Lt. Pierre-Malcolm “Trapper” Stevens

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Lt. Pierre-Malcolm “Trapper” Stevens September 1, 1934 – March 11, 2020.

September 1, 1934 – March 11, 2020

Video courtesy Dennis Fletcher – Funeral for Lt. Pierre Stevens, Sept 23, 2021 at the National Military Cemetery
Beechwood Cemetery, Ottawa, Canada

TRAPPER STEVENS

Recollections of a eulogy by Anthony Hyde (used with permission)

I say “recollections” because I was making things up as I went along — surely appropriate since I was talking about Traps — and in putting this together have had only my notes and my memory to refer to.

Ever since human beings became the dominant species of the planet, death has been seen as a mystery, the subject of endless speculation. What is death? What happens? Where do we go afterwards? 

But with Trapper Stevens, a rather singular man, the speculation — often, among his friends, verging on the metaphysical —begins much earlier, with his life. 

Who was he? 

Where did he come from? 

When? 

Even the most simplest facts of his life were shrouded in mystery, especially the date when he was born. September, it was generally agreed, was the most likely month, since it was a time when he usually arranged to be out of the city, so making any celebration impossible. And the first was probably the day — the suggestion that it might be the day, always summoning one of his darkest looks. But few state secrets could have been more closely guarded than the actual year. Many guesses were made, arguments went back and forth, but no one could ever be certain. And of course he fudged it, once, notably, to his considerable embarrassment. Arriving at the American border, he presented documents whose particulars didn’t quite agree with the details in the computers and was made to cool his heels for several hours…an especial humiliation since he always saw himself as having a bond with anyone in uniform, a fellow fighter against the onslaught of communism.

But our chaplain has let the cat out of the bag, and now the truth can be admitted. Pierre Malcolm Stevens was born on September 1, 1934 in Val d’Or, Quebec.

Val d’Or, of course, means “valley of gold,” and Trapper was born there because his father was a mining engineer. I was never quite sure what this meant — or even if Trapper knew. Once I pressed him, and he said his father was an “assayer.” He was from Belgium — people will recall how (rightfully) proud Pierre was of his ‘Belgian nose’. Trapper did a little research on his paternal family and pretty much established that they were connected to the law, but I never thought there was any suggestion that his father was a ‘black sheep,’ perhaps just more adventurous than his siblings. In any case, he came out to Canada, became involved in the mining industry, and along the way met Sarah, very importantly a Malcolm — so giving Trapper his middle name. Trapper had a brother, Gerry, and the family eventually settled in ‘interior B.C.’ — as Trapper always called it —near Nelson. Trapper never talked much about his childhood, and I wouldn’t know whether it should be called “happy” or something else. He wasn’t close to his brother, and though he had friends and went to school — some of his schoolmates were Doukhobors —I sometimes thought that during his boyhood he was already learning to be alone. I was curious about one point, which I once asked him about. Trapper was a soldier, he lived his whole life around guns —leaving a few behind, creating, I think, one more problem for Sylvie to deal with. But had he ever been a hunter? It seemed a reasonable question, given where he grew up. He answered me cautiously. Yes, he’d probably been given a ritual .22, and probably slain the odd trophy rabbit, but no, he’d never hunted. Which seemed in keeping with his interest and feeling for animals. He always loved Richard and Sylvie’s animals, and my own cat, Archie, certainly loved him—always recognizing his voice, delighted to receive the latest shipment of nip nouveau, catnip being a main crop in Trapper’s garden. And of course he made a long trip to Africa to see the great African animals.

