, Métis leader James Brady and Absolom Halkett, a Cree Band Councillor, vanished from their remote lakeside camp while prospecting in Saskatchewan. No trace of them was ever found and their disappearance became one of Northern Saskatchewan’s most enduring mysteries. The initial police investigation concluded that the men had got lost and died while trying to find their way out of the remote area.

But rumors persisted for over 50 years. If they were indeed lost why was no trace of their bodies ever found, even though there was an extensive search at the time. Many people believed they were murdered, and their bodies disposed of, probably in the nearby lake which was very cold and deep.

Various attempts were made over the years to discover what had happened, but none were successful. Deanna Reder, a Professor of English and Indigenous Studies at Simon Fraser University (SFU), grew up hearing the story of Brady and Halkett. Her uncle Frank, in particular, talked about his memories of the two men and was worried that no one would ever find out what had happened. In 2016, Uncle Frank, now almost 90 years old, persuaded Deanna that her research expertise was a last hope to solve the case. Around the same time, Michael Nest, an Australian researcher and author, who had met Deanna years earlier, contacted her to say he was moving to Montreal. Deanna shared the story with him and the two decided to see where the evidence led. They were joined by Deanna’s cousin Eric Bell, a member of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band.

The book reads like a true crime novel. Michael Nest pursues various leads and attempts to sift through the theories regarding Brady and Halkett’s disappearance. He quickly concludes that the official story doesn’t make sense. Far from being incompetent and stupid men who simply “got lost” (as it appears the original RCMP officer concluded) Brady and Halkett were intelligent and skilled outdoorsmen with years of experience. Nest explores the political and mining elements of the story, tracks down articles published over the years and interviews many people, including members of the La Ronge, Stanley Mission and Grandmother’s Bay communities. In some cases, he uncovers crucial first-hand information which was ignored or dismissed at the time.

Cold Case North is well written and intriguing. I think it’s also an important story. Brady and Halkett were two vibrant and vital members of their community with family and friends who were devastated by their loss. They deserve to have their story told. But over the years their disappearance has also touched many people who weren’t even alive at the time and has become part of the narrative of missing Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Deanna Reder is a Cree-Métis literary critic and an Associate Professor of English and First Nations Studies at SFU. Michael Nest is a freelance researcher and award-winning author whose work focuses on mining and corruption. Eric Bell is a member of the Lac La Ronge Indian Band and the owner of La Ronge Emergency Medical Services.


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