A long-time dweller of the north, Yellowknife’s Siegfried “Siegy” Kupczik is a man of many talents who has made an impact on all the people he has surrounded himself with as friends.
Since coming to the north in 1961, Siegy has developed into an iconic member of Yellowknife, a true “old timer” as some might say.
“He’s done all kinds of things with all kinds of people up here,” recalls Bill Weaver, long-time friend of Siegy.
Many people reminisce about hunting trips with the navigation expert, or snowmobiling with the clever mechanic, and even boating with the captain of his sea craft, Zig-Zag.
But more than anything, his friends enjoyed his company, with a bottle of homemade brew in hand and collective laughter that warmed the cold seasons.
While Siegy calls this city home today, Canada is not where his story began.
Born in Geldern, Germany, on Aug. 25, 1936, the early years of Siegy’s childhood were under the pressure of the Second World War.
“My father went to war when I was three years old, and I would see him on and off on holidays.”
Siegy was five years old the last time he saw his father, who was later killed in the war along with Siegy’s uncles and grandparents. Siegy’s younger brother and sister have no memory of their dad.
After the war ended in 1945, the family moved to Düsseldorf, Germany, to avoid the region of Soviet occupied regions of Germany.
“The Russians were tougher.
“We were going to better country.”
After the move, life began to improve. His mother found a job and Siegy enrolled in school, with class only one day a week. They would also often make trips to Holland together in their old family car.
Upon completing his education at the age of 15, he took up the trade of rod ironworking, a profession he kept at for roughly a decade.
However, the union he was employed by was not at all pleasant, and after two years with them, he searched for work elsewhere.
“I hated the union, so that’s [part of] why I came to Canada.”
In the early 1960s, Siegy was invited by a friend, Hans Heimann, to spend a holiday in Yellowknife, NWT. But after securing a job within the first few days, Siegy ended up staying with a working holiday visa.
He laboured as a mechanic with Heimann at the automotive shop called Frame & Perkins Limited for a man named Fred Henne, who became close friends with Siegy and would later become city mayor for six terms.
Siegy held the job for 18 years as a mechanic for a variety of vehicles.
“They had boats, busses, you name it.”
Those skills carried over into his hobbies, most prominently when he refurbished an old dinghy from the 1950s into a seaworthy ship.
“It wasn’t a high performance boat like half these other boats.
“But this was an old motor that just purred like a kitten,” claims John Pistak, another old friend.
Upon his refurbishing of the hull, motor, and everything else, the 22-foot-long red vessel transformed into a lake cruising beauty that Siegy dubbed Zig-Zag.
“You could sit in a $250,000 boat, but [Zig-Zag] was just as good, if not better,” boasts Pistak.
The year he bought the boat, Siegy purchased a ticket for his mother, Agnes Kupczik, to come from Germany to Yellowknife for Mother’s Day.
“She really liked it up here.
“[Though] she couldn’t speak too much English.”
He took her for many rides on the water during this time.
“Sitting on the roof, on a beautiful day, with the wind blowing through your face, it felt like sitting on the Titanic,” reminisces Elke Richter, close friend of Siegy.
Richter was also from Germany, although the two only met each other in Yellowknife.
She recalls spending afternoons sitting on the parked boat at Back Bay with Siegy and a bottle of wine to share.
“We watched some fantastic sunsets doing this and just basically enjoying life.”
Siegy would move on to work a multitude of other jobs: welding, tow truck driving, and even building generators and solar panels at Midnight Energy.
“He was good at a lot of things.
“Nothing he wouldn’t tackle,” states Pistak.
During Siegy’s Aero Paving job, he would toil for 12 hours of the day, seven days a week throughout the months of May to October.
With the money that he made over the summer, Siegy would make trips to foreign countries around the globe, from Thailand to Mexico, Singapore, Malaysia, and Bangkok, staying for months at a time in each local.
A frequent stop for him was Australia, where he would visit his friend Jack Keenan, previously a bus driver in Yellowknife who moved to Australia to purchase his own sheep farm.
On the winters Siegy didn’t travel, he was spending his time snowmobiling and hunting.
“Talk about a memory! That guy knew where to go,” exclaims Weaver.
Whenever sledding out on the trails, Weaver took a navigator with him, and Siegy was a go to man for the job.
“You go [on the trail] once and he has a good memory on how to get there.”
Siegy was a seasoned fish smoker too; with up to 48 fillets in the cooker at a time, he would smoke 60 pounds of fish in a day. It was through Siegy that Weaver learned to season and smoke fish for himself.
The two of them were also frequent to brewing homemade beer, stockpiling inventory for social evenings.
After crafting a batch of the beverage, they would let it ferment and age for at least three months before indulging.
Between the fish and the brew, it was always given away to friends, never sold.
Pistak recalls a summer afternoon sitting by the shack that Siegy lived in with drinks in hand, when Queen Elizabeth II and her RCMP escorts cruised by the two men, not noticing them under the shade of trees.
“Here is a guy all the way from Germany that’s been living the greatest life ever up here,” states Weaver.
An old case of homemade beer still sits in the warehouse of Territorial Beverages in Yellowknife, however, because the beer was stored in plastic bottles to cut down on cost, it didn’t allow for the beverage to age quite like wine.
“It’s all flat; don’t drink it,” warns Weaver.
Siegy would hit some dramatically hard times, however.
In late October, 2008, during a visit back in Germany for his mother’s birthday, Siegy suffered a stroke that has crippled his right arm and restricted his mobility.
This event has severely limited Siegy from the activities he once enjoyed to do so much. He has not travelled out of Canada since the incident.
Additionally, his mother passed away at the age of 103 years old in May, 2015, due to complications after slipping and falling.
His brother had also died only a few years prior.
His sister, Sabine Kupczik, visited Yellowknife in 2015 to be together with her brother.
Fortunately, the friendships that Siegy has made over the years have not been forgotten. Richter still calls him regularly, and Weaver helps Siegy to shop for groceries.
“[He is a] very grateful person, but he deserves it.
“He’s helped so many people out,” Weaver expresses.