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Heb Evans

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Heb Evans
- 1985

Heb Evans as a Coach
By Lou Higgins
Governor Dummer Academy, '64

Heb Evens      Calling Heb a coach is like calling Everest a mountain, or The Empire State a building - it's true, but inadequate. For almost 35 years, he built athletic skills and inspired greatness. His tools were a relentless attention to fundamentals and a merciless insistence that we always, ALWAYS play our best. Heb scorned shirkers and was contemptuous of any effort that fell short of the goal - which was to win. With Heb, you always knew that the goal was not to play the game, it was to win the game. Heb made us believe that any game on any day can be won. All it takes is a complete mastery of fundamentals coupled with the best conditioning, fired by the greatest desire. Green Bay had Lombardi. We had Heb.

      He was a master of tactics and strategy, and knew the rules better than the refs. Refs didn't bother to argue with him. Arguing with Heb over the rules of lacrosse would be akin to disputing with Moses over the meaning of the tablets. When a ref made a lousy call, Heb could be heard to snort. Then it was over. Heb would attribute the mistake to the poor soul's failing vision, knowing it was part of the game, and besides, like all great coaches, he preferred to make his own luck. At various times, Heb coached soccer, football, and lacrosse, but it was on the wrestling mats of Alumni Gym that his genius found its greatest display. From the middle 1950s through the '60s, he sent forth his wrestlers against the best the league could muster, and he watched them win again and again. In 1962 and again in '63 he coached undefeated teams that went on to become tournament champions. In those times, Saturday afternoons in Alumni Gym were boisterous displays of pride in being a Governor. Students, faculty, neighbors, friends -the whole community - packed the bleachers and erupted in deafening cheers as the wrestlers walked onto the floor. After all, this was the Governor Dummer Academy Varsity Wrestling Team, Mr. Evans, Coach.

      Like all great coaches, he was superstitious and wonderfully idiosyncratic. He always wore Brine athletic socks, the same necktie, the same gray herringbone Harris tweed jacket, and highly polished loafers. To psych us up, he played The Student Prince, sung by Mario Lanza. At meets, he chained smoked unfiltered Camels and growled into a tape recorder, memorializing the opponents' moves, the better to beat them at the next encounter. When one of his boys made a mistake, Heb bawled "Good Lord!" his strongest epithet. His voice was deep, truly basso profundo, and Heb could bellow like a bull. Thousands of us heard that howl of anguish and immediately stopped doing whatever it was we were doing and started doing the thing we were supposed to be doing - the right thing, the proper thing.

      "Good Lord, Leahy!" "Good Lord, Stringer!" "Good Lord, Fraser!" Forty years have passed, but I remember as though it were yesterday. I can still hear him. Heb Evans was a legendary coach, caring mentor, dedicated teacher. Pity the boys at all the schools that did not have Heb Evans. He was the best.


Master of the Bay
Hudson Bay at Whapmagoostui by Aaron Mishkin

From ottertooth.com

Despite his passing of a heart attack in 1985, Heb Evans continues living on. For the dozens of us who had the good fortune to trip with him and the rest who did not, he can't escape our memory. He was the Great One, the guide's guide, a kind of personification of  Keewaydin – you wanted to be just like him, possess his talent, though you never knew him. We willingly ate up the tales, and then turned around and passed them on ourselves.

Heb Evens
Heb Evans in the Early 1980s
Photo: Sandy Chivers

Outside of Keewaydin, he was a math instructor and dorm-master at Governor Dummer Academy in Byfield, Massachusetts, a pioneer in organized lacrosse and the co-author of the bible on the sport, Lacrosse Fundamentals (1966). 

Inside Keewaydin, he was Master of the Bay, leading 15 river descents to Hudson Bay from 1962 to 1976, including the remarkable pioneering work on the Eastmain and Sakami Rivers. Too, he was Master of the Outpost, point man for four years of exploration leading up to its founding and construction in northwestern Ontario in 1981. Yet he still had enough dedication and energy in reserve to be the Bon Vivant of the Fireplace, becoming the primary contributor to the Keewaydin Cookbook (1968). This he followed with the two canoeing classics, Canoeing Wilderness Waters (1975) and Canoe Camping (1977) that could be described as how-tos of the Keewaydin trip style.

On Lake Temagami he was the man driving the red Chestnut freight canoe with two, then three, springer spaniels leaning over the gunwales. You could hear him over the noise of the outboard, "Tinker! Get down!" 

Heb did not acquire his tripping skills in the traditional Keewaydin fashion by starting as a camper and working his way up through the ranks. After World War II, he led short, non-wilderness canoe trips at Hyde Bay Camp in New York. In 1956, with some friends he took a 10-day canoe trip to Temagami. He returned clearly impressed with Temagami. 

A colleague at Governor Dummer, who was a former staff at Camp Wabun, connected him with Bill Russell, then Wabun's director.  Russell recruited Heb for the following season and gave him the staffman's position in the second most experienced group at Wabun. In 1958, he got promoted to the most experienced trip with the oldest campers, Section A, taking it down the Dumoine River in Quebec. 

