top of page
Trail in Woods
RIEWE, Roderick photo.jpg

Rick Riewe

June 8, 1942 - November 25, 2020

***Emily Thoroski, Singer and Songwriter, produced "On Our Way" in memory of Rick Riewe.***


Roderick “Rick” Riewe, born June 8th, 1942 of Laura and Ferdinand Riewe in Detroit, MI, died peacefully in his sleep in his wife, Jill Oakes’ arms, November 25th, 2020. Dr. Rick Riewe taught for over 40 years at the University of Manitoba, in the Dept of Biological Sciences. Since the early 1970s, annually, Rick taught numerous igloo building winter survival workshops across Canada and USA, introducing 1000's of people to the magic of building and sleeping in traditional Inuit igloos…including meeting his wife in an igloo. In addition to over 100 publications, including the Nunavut Atlas, Rick was a gifted storyteller, with new stories to tell each year, thanks to his love for adventure. Non-students who loved life-long learning frequently sat in Rick’s classes, just to hear his stories.

“Study a topic that will take you were you want to be” was an Advisor’s wise advice to Rick. He followed that advice throughout his life, it took Rick to:

  • travelling on the land with Inuit across the circumpolar regions including Siberia, Northern Europe, Alaska, Greenland, and across the Canadian Arctic with his soul mate and research partner, Jill.

  • mapping Inuit land use for Inuit to claim as their new territory, Nunavut Territory.

  • flying across the north country in Jill’s homemade open cockpit biplane.

  • paddling world class river systems.

  • commercially fishing off the shores of Haida Gwaii; and

  • more recently exploring backcountry North America and Cuba on a tandem ½ recumbent bicycle.

Years ago, Rick wrote this summary of his academic life. “In 1960 I graduated from high school in Detroit Michigan. I had always been fascinated about the natural environment. I fell in love with the Canadian Wilderness and wanted to be a naturalist. I enrolled at Wayne State University because I could not afford to attend the universities that had wildlife programs. Unfortunately, I could not stand the laboratory courses and research. After working 2 years on a physiology project, my advisor understood that I could not stand working in a lab and that I dearly wanted to work in the wilds. In 1965 he asked me if I would like to study under his friend, Dr. William O. Pruitt Jr., who was travelling across the Canadian tundra on skis following the caribou and studying their behaviour.  I was thrilled to have the opportunity to do so.

So, in the summer of 1966, I drove out to Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland to meet Dr. Pruitt and to see if we were compatible. I arrived in St. John’s to meet my future mentor; after a cup of boiled tea Dr. Pruitt took me out onto an extensive bog laden with a thick layer of fog. As we walked across the bog Pruitt bent over and picked up a bone, thrust it into my face and said: “Genus and Species?” I felt this was my qualifying exam – which I failed.  Pruitt however accepted me as his first PhD student. I was keen on working on wolves and caribou, however, Pruitt had funding for a field study on meadow voles occupying the islands in Dildo Run, Notre Dame Bay, Newfoundland.  For 18 months I lived on the islands. For 6 months of the study a Newfoundland couple, Oscar and Sylvia Forsey, worked on a botanical study on the same islands. We loved working together and I was honoured they named their son after me.

I photo documented my Newfoundland research experiences primarily on Pyke Island in the summer of 1966, on Inspector Island during the summer of 1967, and from Sept 1967 to June of 1968 on Inspector Island.  Summerford and Virgin Arms were the 2 villages utilized for supplies and socialization.  During my stay in Notre Dame Bay I fell in love with the icebergs that came drifting down from Labrador and Greenland. I also was very keen on learning everything I could about the lifestyles of the outport Newfoundlanders.

After  completing my PhD in 1971 I obtained a  PDF studying  the energetics of the 4 Arctic carnivores (polar bear, Arctic wolf, Arctic Fox , and weasel) residing in the Eastern High Arctic on  Devon Island for the International Biological Program (IBP). The study was one small part of a massive study employing about 50 scientists studying the High Arctic ecosystem.  I was supposed to calculate the energy flow of the carnivores on a 16 sq. mile study area on Truelove Lowland, Devon Island. The first summer I hired, Richard Stardom, a trapper and fellow student to capture the foxes and determine their energy flow, while I was completing my PHD.  The next summer I went up to Devon Island to carry on the study which Stardom had begun for me. After a few months I realize that I had very poor data on energy flow of the carnivores;  so I asked the director of the study if I could move north to Grise Fiord , the most Northern  Community in Canada, 80 miles north of Truelove Lowland, live with the Inuit, and study the carnivores which  the hunters pursued. After a few months of traveling and hunting with the Inuit, I examined my data again and realize that I had very poor info on the carnivores - every carnivore I saw was being killed by the hunters.  However, I looked again at my field data and discovered that I had a gold mine of info on the Inuit as top carnivores: what and how much they harvested, what and how much was fed to the community, the dogs and the scavengers, etc.

