Michael Richard Roberge - Macleans.ca

Michael Richard Roberge

From the day he bought his first bike, at 18, he was devoted to riding. A man surrounded by friends, he loved riding alone.

Michael Richard Roberge

Paul Williamson/Winnipeg Free Press; Illustration by Team macho

Michael Richard Roberge was born in Winnipeg on Dec. 12, 1969, to Doreen Gowler and John Roberge. John and Doreen split up when Michael was five, and Doreen, a typesetter with the Winnipeg Free Press, raised Michael and his younger brother, Gordon. Michael was a talkative boy, always surrounded by a large group of friends in and out of his childhood home in the neighbourhood of Crescentwood. “He could go up to anyone to shake their hand,” Doreen says. He also loved riding his bike, the beginning of a lifelong passion.

The Roberge brothers were close with Doreen’s parents, Gordon and Beryl McLure, and often spent the night at their grandparents’ home. The McLures’ house was on a wide lot, and Gordon would take the boys on his riding lawnmower, a thrill when they were young. In the summers, they’d go to their grandparents’ cottage in Grand Beach for two weeks. Visits to Lanky’s, a food stand in the area, became a tradition: even as an adult, Michael made yearly visits for the two-foot-long hot dogs.

As a boy, Michael didn’t like school very much. “He never brought homework home,” Doreen says. What he did like was working: at 13, he went to all the fast-food restaurants in search of a job. By 14, he had started working at Chicken Delight. “He was never lazy,” Doreen says. “He wanted to earn his own money.”

At 18 he bought his first motorcycle. “I never liked motorcycles from day one,” Doreen says. But Michael, who had always wanted a dirt bike, had a mind of his own. As a single mother, Doreen wasn’t able to take the time out to get her son a dirt bike. From the time he got his motorcycle, however, it seemed that Michael was always riding.

After Michael graduated from Grant Park High School in 1988, he went on to earn a Red Seal Journeyman Certificate, a trade apprenticeship, from Red River College in Winnipeg. He was at the top of his class, and received an award for Journeyman of the Year. From there, he worked as a trailer mechanic for trucking companies in Winnipeg, including Bison Transport and Ocean Trailer.

In the summer of 1990, Michael met Tyler Bartel, a fellow rider, through mutual friends. They started taking summer rides together. Their first trip took them to the Black Hills of South Dakota in 2004. Over the years, they went everywhere from Prince Edward Island to Vancouver Island. Although Michael took many of these vacations with Tyler, he preferred to travel solo. “Others slowed him down,” Tyler says. “He liked to get out and see things.”

Michael, with his signature look, was always easy to spot. He wore his blond hair shoulder-length with a thick blue streak, something he’d started doing in the early 2000s. He also always wore leather cuffs that he made himself.

Some knew Michael better as “Squirrel,” a moniker he gave himself as his CB radio handle in the early 1990s. “It became who he was,” Tyler says. Many friends didn’t even know his real name. Gregarious as ever, he’d host parties every few weeks at his home in northern Winnipeg, still working as a trailer mechanic, inviting friends he knew from his local watering hole, The Marion Hotel, near St. Boniface.

He may have been involved in biker culture, but he didn’t have the gruff biker attitude. Michael was always ready to help out his friends. Tyler remembers how Michael once left work to find him when Tyler’s bike broke down five miles away, and helped him fix up his bike on the side of the road.

Tyler moved to Bermuda over a year ago for work, but Michael still planned to take the annual summer road trip; this time he would go on his own. He told his mother this would be his last ride; his shoulders were aching from years of riding hunched over a bike. For his final two-week ride, he was going down to the Gulf of Mexico.

Days before he left for his trip, his 22-year-old cat, Sheeva, got sick. In two decades, Michael had never had to take her to the vet, but she’d stopped eating and was getting sicker. After discussing it with his mother, Michael decided to put her down. But the day he was to take her to the vet, he woke to find Sheeva had died.

He set out that weekend. On Aug. 4, the first day of his trip, just before 6 p.m., he was driving alone on the I-29 in North Dakota near Grafton. His 2009 Yamaha drifted off the road into a ditch and Michael was ejected from the bike. He was pronounced dead at the scene. He was 42.

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Michael Richard Roberge

  1. He was an absolutely great man and I am blessed to have known him 20 years and to have considered him one of my best friends. Love you and miss you Squirrel!!

