Joe Friday Biography

Joe Friday Photo
Joe Friday
H. Keltner Photo
Joe Friday… a hunter, a trapper, an Ojibway wilderness guide who lived in a region that was so remote and unforgiving, it had yet to be settled by the Whiteman. But this master of the forest was as comfortable and at home in civilization as he was in the northern frontier.

His life as an Ojibway Indian helped to bridge the gap between two differing cultures with his development and co-founding of a new parent/child programming format.

Photo of Baby Joe Friday in his papoose
Baby Joe Friday in his papoose
Friday Family Photo
He was born on November 10,1887, minutes before his twin sister Charlotte, in the northern Canadian forest of Matagami. As with Ojibway tradition, babies were usually named after some prominent incident occurring at the same time. On the morning of Joe’s birth, his father John Friday noticed the tracks of two Caribou calves in the snow outside of their birchbark wigwam. He quickly named his new son “Ahtik,” the Ojibway word for “Caribou.” The family’s last name “Friday” was John’s chosen Christening name.

Sometime after, John Friday died. So the family relocated to a camp on Bear Island, on Lake Temagami near Hudson Bay in Ontario, Canada. There Ahtik was Christened with the name “Joseph” and his family was taken in by Joe’s uncle, White Bear, who was also their tribe’s chief.

For most of his youth, Joe was raised by Chief White Bear who devoted much of his time teaching Joe how to hunt and trap wild game. It was at that time that Joe realized the importance of the father/son relationship. He believed that a father who did not have time for his son in the formative years, lost much of kinship with his son. The two should grow up together as two boys and two men.

Joe’s uncle knew that their wilderness would soon be invaded by white hunters and fishermen. He also knew that if an Indian could build a reputation of being a good hunter and trapper, he could make a comfortable living as a guide to these sportsmen. However, Joe’s uncle understood that accompanying such an occupation would come the great responsibility of having many whitemen’s lives dependent on the guide’s knowledge. Therefore, it was very important to teach Joe everything he knew about the wilderness.

Photo of Joe Friday in military uniform with his rifle
Joe Friday in military uniform with his rifle.
J. Friday Photo
On June 1, 1916, Joe enlisted in the Canadian army’s 228 Battalion at Elk Lake where he served overseas. During that time, he met and married Eva Vanderlip in 1918. Eva was a white, well-educated nurse. He was eventually discharged in 1919, but long after, continued to work actively for the Legion in Temagami and elsewhere. Eva later died in 1947, without children.

After the war, Joe became a hunter and guide, canoeing through dangerous white waters and driving dog teams over the ice for explorers and prospectors to the Hudson Bay region. He often endured temperatures as cold as 40 below zero using his sled dogs to keep him warm in the wigwam.

Joe never forgot the lessons that his uncle taught him. In fact on his first time as a guide, it saved his life. Joe took a group of men deep into the woods. After several days, they came across a fast flowing river that his uncle had always told him about. His uncle always stressed that when crossing the river with a canoe, “The harder path is easier and the easier path is harder.” Although Joe was apprehensive to what his uncle had told him, he was obedient and took the harder path. At first, it was very difficult to paddle and the water was very turbulent. But as he broke free of the current, it became very calm. When Joe and his group crossed, he looked over to where the easy path should have been. On his side of the river, the easy path had become very turbulent and dangerous. Joe saw that a large log was caught in a whirlpool and was split in two from hitting some rocks. Joe knew that they would have never made it across had he chosen the easier path. He learned an important lesson: to always follow everything his uncle had taught him.

Photo of Temagami Village - Ontario, Canada
Temagami Village – Ontario, Canada
As the Temagami area became more popular, Joe continued to serve as a guide for sportsmen and hunters. It was as a guide where he became a close friend to Harold S. Keltner, the other
co-founder of the new parent/child programming format.

Photo of Hudson Bay Post on Bear Island
Hudson Bay Post on Bear Island
H. Keltner Photo
The two had first met on the dock of the Hudson Bay Fur Trading Company on Bear Island, as Keltner retold in his 1970 speech “How We Found Joe Friday”. It seems Joe and the other islanders on the dock had thought that an approaching canoe had gone under as a fast storm passed overhead. Actually, the canoeists (Keltner, his wife, and his father) had taken shelter on a rocky island. After the storm, the Keltners paddled onward and arrived at the dock to everyone’s surprise.
Photo of Bear Island Church
Original church on Bear Island
Church Photo
By pure coincidence, Keltner saw an old acquaintance from Buffalo, New York who relocated up north to serve as a missionary. His friend introduced him to his first church member, a tall Ojibway Indian named Joe Friday.

After being introduced, Joe had noticed that Keltner’s finger was bleeding. Keltner explained that he tore his fingernail on the edge of the gunwale while frantically paddling to safety from the storm. Joe invited Keltner up to his cabin so Eva could tend to it.