In 1971 I became very interested in the Inuit lifestyles. I began to politicize the Inuit, letting them know what was happening in the Western Arctic between the oil companies and the Inuvialuit. I said that to avoid problems with land claims, it was important that they document their hunting territory, and I would be pleased to help them.  I lived with the Inuit in Grise Fiord; I travelled and hunted with them for 18 months, documenting there hunting range. One of the most interesting skills I managed to pick up in Grise was Igloo building. Shortly after I was hired by the University of Manitoba the University asked me if I would give a winter workshop at the Delta Marsh Field Station so that some income could be generated by the field station over winter. I conducted that course from 1973 to the present (2010).

In 1971 the Inuit Land Use and Occupancy Project was being organized by Dr. Milton Freeman. He hired me in 1973 to collect the land use information for the Grise Fiord and Resolute Bay regions. In 1972 I was asked by the Northwest Territorial Government to conduct a study on the impact of seismic oil exploration on Muskox and Caribou. The Inuit Land Use and Occupancy study was completed in 1973.  At that time, I was hired as an assistant professor in the Biology Teaching Unit and the Zoology Department at the University of Manitoba. The following term I was asked to conduct a 3-year study on the impacts of seismic exploration on the wildlife and trappers in the Western Canadian Arctic around Aubry Lake, Colville Lake, Peel Plateau, Husky Lakes and Richardson Mountains.

In 1978 I met Jill Oakes, a high school teacher who took my Arctic Survival course at Delta Marsh. She decided to return to university, and in 1982 she conducted research for her master’s on Inuit skin boots at Arctic Bay. While she was working with the seamstresses in Arctic Bay, I was with my grad student, Larry Dueck, studying Narwhal whales in Admiralty Inlet, just 20-30 miles outside of Arctic Bay.

In 1979-1980 Jill and I became professional halibut fishermen off the shores of Haida Gwaii  (Queen Charlotte Islands). We were fascinated by marine biology and coastal lifestyles, and continued fishing commercially for about 10 years, fitting it in whenever we could take a break from teaching.

In 1985 the Inuit who were organizing the land claim seconded me from the University for a couple of years to help them identify the Nunavut lands that were important to the Inuit and should be retained by them. The outcome of the research was the Nunavut Atlas which was used during the land negotiations with the Federal Government.

While the Nunavut Atlas was being produced, Jill and I moved to the University of Alberta where she had a tenure track position. I took a sabbatical leave and then a leave of absence for a total of three years. For one year I was the Acting Director of the Canadian Circumpolar Institute at University of Alberta.  Jill’s research was a knockout and was soon known internationally. Jill organized a living exhibition of Inuit skin clothing which was modeled by Inuit throughout Canada as well as internationally.

Sonja Bata, of the Bata Shoe Company, met Jill and I in 1987. Sonja was so impressed with our work that she became our patron. She asked us to write a book on skin boots around the Arctic. We said that we had travelled extensively in Nunavut but not in the other Arctic regions. So Sonja said she would pay our travel expenses if we would help build her Arctic collection for the Bata Shoe Museum, an internationally renown museum. Committed to documenting who, how, what, where, who and why for each item, we compiled a tremendous body of knowledge on the meaning and significance of Arctic material culture while living a life of adventure. That was the beginning of our 40+ year travelling study of circumpolar peoples, their lifestyles and clothing.

In 1995 Jill’s PhD research was turned into a major Bata Shoe Museum (BSM) exhibition and an award-winning scholarly text entitled Our Boots we co-authored, published by Douglas and McIntyre and the BSM. Working as guest curators with the BSM exhibition planning team, consisting of lighting, design, layout, conservator, and many other specialists, was a most enriching experience few scientists get to experience. Our first trip outside of Nunavut on behalf of the BSM was to Qannaq, Greenland, the most northern community in the world, located on the NW coast of Greenland. There we joined the hunters pursuing narwhal whales from seal skin kayaks, watched the icebergs calf off the glaciers, and netted dovekeys, while conducting our skin clothing research.  A few years later our artefacts and photographs from Qannaq were displayed in a major exhibition at the BSM.

