Brian Beaton rolled into Fredericton in April 2013 in his black SUV stuffed with boxes and tools, with six more boxes on their way via Greyhound. He was moving to a place he’d only visited briefly before. He often told people who asked why he moved to Fredericton: “It’s a love story.”
He’d spent five days on the road since leaving Sioux Lookout in Northwestern Ontario, travelling with his new partner to move into her house in downtown Fredericton. Shortly after arriving, he sold his SUV and began walking everywhere, learning as much as he could and making friends in his new community.
Brian grew up on a seven-generation dairy farm in the Ottawa Valley. He left the farm for university after high school, getting his Bachelor of Math (Computer Science) at Waterloo. After beginning his IT career providing tech support at the University of Ottawa, he set out across the country. In Northern Ontario, Brian met Lorraine Kenny, a strong, proud Ojibway woman from Lac Seul First Nation who became his life partner and wife for 33 years. His first job in the North was managing a training course in computer and work skills for Indigenous women in Sudbury. “They kicked my ass,” he said more than once in his later years when describing how much those women taught him about life. “I didn’t know anything.”
He spent the next 30 plus years in Northern Ontario working for Indigenous communities and learning, a lot, and applying what he learned about racism and social justice to the many different environments he found himself in.
In his more than three decades in Northern Ontario, Brian developed telecommunications infrastructure and services. Brian is remembered in many fly-in Indigenous communities in Northwestern Ontario as the manager of the team that built K-Net, the telecommunications division of Keewaytinook Okimakanak, a First Nations Tribal Council representing fly-in communities. Brian and his team grew K-Net to be the largest Indigenous-owned and operated telecommunications services company in the world, partnering on fibre broadband rollouts across thousands of kilometers of Canadian Shield and installing community satellite dishes and cell phone towers on the tundra up to Hudson Bay. K-Net brought Internet, social media, distance education, videoconferencing, the Keewaytinook Internet High School, KO e-Health and Telemedicine, and the K-Mobile cell service into dozens of remote northern communities, creating many new possibilities for the community members.
Brian’s wife Lorraine had led a traditional life with her family in the bush in her early years and then survived different residential schools. Lorraine’s journey to healing and strength became Brian’s journey too, and together they raised three girls and one boy to be proudly Indigenous. When Lorraine died from breast cancer in 2010, Brian grew into a strong parenting role of mentoring and supporting his children that he maintained to the end.
Brian met his Fredericton partner Susan, a researcher, through her project about the adoption of digital communications in remote Indigenous communities. In 2012 they fell in love, and Brian decided to leave K-Net. He moved into Susan’s 150-year-old yellow wooden house on Charlotte Street in Fredericton and quickly fell in love with New Brunswick.
Brian enrolled in the Master’s in Education (Critical Studies) program at University of New Brunswick and completed a thesis on Indigenous training and digital services in the north. Brian loved his time at UNB, especially his supervisors. “They’re teaching me to be critical!” he often exclaimed. After earning his M.Ed, Brian started the PhD in Education program but found his life and activities outside the classroom more engaging, including working on social media for Green Party election campaigns, provincial and federal, and Green policy development.
He was an active member of the NB Media Co-op, encouraging people to write stories about their experiences fighting for social justice. He took on the role of NB Media Co-op calendar coordinator and began writing for the online publication himself in 2017. His first stories were about union issues, a topic close to his heart as a steward for PSAC 60550 Union of Graduate Student Workers at UNB. Brian wrote more than 25 stories for the NB Media Co-op, about union, social justice, Indigenous, and environmental issues.
You can read all of Brian’s stories with the NB Media Co-op here. In recognition for his social justice work and the enthusiasm he put into his work, the Media Co-op board in 2021 instituted the annual Brian Beaton Prize in Journalism for Justice.
After receiving his terminal diagnosis of esophageal cancer in July 2020, Brian re-doubled his efforts to call out the misleading marketing efforts of the nuclear industry attempting to develop public support for new nuclear reactors in New Brunswick. Brian was incensed that two nuclear companies from outside the country were being given public funds to set up their prototype radioactive waste factories to spew more carcinogenic material on his beloved Bay of Fundy. During Brian’s 15-month cancer journey, introducing visiting family to the Bay’s beauty and wonder was a highlight for him.
Brian died in Fredericton on October 2, 2021, a month after a crazy and wonderful August hanging out with his kids and most of his 10 grandchildren visiting from Northwestern Ontario. After months visiting on FaceTime with his newest grandson, River Brian, and his first great-grandson, Giiwedin Brian, he finally met them in person in August.
Brian was known to many people in the province as a social media warrior. In his digital messages, Brian’s trademark sign-off was from a song by his favourite rock and rollers, Alvin Lee and Ten Years After: LOVE, LOVE, LOVE!