Trapper’s childhood came to an end, when he graduated from Nelson High School and enlisted in the Canadian Army. Trapper was one of the most intelligent you’ve ever known, he was a great reader — I apparently did an inadequate job disposing of his books — but so far as I knew, Trapper never wanted to go to university, and so far as I know his family had no particular ambitions for him; everyone seems to have been perfectly content that he’d signed up. Although he joined as an enlisted man, he soon applied for office training, was accepted, and on commissioning as an officer joined the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry — the regiment (originally formed in this city in 1914) of which he was a proud member for the rest of his life. He served in the second battalion, in Edmonton, and later in the first battalion in Victoria. Sometime in the later 1950s, he went overseas, and I think did two tours of duty there. Then, in the early 1960s, he became part of the first draft of Canadians to be trained as helicopter pilots. He first trained on fixed-wing aircraft, the Chipmunk, and I think the L19, and then the Hillier light helicopter, probably qualifying in 1963. This experience changed his life. He was now a flier, and he saw himself as a flier from then on — he was always worried when he couldn’t put his hand on his flight log book.

There’s now a hazy period in Trapper’s life. When his military career was over, he set off on his travels — he was always a traveller — but his exact routes and destinations aren’t entirely clear. He drove across Europe to Asia — a young Dalai Lama gazed upon him with curiosity — and somehow ended up in New Zealand. There he flew helicopters again, this time crop dusting, and had first crash here, settling his machine into a tree; he wasn’t hurt, nor was the plane. From New Zealand, he went to Laos and Vietnam, working for a company that was connected to the CIA. When he learned this, he quit. I’m not exactly certain what he was doing, but it probably involved “re-settling” tribal groups, because I can remember him saying “we destroyed a culture a day.” Already, perhaps, he was taking up an interest that was to be important in the next stage of his life, anthropology, and this was quickly joined to another, film. From South Asia he went to Japan, where he worked, probably only for a year, for a Japanese film company — I think subtitling western films. From Japan he went to London and the BBC Film School, then to Columbia where he proudly claimed to have met Margaret Mead. Then, at last he came home — we’ve now moved along to the 1970s. In Ottawa, he took a job at the National Museum as Head of the Visual Anthropology Unit, and when this Unit was abandoned moved to the National Archives, their Film and Sound Division. He specialized in military material, and he knew his stuff. He could look at an old newsreel and identify the units from their shoulder flashes, and could even tell you which of the Nazis film crews had probably shot the material. He retired from the Archives in the 1990s, but otherwise kept on with his usual life, travelling through Africa and Oceania, helping a museum in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, wintering happily with the strippers of Panama City Beach.

Trapper was an extraordinary man in so many ways. “Unbelievable” was a word that could be attached to him. Given his astonishing ineptitude with computers and anything electronic, even a television set— Richard can certainly attest to this — some people have wondered if he really did fly helicopters; but I’ve seen that log book, and he did. The places he’d seen were so numerous, that at least one person floated the notion that he never went anywhere, merely holed up in a motel room for a couple of months and read travel books — a not implausible notion, given his love of hotel rooms and other ‘rats’ nests.’ But I was once over at his place, and we were talking about subminiature cameras — he had both a Rollei 35 and a Minox— and he claimed that they could take pictures as well as any other. To prove this, I sat on his staircase while he projected slides into a corner of his hall, from Burma, some of them very good; so I rather think he did go to all of those places he talked about. Like many military types, he was a master at getting what he wanted from bureaucracy.

He was once a judge in an anthropological film festival in Paris, and somehow managed to have the government pay for his trip, via China. While he was at the Archives, he secured a job in London advising the High Commission on purchases of archival film collections, mostly from the Second World War, not a role that likely involved long hours. He was living in a wonderful apartment — huge — in Queen Anne’s Gate. I visited him there with Kathy, my wife, and as it happens — he was visiting the UK on his own — my father. Happy in his soft billet, Trapper served us his go-to dish for company, a curry — quite good. Trapper could be exasperating. My wife loved him dearly, but he could infuriate her — especially on account of his baiting of our old friend Brooke Larsen, who, despite his own exasperation, loved Trapper as well — I spoke to him earlier today, and he only wishes he could be here with us. I think this points to Trapper’s greatest quality, so surprising on the face of it — I mean his ability to inspire love. Our presence here surely proves it, however much — since we are ‘mixing friends’ — he might pretend to disapprove. Setting off on his travels, he always loved to say “he travels fastest who travels alone.” But always on those travels — they formed the basis of some great stories when he got home — he’d pick up other people — road runners, he called them — and travel with them, at least for a while. That’s who we all are, I think: road runners he picked up on the course of his remarkable journey through life.