The next year, 1989, we travelled to Coastal Alaska and visited and studied with the seamstresses and hunters in 18 Inupiat and Yupik communities. In 2004 the artefacts and photos which we gathered were used in another major exhibition at the BSM, and a catalogue for the exhibition (Appeasing the Spirits: Alaskan Coastal Cultures) was produced.  We co-authored another lavishly illustrated book entitled Alaskan Eskimo Footwear, published by the University of Alaska Press and the BSM in 2007.

In 1990 Jill and I headed out to the Far East of Russia in search of the Chukchi nomadic reindeer herders. There we were met with open arms the Chukcki and Evenki who had not seen a Westerner since 1920.  We learned of their plight and the affects of the economic collapse caused by perestroika, as well as the destruction of their environment and lifestyles. In 1998, we returned to Western Siberia travelling to remote areas by hitching a ride on a helicopter who dropped us off on the Tundra so we could travel with the nomadic herders. We lived with the Nenets, Khanty, Mansi, and Even herders, fishers, and hunters. Our collections from Eastern and Western Siberia were used in yet another major, international exhibition sponsored by Russia and Canada with the BSM.  The exhibition entitled Spirit of Siberia was published as an award-winning book we co-authored, entitled Spirit of Siberia in 1998, with the Smithsonian Institute and Bata Shoe Museum.

About 1992 Jill and I conducted research on the informal Economy of Baffin Island for the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples. The findings of this study were published in our text Culture, Economy and Ecology: Case Studies in the Circumpolar Regions.

In 1993 - 1994 Jill and I were chosen to be joint recipients of the 1994 Trent University Northern Chair. In this capacity we presented 6 lectures which were published in 1997. This volume examined the current lifestyles from around the Circumpolar regions.

In 1997 we diverted our attention from the Arctic to the hot deserts of SW United States. A museum catalogue entitled, Footsteps on the Sacred Earth: Southwestern Collection of The Bata Shoe Museum was published, and once again a major exhibition was put on display at the BSM.

In 1998 Jill and I returned to the Arctic and travelled to northern Fennoscandia to complete our circumpolar sojourn. We learned from the Saami in northern Sweden, Norway, and Finland. There we found very cosmopolitan herders dealing with a modern world.

After over 40 years of research and teaching at the University of Manitoba, Biological Sciences, I retired and began documenting the over 30,000 slides I donated to the University’s Archival Collections.”

Years ago Rick was diagnosed with an aggressive type of Parkinson’s which had no medical treatment, his Neurologist suggested trying intensive, extensive, long term cycling. He had cycled around Italy with a high school buddy Ethan VanEck when they were 18; Rick had done very little cycling since. Following the doctor’s recommendations, Rick started cycle touring with a passion, cycling 15,000 miles per year, 6 to 8 or more hours per day. He cycled in all weather, using studded tires in the winter. Cycle touring did repress the symptoms, as well as introduce Rick to the freedom of exploring backcountry USA, Canada and Cuba, stealth camping, making new friends, seeing amazing country, and inspiring others with similar mobility challenges. It was a non-stop adventure, a Cycle Party, to be part of what we fondly called “Rick Riewe’s Boot Camp”. As the Parkinson’s advanced, Jill found bicycles which met Rick’s changing mobility needs and attracted the Helpers needed to support Rick’s backcountry cycling as medicine.

This year, Rick’s mobility challenges increased, along with his determination to remain active. Many people helped contribute to Rick staying active, especially Colin Gisiger and Steven Walker who provided Hercules-style support 24/7 since February. Together they provided an incredible quality of life for Rick. Parkinson’s destroyed Rick’s ability to walk, stand, and talk; however, Rick’s zest for life was contagious. Rick made life fun. Colin and Steven, two long term friends, white-water kayak instructors and outdoor adventurists, took Rick and Jill running white-water rivers: Bloodvein and Manigotagan; cycling throughout Manitoba, NW Ontario, and British Columbia; exploring the backcountry camping in pup tents in all weather. There were never any problems, only innovative solutions ‘imagineered’ with help especially from Adrian Meilleur, Anders Swanson, and the Winnipeg aircraft builders’ and cycling communities. Rick was part of the team, his enthusiasm got us up and diving into the days adventure. We were committed to ensuring Rick was not ‘left on the shore’; and richly rewarded with Rick’s smiles, fun loving teasing, and enthusiasm.

