Monte Walter Menard was born on March 1, 1963, in the western Manitoba town of Swan River, to Grace, a community worker, and Walter, a farmer and regional manager of the Manitoba Metis Federation. The fifth child and first boy in the Menard clan (younger brother Dale would come along seven years later), Monte spent his formative years hiking through the family’s mountainside ranch in Slater, Man., and tending to the animals with his father. “We had cattle, chickens, turkeys,” says Walter. “Almost like an ‘Old MacDonald’ farm.”
Monte loved to wander off on his own and explore the wilderness with his dog, a mutt named Sheba. “He just walked and walked,” says Walter. “He wanted to return to the pioneer existence.” But Monte’s journeys weren’t limited to land; one winter, Walter was forced to brave icy waters when Monte, still a small child, decided to ride his bicycle into a nearby river. “He just wouldn’t let go of his bike when it was rolling into the water,” says Walter. “That kid was never fearful of water.”
When Monte was nine, his family moved to another ranch about 100 km east of Slater, to start what is known as a “PMU operation”: collecting and selling pregnant mares’ urine to pharmaceutical companies for use in a menopause drug. “At that time, we probably had 150 horses,” says Walter. The business thrived, and Monte thrived with it, helping with the horses and hay bales “day and night,” and proving he was an exceptional farmhand. “I recognized even at that age that he was very good at this kind of thing,” says Walter. “He had a country attitude.”
As a student in high school, Monte was bright as well, quick with words and numbers and especially fond of crossword puzzles. But the “country attitude” never quite abandoned him. When he was old enough to leave home, Monte—buoyed by his love for nature, and the water in particular—decided to become a commercial fisherman on the lakes of his home province. “He was doing fishing jobs all over the place,” says Walter. “He worked on Lake Winnipegosis, Lake Manitoba, Lake Waterhen.” Monte worked in big boats, often on water sheathed in ice. He never tired of the job, even though he fell into frigid waters “several times,” according to Walter, often rescuing co-workers who had gone overboard with him. Fishing was his life.
In his late twenties, Monte met his first wife, Chris, in Winnipeg. “One day I woke up and found out they were married,” says Walter. The couple moved to Chris’s childhood reserve on Lake St. Martin, where they had four children—three boys and one girl. However, tragedy soon followed when a house fire killed two of Monte’s youngest children. “I have been told the children were playing with matches,” says Walter. The couple split shortly after the fire and Monte was never the same again. He left the reserve and returned to his family in Winnipegosis (they had moved and started a larger PMU operation), where for years he worked diligently and quietly, suffering from an undiagnosed lung condition that stemmed from the house fire. “He had gone into the fire to save those kids,” says Walter.
Eventually, Monte’s luck improved. He met a woman in town, married, and had another child: a daughter named Chelsea. “He cared for her a lot,” says Walter. “They were very good parents.” The PMU operation was bigger and more profitable than ever, and once again Monte, now in his forties, prospered with it. He liked to have people over for sing-alongs, and to indulge his long-time love of gardening. He also started horseback riding regularly, and even though he and his wife ultimately split up, they remained amicable, and dedicated parents to Chelsea.
But fishing never left his mind, and Monte stuck to his lifetime trade, no matter how harsh the conditions were on the waters he went out on. “Monte was an excellent fisherman,” says Walter. “But fishermen take chances.” One evening in December, Monte and his girlfriend, Sandra, went ice fishing on Lake Winnipegosis. “It was the first day that Monte had gone out on the lake this year that I hadn’t accompanied him,” says Walter. It was very dark, and their snowmobile tipped over on a crack, fell through the ice, and took both riders with it. Sandra was rescued. Monte was not. He was 48.