Photo of Joe Friday's cabin
Joe Friday’s cabin
G. Measor Photo
Little did Keltner know, that the kindness of this
stranger would soon lead to a long-lasting friendship and the discovery of a new programming format that would benefit hundreds of thousands of families.

Keltner was a YMCA director in St. Louis, who for many years was trying to find the right formula for a successful father/son program. None of his previous attempts seemed to be long-lasting. In 1924,after being denied funding, Keltner used outside donations and philanthropy to hire Joe as an instructor for a new campground in the Ozark mountains, Camp Niangua.

Photo of Joe Friday attending tribe meeting
Joe Friday greets a tribe meeting at the Webster Groves Presbyterian Church in Webster Grove, Missouri
Star Times Photo
There Joe taught groups of men, women, and children canoeing and woodcraft, as well as giving lectures on Indian lore. After one such lecture, Joe was surrounded by so many fathers with hunting & fishing questions, that the little boys were unable to get close to the Indian. This gave Keltner the idea of incorporating Indian lore as a common level of interest between fathers and sons in an outdoor program. And so in 1926 with the help of Joe Friday, a new programming format was born.

Implementation of this format was not immediate. Keltner kept procrastinating by telling his wife Mary, that someday he would make this dream a reality. Against his wishes, but to end his procrastination, Mary contacted local business, civic, and religious leaders and asked them to gather with their sons on at Webster Groves Presbyterian Church. Upset, but in order to save face, Keltner went to the meeting and presented his idea for a new program format which everyone loved. And so it was. Keltner formed and lead the Osage tribe in Richmond Heights, Missouri until they elected William H. Hefelfinger as their first chief six months later.

Photo of Joe Friday receiving  the award
Harold Keltner presents Joe Friday with the National Long House Award at Webster Groves Presbyterican Church
Post-Dispatch Photo
Joe was able to sponsor his belief in the father/son relationship through his development of this program. His life as an Indian and the creed from which he lived by “Ngoodwasgo nake“, the “Six Aims” of the Ojibway Indians, helped to mold a successful program. In 1935, only nine years after its creation, his format became adopted by the Young Men’s Christian Association as a national program called “The Father & Son Indian Guides.”

Photo of Joe Friday and Wade Weaver
Joe Friday and camper Wade Weaver at North Woods Camp – circa 1940
North Woods Photo
According to the Keltner family, there was strong opposition to launch Keltner and Friday’s new format as a national program. Keltner had all but given up until William H. Hefelfinger went to Niagara Falls to attend the Laymen’s Assembly meeting for the Young Men’s Christian Association in October of 1935. Their Hefelfinger met with their national secretary and long-time friend Abel J. Greg just prior to the meeting. Hefelfinger asked Greg why he had not placed Keltner and Friday’s format on his meeting agenda. He explained to Greg about the format along with Keltner’s interest to make it a national program. Abel Greg responded by not placing it on the bottom of the agenda, but as the very first item. Although only Hefelfinger and Greg were in the room, Greg immediately called the meeting to order and took a vote. It was unanimous: two votes for, none against. The Laymen’s Assembly had just passed a recommendation to the National Council of the Young Men’s Christian Association to create a national program based upon this new format. For sixty-six years, it remained a national program until its national sponsor decided to eliminate its controversial name and theme in 2001.

For three months of each year and for nearly 30 years, Joe Friday was involved with this program. In addition to serving as Honorary Chief, he lectured nationally during the months of January (Snow Moon), February (Hunger Moon), and March (Crow Moon). He also made special appearances at yearly national conventions for the program. During the summer months, Joe continued to guide American businessmen on fishing trips and instructed at North Woods Camp on the Crofut Islands of Lake Temagami for the Cleveland Young Men’s Christian Association. In the early winter months, Joe hunted and trapped alone.

In February 1954, Joe fell ill and by September, began experiencing hip and thigh pain. He was hospitalized in December at Haileyburg but was transferred to the Sunnybrook Military Hospital in Toronto on January 18, 1955 for unsuccessful treatment of bone cancer.

Joe Friday died on Thursday, February 10, 1955 at the age of 67… nine days before the 12th National Convention. He had outlived his four brothers and three sisters.

Photo of Joe Friday's Grave
Joe Friday’s grave at Flyers Bay, the Anglican secion of the Bear Island graveyard.
G. Measor Photo

A next of kin, Donald Potts, retrieved Joe’s body from Toronto for temporary internment in a vault at Haileyburg. Reverend John Jordan officiated a funeral service at the Legion Hall in Temagami on February 13, 1955. Joe was later buried on Bear Island next to his wife in May, when the ice broke from Lake Temagami. Volunteers from the program attended the final service where a tribute was presented:

He possesses no wealth other than his faith in his Creator and the peace of understanding.

His friends seek no material gain save his friendship. They respect his woodland skill, his poise, his hopes for a stronger youth in America.

He will be remembered long after most of us perish with our material possessions.

He is a Man, a Christian, a Leader, a Thinker – a Real American! I have had the privilege for twenty years to be…

His friend,
H. S. Keltner