Victoria “Vicky” Zaagijiwe-aashiik Atugweh Handorgan, Moose dodem, joined her ancestors on Saturday, October 21, 2023, aged 93. Born in 1930 on Lake of the Woods at Naongashiing to Billy Handorgan and Marie Comegan, as the youngest of several surviving siblings. Victoria celebrated her birthday on May 24, but said she was born “some time in May, but not really on the 24”, but that’s the date they gave her at registration, and she was named after the Queen. At the time of her passing, she was the oldest community member of the Anishnaabeg of Naongashiing.
Just like Queen Victoria, nobody could tell Victoria what to do. She’d let you know she could take care of herself. All her life, she was independent and strong-willed, and as the youngest child by three years to her brother Jim, she enjoyed spending her time in the forest with her animal and bird friends. Because of this, she was given the name Zaagijiwe-aashiik (Outdoor Girl) as one of her many Ojibway names.
From age 5, Victoria attended Cecilia Jeffrey Indian Residential School, leaving in her teens. She said she wasn’t lonely, “because all we did was work there, doing chores.” During summers as a child, she would visit and stay with friends from different areas of Lake of the Woods, absorbing their dialects. She’d return home and her parents would notice her new vocabulary. Victoria spoke the old Ojibway of her elders – those born in the late 1800s – and she takes that with her. She also spoke many words that originated in the community of Red Lake, Minnesota, where her mother’s Comegan relatives were from, and where she spent time.
Vicky was always tall and thin – about 5’8”, and indestructible. She once recounted a story of her young adult days, when she left a bar in Emo and “got blown down the street in strong winds.” Local police picked her up “for her own safety” and “brought her to jail overnight” in Fort Frances. She said she was treated well, and the next day her mother bailed her out and paid her “blowing sideways in the wind” fine with bags of wild rice.
In the early 1970’s, Victoria followed her older cousin, Mary Comegan Daniels, to Toronto where they both worked as industrial seamstresses and probably got up to some bingo and other mischief, before moving to Ottawa where Mary’s children and grandchildren were living. She lived briefly with her Ottawa relatives, before having apartments of her own in Ottawa and Hull. She built a life for herself in the city and made friends there. She also went to night school for courses in math and accounting and took a job at the Department of Indian Affairs, where she worked in finance until her retirement at age 65. Numbers kept her mind sharp. She always had pet cats and kittens wherever she lived, her last pair being Cuddles and Misty, who she missed tremendously when she had to give them up.
In 2011, at age 81, Vicky had falls and had to leave Ottawa for assisted living at Rainycrest in Fort Frances. She wasn’t thrilled to leave her city life behind, and for many years it was her dream to return to Ottawa, saying she’d walk back if she had to. It wasn’t an idle threat – she would have done that in her younger years. She took comfort in giving herself the job of taking care of Daisy, the pet waboose at Rainycrest.
Victoria’s return to Fort Frances allowed her to get re-acquainted with her nieces and nephews in the area and she loved returning to Big Island for visits at Arlene’s house, and to see the annual Big Island powwow. She would have loved one last trip out on the lake, but her mobility wasn’t the greatest. But at least she got to have her beers on the deck at Buena Vista and watch the sunset over her beautiful lake, where she was born. She enjoyed her driveway visits with niece Caroline when they’d sit and chat with each other for hours. She also enjoyed road trips with her grandniece, Chantal, and Vicky made her last trip to Red Lake, Minnesota, on the summer solstice in 2019, pointing out the spring flowers, grass, animals, and forest that she could see out the car window from her two booster pillows on the front seat. She made her last mini-day trip in June 2023, but her diminished frame made it very hard on her. After her trips, Vicky would always say, “Thank you for spending time with me.”
Victoria was predeceased by her parents Billy and Marie Handorgan (nee Comegan); her six siblings, including James (Evelyn), John (Bella), William (Clara), Marie (Martin Adams); and her two miscarried babies; also predeceased by her close cousin Mary Comegan; adopted siblings John, Jane, and Henry Daniels (children of her uncle, Patrick Daniels); and nieces Caroline, Gladys, Agnes, Lorna, Susan, Elaine, Linda; and nephews George Sr., John Jr., Myers, Peter, Alec, Ken.
Survived by her nieces Arlene Indian, RoseMarie Tuesday, Margaret Yerxa; nephews Patrick Handorgan (Virginia), Albert Handorgan (Angela), Robert Handorgan (Joanne), Elvis Adams (Kim), and numerous great nieces and nephews in Morson and Ottawa.
This past summer, Victoria declared that she wanted to live to 125, then asked how old she was: “93? Oh. That’s all? I have a long way to go then.” Even into her 90s, Vicky kept her mind sharp and tried to do as much for herself as her strength would allow. Her stubbornness will be remembered as legendary.
Vicky loved miinaan (blueberries), ogaa (walleye), and manoomin (wild rice). And beer. Vicky drank a beer a day until she was 92. She never did make it back to Ottawa, but she is remembered by her friends at the Legion on Kent Street, and by her family there.
Last Saturday morning, Vicky will have been welcomed home by her parents and relatives who left before her, as well as her many animal and small creature friends that she made and cared for throughout her life.
Zaagijiwe-aashiik, may your long life, adventurousness, intelligence, independence, and strong spirit inspire others. Gigawabamin minawaa.
Wake and funeral for Victoria at the Big Island Roundhouse. Victoria will be interred at the Morson Cemetery, near her brother Jim, as was her wish.
Arrangements entrusted to Northridge Funeral Home Ltd., Emo, Ontario.