Reception – September 23, 2021 @ 4:00 pm – Royal Oak – Beechwood

Sylvie Morel:

Welcome everyone. Please have some beer or wine and there are lots of goodies to eat. You’ll note that we have two Belgian beers (in honour of Trapper’s dad), one wine from BC in honour of the place where Traps grew up and one wine from New Zealand in honour of the years he spent there.

Trapper was a supporter of the Ottawa Humane Society so there are some envelopes here for donations to that charity if you wish to make one in his name.

Richard Lochhead has asked to say a few words.

Richard Lochead:

Thanks to Sylvie Morel for organizing this, especially during these continuing challenging circumstances (and the LRT).

I was a colleague of Pierre during his years at the National Archives which was only a small and I suspect a relatively quiet chapter of his amazing life so I hope others here will come forth to provide more colour.

Pierre, as we all know, was always engaging and quick to share a good anecdote about his more interesting pre archives careers

Which, of course, made ours seem quite, well, much less interesting. 

His stories were always fascinating almost to the point of being far fetched after all, not many of us came to the archives with such world wide experiences and varied career changes.  

But when pressed for details, especially about his military service, Pierre would claim secrecy and cite security reasons.

In short he was our favourite man of mystery and intrigue which was how I think Pierre liked it.

And Sylvie, I must admit, it was only after reading the obituary in the citizen that I realized that some, if not many, of the stories he told us about his travels and exploits were indeed true.

We all knew pierre as a great conpanion and master story teller 

But Pierre also had some unacknowledged and perhaps less known skills and qualities that I came to appreciate during his archival career.   

First, his sense of interior design:

His office

In the 1970s there was no more space in the main National Archive building on Wellington street so the overflow staff (the AV staff) were moved across the street to the west memorial building.

The west memorial building was slated for a major renovation (no air conditioning) for maybe a more important government tenant but until then it remained essentially unchanged which meant its office sizes were palatial compared to any other government offices.

Pierre immediately realized the situation and, after first astutely selecting an office furthest way from management, then decorated it in a manner that made us all envious in comparison. First he bypassed the ugly and glaring fluorescent lighting and substituted soft lighting with his own antique lamps. He then filled his office with artifacts and antiques obtained during his travels. His office would probably have won an award for the most inviting as well as least typical government office. Walking into his room was like walking into a professor’s office from Raiders of the Lost Ark. It certainly added to his persona as a man of mystery and intrigue.

Second skill: confronting and surviving bureaucratic life with a combination of humour and critique. 

Here I can provide two examples.

The Section Meeting

The addition of the newly created Film and Sound Archives to the older and more traditional archives was an unlikely and difficult fit. They did not understand us and we did not understand them. So for many years we had a separate and I should say almost autonomous existence. This suited both sides well and the AV archives became a separate, big squabbling and occasionally happy family. But there was unity when confronted with a threat from outside authority namely central archives management. (I have been retired from the government for over 10 years and have since heard many neighbours and friends talk about their government experience. None of them were like mine.)

So the introduction of regular section meeting was seen as an infringement of our professionalism.  I looked it up.  A professional is defined as someone who supervises and regulates their own work. our group took this definition seriously. Having to assemble together and then be required to report on your weekly activities was equated to primary school exercise of show and tell. Very demeaning and unprofessional.

But it was Pierre who articulated this point at one such section meeting. When it became his turn to report, he made a brief opening statement and then took the opportunity to display past citations awards and medals acquired from his previous careers and many travels….a tour de force of show and tell.

I think it was a long time until another section meeting was held.  

Second example a master of bureaucratic arts – the memo

At one time i was asked to find out more about Pierre’s work in newsreels for a report. I devised a list of what I thought were excellent and precise questions and was gratified to receive a detailed memo from Pierre in response. When I first read it I was quite happy because he had addressed all the questions. On second reading, i noticed there was very little detail and solid information provided. I was quite irritated. On third reading, sometime later, I realized and came to appreciate his mastery of the art of the bureaucratic memo. He had skillfully responded to all the questions without in effect saying anything at all. 