November 10th, 2020, Rick entered Palliative Care; due to Parkinson’s, he was unable to walk, stand, talk, fight off infection, or swallow safely. Rick’s Palliative Care Doctors and Nurses had never seen anyone in such good physical, emotional, and mental condition with such aggressively advanced Parkinson’s symptoms. To the total surprise of his doctors and nurses, Rick continued to be active until a few days before he died. Each day he was up “at the crack of dawn” cycling 2 to 3 ½ hours a day with his “whippersnappers” whom he adored (Colin and Steven), tracking deer in rut along the Seine River – fully engaged, loving being in the woods, and totally acclimatized to snow, wind, and sub zero temperatures (bundled up and using heated mittens and socks). The Palliative Nurse would call us to see how Rick was doing and was forever amazed to find us out in the woods cycling. Rick was the only client she and anyone she knew had ever had that was not at home bedridden. Rick’s body had stopped eating and drinking, yet Rick’s love for life and message to others remained “Just do it” as he slid in sideways to Heaven’s door on his tandem ½ recumbent bicycle.

Colin Gisiger and Steven Walker are especially thanked for their Hercules-like support this past year, making the impossible possible and loving every minute of being in the wilderness with Rick. Nancy Allen and Kira Eidse, plus over 200 other key helpers and cycling caregivers, including John Wider who led us cycling across the USA in 2018 and 2019, are thanked for their steadfast commitment. We could not have done this without your help. Many people contributed to the team in many ways, each equally important as it provided Rick with the love, compassion, newness, nourishment, challenge, and exercise needed to thrive. For example, Jim Goold, Lyncrest Airport Manager, would be getting into his car to head home, but instead return to the club house to put on a pot of tea for Rick, when he saw Rick cycling up the driveway at closing time. Thank you to the 100's of families who welcomed Rick into their homes and hearts throughout Rick’s cycle touring adventures. And, the many bicycle shops and welding shops along the way that kept Rick’s bikes operating – especially Bikes and Beyond and Woodcock in Winnipeg. Thank you too to Rick’s doctors and nurses who supported and encouraged Rick’s commitment to follow the Neurologist’s recommendation to “try cycling”. Thank you! Without each of your help, it would have been impossible.


Together, we gave Rick the gift of Quality of Life; in return, Rick gifted us the experience of a lifetime…living life with a purpose!



Rick’s Final Reflections

“Don’t be sad for me, thanks to my beloved wife and soul mate, Jill, and her ability to find an amazing team of helpers, I’ve lived a life packed full of adventure, compassion and love, in spite of Parkinson’s Plus. Yes, I'll miss getting up “at the crack of dawn” to watch the sunrise, introducing people to the magic of sleeping in igloos, introducing people to eating road kill, cycle touring with my ‘Whippersnappers”, stealth camping, exploring mountains and lakes, hunting, cutting the winter supply of firewood, white-water river paddling, dancing with Jill under a starlit night and more. I’ll miss meeting up with my biology, cycling and flying friends, old students and neighbours, solving the worlds problems and telling stories around the campfire long after sunset. I’ll miss playing my recorder to the Canadian Loons on remote lakes in NW Ontario,  discussing environmental issues, making Bodrhan drums for friends, and snuggling up with my Jill in a pup tent on the bank of a wilderness river. I’ll miss hearing from my friends and students old and new, my brother Gordon Riewe (Natalie), sister Linda Hatcher (Jim), son Nick (Julie), sister-in-laws Judi Oakes, Jennifer Oakes, Linda Brooks, grandson, grandnieces, grandnephews, great grandson, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, and cousins.

So if you want to help continue what I started, living life to the fullest, in lieu of flowers, donations can be made to Oakes-Riewe Environment & Native Studies Scholarship Fund through the University of Manitoba; as well as please stay active and support my friends and colleagues at the Manitoba Wildlife Society, Winnipeg Trails, Trans Canada Trail, Springfield Flying Club or Manitoba 99s Women Pilots Organization, or your own favourite charities…there is lots left to do. And, find a bike/trike/tandem right for you, go for a ride, rejoice in the freedom; every day is a good day on a bike. “Just do it.”

Memories, Stories and Condolences


Please share a story, memory or condolences for the family by completing the form below and click "comment".

Feel free to share as many memories and stories as you like. There is plenty of room so don't worry about running out of space. All messages are approved by our staff before publishing.

Share Condolences, stories or memories
bottom of page