A fateful set of events brought him to Keewaydin. His friend Bill Russell had been removed as Wabun's director by his partners. The new director, Herbert "Stokie" Stokinger, raised the tuition. Heb had already taken a cut in pay coming to Wabun, so with the higher tuition he felt it was time to get a raise. Stokie refused.  Fed up, Heb went looking for a position at another Temagami camp for the 1959 season. Camp Temagami, where Bill Russell was going, didn't offer him enough. Chief Chivers at Keewaydin did.

Heb Evens

Heb in early 70s at his cabin on Sharp Rock Inlet, standing in front of the fireplace he constructed.

"He always went on about how good that green staff jacket was because of the double layer of material over the shoulders. In the bush, it was rarely used for anything other than a pillow. But when he put it on, you knew it was cold."

Dan Carpenter Jr. reminiscing about life on trip with Heb.

Photo: Dan Carpenter Jr.

After proving himself in 1959 with Keewaydin's second most experienced trip, Section B, he got promoted to Section A's

staffman. The promotion also marked the beginning of what would become a tripping Dream Team with his pairing to the extraordinary Métis guide, Nishe Belanger. Heb would later credit Nishe for being his best teacher.

The match between the Chief and Heb was fortuitous. In 1960, Chief became the camp's owner, a camp with a long pioneering history, and he now had complete freedom to run it. Heb wanted to explore and had the drive, energy and talent to do it. 

Throughout the 1950s Keewaydin's long trip, Section A, had repeated the same trip down the Harricanaw River. Heb pressed Chief to let it go elsewhere. In 1960, Heb began a new era of Section A trips with the Drowning-Little Current Rivers trip in the Albany River watershed, marking the beginning of one of Keewaydin's most adventurous canoe-tripping eras.

A conversation with him would be interrupted while he slapped his pockets in search of a Zippo – "They hold up in a wind." He carried four of them – "Can never find one when you need one" – or to cover himself in case he ran low on lighter fluid. Click, zzzst. In the tent at night or in the gray of morning, the sound was a sure sign that he was awake. Click, zzzst. He never seemed to hit it on the first one.

He always walked with his head bent, like a bear, and went about his chores in silence. Too often this was interpreted as arrogance, when in fact, he was extraordinarily shy. Anyone brave enough to breach the cold exterior would find a warm giant.

It was beyond his comprehension to give someone else a task he would not do himself. He always carried more than his fair share of the workload, and everything in his personal gear he considered a possession of the entire section, ready to give it up to the needy.

Being a technical master of wilderness travel, was only half his talent. He was builder of character in the young men he traveled with and he took this on with less obvious, but equal passion. His methods were passive taking advantage, or manipulating, structure and situation to his goals. 

At the Outpost, he broke the Keewaydin tradition of sternman-for- the-summer. He believed everyone not only had the ability but should have the opportunity to learn and master any skill. So he created a daily rotation that required everyone to share equally the bow and stern, including rotating through his own canoe so he could get to know them better. 

When Heb arrived at a campsite late, you could be sure he wouldn't be standing around barking orders. Without a word, he leapt into the work. Two bannocks had to be baked every night – one for the following day's lunch. Since they took the longest of the campsite tasks, they had to be  started first – and no buts about it. If someone else didn't reach the baking wannigan first, Heb would take on the job. The section discovered his bannocks tasted notoriously similar to the last muskeg they portaged. Once the section got wise, it became a prime duty to beat Heb to the baking wannigan – no offense, sir. An early start on the first task had a chain effect on all other tasks. Everything suddenly meshed better and moved faster. Only later in the summer would the section discover that he was the best bannock baker in the section – undisputed.

But you see, that was Heb's way.



Published under the name G. Heberton Evans.

Canoeing Wilderness Waters. New York: Barnes, 1975, 211 pp. Out of print.

Canoe Camping. New York: Barnes, 1977, 186 pp. Out of print.

The classic technical books on the Keewaydin style.

Keewaydin Cook Book. Temagami: Keewaydin Camps, Ltd., 1965, revised 1978, 1986, 59 pp. Heb compiled and edited.

The Rupert That Was. Cobalt, Ontario: Highway Book Shop, 1978, 219 pp. 

Follows the 1964 Section A Rupert River trip.

Available from Highway Book Shop or call 705-679-8375.

Down to The Bay. Fur-Fish-Game, May 1964.

1963 Section A Rupert River trip. 

Eastmain Sod Houses. The Beaver, Autumn 1971, pp. 30-33. 

A unique contribution to Cree anthropology, dealing with these rare houses, seen by Section A.

Ontario's White Water Challenge. Camping Journal, July 1968.

1965 Section A Albany River trip.

Lacrosse Fundamentals. New York: Barnes, 1966. Co-author: Robert E. Anderson. Out of print.

Once considered the bible of lacrosse.

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