Maybe something he picked from his career in military intelligence.  

And third and perhaps his most under-appreciated was his mentoring skills

Pierre was a quick study, and quickly identified newsreels and, in particular, Canadian Army Newsreels as an important part of our Canadian film heritage in need of further research, exploration and publicity.

When Dan Conlin a journalism summer student was assigned to him he shared his research and his work and his enthusiasm with Dan. This experience inspired dan to do his undergraduate thesis on the Canadian Army Newsreels and using his journalistic skills then authored the excellent book, War Through the Lens—available on Amazon. Pierre’s interest and promotion of Canadian Newsreels is being continued today through the ongoing work and research of his colleague, Dale Gervais who is here today.   

So a toast, to Pierre…

Our favourite man of mystery and whose presence made our own government experience easier and more enjoyable.

His memory and legend will contunie with all of us as we retell his stories.

A life well and fully lived

To Pierre

And Brenda Burroughs has also asked to say a few words.

Brenda Burroughs:

I would like to start with a quote from the famed neurotic, George Costanza… “WORLDS ARE COLLIDING”! This gathering of Trapper’s friends from different corners of his life, would be a nightmare for the fiercely private Trapper! But I, for one, am so thankful that all of his worlds are colliding here today so we may share our collective memories of one wonderful and very unique guy. 

My world of Trapper started in the late 70s or early 80s when we were backyard neighbours in the Golden Triangle. He would proudly present me with vegetables from his garden and we’d often have a refreshment on the porch of his big, old house… sometimes enjoying a burger on his hibachi. At first glance, you would think we had very little in common, but somehow we just clicked. I was always amazed that Trapper knew a lot about a lot of things and could talk about almost any subject. And while we solved a few of the world’s problems on his porch, much time was wasted talking about the latest developments on the Young and the Restless (he did a great Victor Newman impression!); the latest developments in our respective love lives (he was always a little scant on details); and our mutual love of dogs… we could talk for hours about dogs! 

Soon Trapper was joining my Bell and Nortel colleagues at the Royal Oak pub on Bank Street on Friday nights. A curious fellow, he had a keen interest in our telecommunications and hi-tech industries and with a clever turn of phrase, referred to the Nortel Design Interface guys as “propeller heads”…  asking them when he would ever see the final version of the “Princess” telephone!  He would regularly needle Jennifer and me, who were Bell girls, as to when the Bell installers would be coming back to his house to complete his jacking installation (like it was our job!). We repeatedly assured him he was on the list and they should be there soon. 

At the Royal Oak, where “everybody knew his name”, Trapper would often be the first to arrive and secure “our” table at the back, reading his newspaper and chatting with the servers and the colourful characters who were pub regulars. We all looked forward to seeing Trapper on those smokey Oak Friday nights. I can still picture him at the table with his pile of coins.

He was always “cash and carry”, paying for each beer as it was served. He never ran a tab. He put a quarter on the table for each pint he drank, so he knew how many he’d had when the evening wrapped up… then he’d leave those quarters as additional tip. A simple but very effective accounting system! As many of you probably know, Trapper was very frugal, or as he preferred to call it- “parsimonious”.

Trapper was an enthusiastic listener, often expressing an incredulous stare when hearing something major for the first time. Never wanting to miss out on an important fact or piece of news, he always had his pen and folded foolscap in his breast pocket, ready to jot down notes. Friday nights involved lively discussions, but it was also involved drinking beer and pigging out on french fries with gravy (and lots of pepper) then drinking more beer. So Saturdays were like a debriefing when Trapper would call me up to help interpret his chicken scratch notes from the night before! 

As you all know, Trapper was a passionate and dedicated traveller and the pubites were always amused and entertained with his travel tales… MY personal favourite… spoor tracking in Africa! Hard to beat that. He was a great story teller. He also was a relentless tease, had a wonderful sense of humour and a great belly laugh!

