Words // Jess Robson
The orange West Marine foam key chain that linked my dad’s Ford keys together never really made sense.
Growing up in Calgary (on the cusp of the Canadian prairies with little more than a river a few lakes around) the threat of his keys going overboard was slim to none - from what I knew, at least.
Hopping on the phone to ask a simple question about that orange keychain unfolded a story (and many stories) of a man who keeps surprising me with the depth of his lived experience and passion for watching and witnessing the world around him.
The water-loving life of my dad, Wishart Robson, proved to afford more reason for that float-friendly key fob to be proudly presented every time we hopped in that old beater of a truck to go about our very landlocked life in CowTown.
It only took me 34 years to get the full scoop, but finding a whole new understanding of my dad and his relationship with life beyond land made for a special experience leading up to this Father’s Day.
Going to the water—specifically to fish—was the through-line of a life filled with travel; where work took him from the riverways of Manitoba to the shores of Australia, Colombia, Nigeria and beyond.
The 70s (decked out in an original Mustang Float Coat...plus a very sign-of-the-times ‘stache) catalyzed an ever-dynamic career that would span nearly 5 decades, and land him in coastal communities around the world.
A job in Yellowknife involved catching and tagging fish. While living in bush camps, his evenings were filled with throwing in a couple lines to see what he could bring in. And while the hobby served to pass some time in the beginning, it evolved into the means for this on-the-move dude to slow down, spend time on the water, and experience the beauty of the world around him.
Fishing became his means of finding a sense of place, no matter where he landed. Always the one to strike up conversation at a bar or take a generous local up on an offer to spend a day on the water, being tuned into the fishing and boating community meant always being able to find a way to get a line in.
In Dad’s words:
‘There’s a whole community out there that loves to fish and be out on the water. If people sense you share that view, it’s easy to fall in with them or get an invite to go out. Especially if you buy gas - or beer.’
From 1981 to 2004 he worked in, on, or around the ocean. Hence the orange keychain. And he went out of his way to de-landlock himself; making intentional effort to get back to the water with travels to WhiteHorse, to Haynes, Alaska to fish at the head of the Lynn Canal, and many a trip to BC’s Gulf Islands with friends or hired guides. Because pops says: there’s always a way to get a line in.
Between the recreational adventures with pals and the fishing expeditions off the back of work trips, there are some stellar photos with some pretty big fish he’s caught; a 42lb. salmon, a 300lb. marlin in Hawaii to name a couple.
Photos aside, he swears that the best memories he’s made are ones that would be missed if someone was trying to ‘get the shot’. Like when he’s come upon Humpbacks putting their bubble curtains up while they feed. Or Orcas breaching 10 feet away from the boat. Or Eagles circling waiting to pick up scraps.
And most memorably, the night him and friends were bobbing on a boat in Bonavista Bay, Newfoundland when he saw the most jaw-dropping natural history event in his life: the bay full of Humpbacks breaching in the deep, and rolling onto their sides showing off their pectoral fins while playing in the shallows.
He’s since made his way West, where his days are filled with ample time to test his luck (and skills) with fishing lines. And, where his freezer is stocked with fish and seafood - each package with its own story of the who/what/where that brought each morsel into his possession.
Maybe more important (though his second born—ahem…me—sure appreciates said stocked freezer) is the wistful gaze he throws at the ocean when he shares a story from the archives of his fish-filled memories. Or the smile that creeps across his face when he recounts the moments floating along with strangers turned new friends, and friends turned into lifelong adventure mates.
So here’s to you Dad, and the life beyond land I only recently knew you’ve been living your entire life.
Now that you’re living next to the ocean, I sure hope nothing stops you from staying on it, bringing people new to the wonder of the water aboard to give them a taste of what’s out there, letting nature continue to stop you in your tracks with its incredible feats, and always being the guy that laughs at the weather, telling whatever squall hits ‘You can’t make me go inside.’
Happy Fathers Day