No one really knows how old Felix Akenum Shaw was when he died in 1928. Most people figured he had lived somewhere between 105 and 111 years. Long enough, anyway, that he was called the “oldest human being in the entire north” and was believed to be the oldest person in western Canada.
Old Akenum, as he was known by all, was the orphaned son of a trapper, adopted by the Chief Trader at the Hudson’s Bay Company post in Fort Vermilion. William Shaw gave Felix his last name; the Akenum moniker was given by his Cree grandmother because as a baby he played with his fingers (it is sometimes recorded as Akernum).
Working sometimes as a trapper or a farmer, Old Akenum also put in a long career for the Hudson’s Bay Company. He hauled freight from Peace River to Fort Vermilion, walking out to pick it up and building a raft to take it down river. He was a guide to missionaries, explorers, and even Sir George Simpson, governor of the HBC from 1820 to 1860. Simpson’s most famous trip to the Peace Country was his 5000 mile journey to the Pacific in 1828, but it seems that it was on a visit in 1853 that Felix Shaw met the great man (possibly for the second time?).
An HBC employee received his pension after 30 years with the company. Old Akenum’s obituary (oft referenced, but hard to turn up in person) states that he worked for the company for 96 years: “he held the record for being in the service of the same company more years than any other known man” (a record that may stand to this day). He probably had an unusually early start because of his father’s position in the company, and perhaps even then no one knew the orphaned child’s real age.
Old Akenum was married twice in all those years, had four children and acquired nearly 75 acres of land in what would become the town of Peace River, where he lived for 42 years. It is curiously fitting that the museum now stands on that land where the “last of the oldest residents of the Peace Country,” the “pioneer of all pioneers,” originally owned.