If you’re getting the impression that Trapper and I were only Friday night drinking buddies, that is not quite true. Trapper was a good friend and we often socialized outside of the Oak at dinner parties, birthday parties, Christmas parties (never at his house, of course!) and he visited several cottages I rented during the summer. (He loved to swim and snorkel!) He met most of my family and friends and they all were charmed by him and remember him fondly. For several years Jennifer, Trapper and I would have “annual girls’ day” at Jennifer’s Ottawa house, where the 3 of us spent the afternoon gossiping, laughing and teasing each other while splashing around in her pool and soaking in the hot tub.  Good times.

Being a military historian and a flier, Trapper, of course, knew more about my father’s World War II career as an RCAF reconnaissance pilot than I did and forever lectured me on the importance of my father’s DFC and war record.  He came to my father’s funeral. Trapper took the time to curate my father’s war effects which included: uniforms, medals, documents, pictures and video, and he organized donations to the Canadian War Museum on our behalf. My family is forever grateful for that. 

Trapper really was one in a million. He was so different from anyone I had every met….  There is likely no end to the memories and stories that we can all hold on to. I’d like to say a special thank you to Sylvie and Richard for colliding Trapper’s worlds today. Thank you so much.  

Rest in Peace, dear Trapper.

Sylvie Morel:

Richard and I have known Trapper since the early 70s and he was definitely part of our chosen family.

Trapper was a funny guy, a real character and a bit of an enigma. 

He’s always lived alone with the exception of a few short-term relationships. He has always been very private and secretive. He was a fantastic storyteller to the end and recounted all sorts of adventures he had in his life – we really never knew where truth and fiction met.

Some of us remember Trapper for his wildly romantic streak. He always talked of his love for Dr. Zhivago and the idea of finding Lara. And then he was always looking for the right woman to whom he would be prepared to offer kitchen appliances in any decorator colour of her choice (think avocado green, harvest yellow and chocolate brown) and that in return for a date. 

We from the National Museum of Man where we first met Trapper worked in a very female environment. And from time to time, we would all find a copy of a steamy Angélique novel tucked into our mail slots.

Trapper was a traveller, a great storyteller, a pack rat, an inveterate note taker, a turtle saver, a clipper of coupons and NYT travel articles, a Scotch and beer lover, a food lover, a purveyor of treats to friends’ cats and dogs and one of the most enthusiastic people I have known. On the one hand, he was cheap – he’d drive miles out of his way for a bargain on socks – and on another hand he was so very, very generous, saving ‘treasures’ he’d found that were perfect for each of us.

His undecipherable emails and post cards were legendary and were always filled with his funny little expressions like his latest bolt hole, how he got up at sparrow fart, how he piddled himself with excitement, where he was in bongo bongo land.

Most of you are probably not aware that Trapper had a son in New Zealand. He never met him, but I have been in touch with him and have transferred all of the family memorabilia to him. His name is Mike Sexton. Mike’s mom Maureen (or Mollie) had two good friends Carole and Tom who became friends with Traps (or Peter as they called him) in New Zealand. They asked me to read this note.


“We met Trapper about 1965 after he had completed an adventurous journey in a double decker London bus, from London through Europe and the Middle East to either India or Singapore. He had met Mollie on the trip and had accompanied her back to Gisborne, our hometown, on the East Coast of NZ. Trapper held a Canadian Air Force helicopter pilot license and was quite put out that he had to re-sit an examination to obtain a NZ one. This involved a lot of study and took over six months.

Initially he stayed at Mollie’s parents’ home but moved into an apartment not far from where we lived. He and Mollie were great friends and great company and we spent many happy times together.

After Trapper had obtained his NZ pilot’s license, he flew for an Aerial Topdressing firm on the East Coast, north of Gisborne. He found that commercial flying was a little different from Military operations and he tangled with a tree on one occasion and crashed the helicopter. He walked away from it uninjured, but the aircraft was a write -off.  

Trapper was keen to marry, but he couldn’t imagine living permanently in NZ. We thought that he and Mollie might marry, but that wasn’t to be.

