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As Saturday’s Canada Day holiday marks the 150th anniversary of the July 1, 1867, act that created the dominion, it’s an appropriate time to celebrate all things Canadian. Though TIME once remarked that Canada had sometimes suffered from something of an identity crisis, defining itself more by what it isn’t than by what it is, certain elements of the Canadian character have long stood out.
The stereotypical Northern woodsman captures one side of that national idea. And, back in 1953, photographer Wallace Kirkland explored that archetype for LIFE Magazine, with a photo profile of the perfectly named Rock Robertson — “Strong Man of the North,” per the article’s headline.
Rock, at 31, six feet tall and 205 lbs., got his name from a grandfather who, in turn, acquired the nickname thanks to his strength. As a professional hunting and fishing guide, he regularly carried 300 pounds at a time for miles and could pull off a moose mating call good enough to draw in the bulls that hunters wanted most. He once went more than a week without food, thanks to a storm, before walking 48 miles in snowshoes to get out of the woods. He faced the forest with a smile and a shrug, embracing the outdoors lifestyle his ancestors — whether the French-Canadian, First Nations or Scottish ones — had likewise lived.
“He has been known, when the mood takes him, to pick up a stove and heave it through a cook-shack wall,” the article noted. “But generally Rock’s moods are sunny and his broad shoulders are put to practical and picturesque uses as a woodsman and as a guide.”