Cold Case North

The Search for James Brady and Absolom Halkett

Reviewed by Nelle Oosterom

Posted March 26, 2021

It’s a mystery on par with the disappearance of Amelia Earhart. In June of 1967, James Brady, a prominent Métis activist, and Absolom Halkett, a Cree band councillor, were dropped off by float plane at a northern Saskatchewan lake where they intended to do some prospecting. When their mining-company employer flew in several days later to check on them, their camp was eerily empty.

An extensive search by the RCMP and community members turned up nothing. The Mounties decided that the pair had gotten lost and perished, perhaps having been attacked and eaten by wild animals, and the case was closed. But something didn’t add up. Community members in La Ronge, Saskatchewan, knew that the seasoned backwoodsmen were unlikely to have gotten lost with no trace of their bodies found.

One man in particular, Frank Tomkins, the uncle of co-author Deanna Reder, was certain they had been murdered. Moved by her uncle’s resolve, Reder, an associate professor at Simon Fraser University, enlisted her cousin Eric Bell, who has deep roots in the La Ronge community, and award-winning author Micheal Nest to uncover once and for all what happened to the men.

The result is their book Cold Case North, a gripping and colourful real-life mystery tale that takes readers from the leftist politics of Indigenous activism in the 1960s (Brady was a communist) to shady mining-company practices, sloppy police work, official indifference to Indigenous knowledge, and, finally, the bottom of a cold northern-Saskatchewan lake. What they discovered will chill you to the bone.

Buy this book from Chapters-Indigo

This article originally appeared in the April-May 2021 issue of Canada’s History.

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