We left Gisborne to travel overseas in December 1966 and visited his brother and family in Toronto, on our way home twelve months later. Trapper’s brother and family made us very welcome and we enjoyed our visit to Toronto and spending an evening with them.  

On our return to NZ, Trapper had moved on and we never met again.

He was great company - larger than life - a real character, whom we liked very much.

We were sorry to learn of his passing but feel very happy to continue an association with his son, Mike. Mike is a fine family man, of whom we feel Trapper would have been rightly proud.”

Sylvie Morel: Trapper’s son, Mike has asked me to read this message;

As Trapper’s only son (that I’m aware of….) I’d like to thank Sylvie for organising today and I’m hoping that Ottawa has turned on a beautiful day.

Tom and Carole’s message covers a significant amount of Trapper’s time in NZ and they speak very fondly of him.

I’m Mike and I was born in March 1967 in NZ. 

As far as I can remember I always knew my birth father was a Canadian helicopter pilot and that actually sounded sort of exciting to me as a boy growing up! My birth mother Maureen (Mollie) needed to move from her hometown of Gisborne to a small NZ town 1400km away to give birth to me. That was pretty common at the time, I think. Maureen was a nurse, a midwife and a strong Catholic. 

From my adoption records I do know that one option discussed was me being sent to Canada and being bought up by Trapper’s brother Gerry. This didn’t happen and as a result I have never seen a game of ice hockey but have always been drawn to maple syrup which I put down to genetics.

I first made contact with my birth mother Maureen (Mollie) in the late 1990’s after my adopted parents had died. Maureen very much became part of our family. Contact with Trapper came a little later, around 2004 and fair to say he was fairly guarded in his return emails back to me. I never pushed him for information as I wasn’t entirely aware of his family or personal circumstances and really just thought he was the slightly aloof type.

Fortunately, in late 2018 Trapper discussed my existence with Sylvie and Sylvie then surreptitiously made contact with me and was able to give me an insight into Trapper’s life. This was really great as it filled in a lot of gaps and corrected any misconceptions I might have had about him.

Neither Maureen or Trapper ever married or had other children.

Trapper was never keen for me to visit him in Canada and would provide various reasons why the timing wasn’t good when I raised the topic. In hindsight I wished I had been more persistent with him or just turned up on his doorstep. Now that would have really thrown him, I suspect!

Since his death and now having many of Trapper’s papers it’s been a journey of discovery learning his history and getting an insight into the younger Trapper and the family history. His life was a really interesting one and he clearly loved travel and discovery. His letters to his parents from Vietnam and Laos late 1960’s and then Tokyo and New York make for fascinating reading and I suspect the excitement of a 1969 South East Asia was never going to be matched by a life of domesticity in Gisborne, NZ or Nelson, BC!

I’ve also enjoyed getting to know about Trapper’s father Andre. Andre wrote a 54 page biography he called “My Life and Adventures” covering his earliest days in Belgium to near the end of his life in Nelson, BC. His wartime adventures within the SAS during WW2 including being parachuted behind German lines in France and Belgium is the stuff of “Boys’ Own Adventures”.

For me it was very sad to hear of Trapper’s death. Perhaps it was a biological thing or the fact that Trapper was the last of my 4 parents (2 biological and 2 adopted) to die. Trapper actually died on my birth date and within 2 days of Maureen’s anniversary which is some co-incidence. 
 
Knowing that Trapper’s ashes are interned alongside those of Andre’s at the National Military Cemetery fills me with a great sense of pride and again thank you so much to Sylvie for organising this. 

Of course, when travel is openly allowed, I am keen to visit beautiful Canada and learn more about Trapper’s life there and a little of my Canadian heritage. I also very much look forward to visiting the Military Cemetery which I’m sure will an emotional experience.

God bless and all the best 

Mike Sexton

Sylvie Morel:

Traps always signed his emails to me as coming from Jack. I never did know why. 

So, Yo, Jack, Trapper wherever you are, all your toothsome pistachios and your good buddies are gathered here to toast you with a pint or a glass. Here’s to you. You were such a big part of our lives, and we miss you a hell of a lot.

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