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          • He was something OBVIOUSLY do you see how many people loved him? I highly doubt you even know have the people he did! And at least half of the people you do know probably hate your guts!

          • Like I said another looser friend of his your all a bunch of drunks who hang at the marion and drink and drive when you leave.


  2. As he rides free in heaven watching down on all the ones he loves… As all those ones he loved sure gave him a wonderful send off and a beautiful cross at the site where he passed bless to all that help and who knew him even if it was for a second

  3. Winnipeg just won’t be the same without Squirrel showing class everyhwere he went. He was an ambassador on two wheels. Thanks MacLean’s for sharing his story in your magazine.

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        • and your probably just jealous that he was such a great man and he actually had a life now just go away!

          • What’s the problem if he was or not, he lived his life in fullest.
            and that is what is important. I whish I could have knowing him.

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      • Haha i’m a lady btw, so its impossible to be his gay lover, Now i’m going to be the bigger person and choose not to reply to any of your horrible and heartless comments. To bad you couldn’t be a man and keep your mean words to yourself. Just goes to show how much of a fool you are.

        • The only fool is a man who dyes his hair and paints his finger nails no wonder he is dead guy was nothing but a drunk and would always leave the marion drunk driving on his gay bike.

  7. As Squirrel’s Girl Friend, yup I said girl friend, We all know who Squirrel was, as a person, as our friend, as the love of my life! He was a great man, without question! Whom ever this “person with no soul” is that hides behind a pathetic name such as Hommer99 is a no body! For the sake of his family and close friends don’t even respond to such a pathetic, disrespectful, useless individual like this because it just gives him something more to flap at the gums about! The “person with no soul” will never stand in front of a true friend of Squirrel’s and shoot his mouth off such as he is online… Why? Well its simple behind his monitor he is king… But honestly in my opinion someone that disrespects the dead should be dragged into the street and pissed on as that is all they are worth… Hommer99 Karma will be knocking on your door one day and when that day comes I hope it hurts more then words as that is what your trash mouth has caused in my life, just pain!!! So please if you have any kind of heart please STOP! As your breaking my heart with the things you are saying!

    • Hey Melissa this guy is not worth our time,,,i know Squirrel would just shrug him off and say, “who cares what he thinks i know who i am and who my friends are”………This fucken ignorant prick is not worth our time we all know our Squirrel and the type of person he was….and he was the most caring, thoughtful, individual anyone would be proud to know and i was happy to call him one of my best friends for 15 years,,,,i will truely miss you Squirrel and my life was better for knowing you and i will cherish my memories of you forever…Thank you for being you…you were the best and are irreplaceable….I LOVE YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. I firmly believe that all of our time’s of death have been predetermined the day we were born, we may not know the time of our death, but it is coming. Nothing I do in this life can change that. Our choices are to hide under our bed and pray that it staves off the reaper, or live our lives to the fullest and have something to be proud of when our moment comes. Everyone who knew Squirrel will agree that he led his life to the fullest, one incredibly fast mile at a time!
    I first met the man while working at the St B hotel in ’96. It was a rough bar at the time, an average of 4 fights a night on the weekends. Squirrel would invariably be there, but he always avoided trouble, even when the idiots would come to him looking for a fight. He’d simply look at them and and ask “why bother”, turn his back to them and walk away. That’s something that took me a while to understand as a bouncer. It’s something that we would talk about for many years to come when he would come to the Marion hotel for a few drinks while I was working there. His attitude was such that he had better things to do than get into a fight with someone he didn’t know or care for, that he’d rather go talk to someone else who didn’t have a chip on his shoulder. When he died his hair blue and painted his finger nails black the idiots multiplied for him, but he kept on doing it because he simply wanted to, if you didn’t like it, it was your loss, not his. He didn’t care what others thought of it, and there came the time where you couldn’t think of him without the blue hair and black finger nails. He’d still get an idiot or two come up to him and call him on his odd appearance, but he’d still turn the other cheek and walk away. It was more important to him to spend time with his friends than to deal with the idiots who seem to find courage at the bottom of the bottle. That was something about the man that I always greatly respected and admired. In point of fact, in the 17 years or so that I knew him, I only heard him raise his voice in anger once, and it took some jerk off taking a piss on the patio to do it, and that was all he did, just yelled at the guy for pissing near his female friends while they were sitting on the patio. The only incident I know of,… and he was defending his friends. That was the man that we all know and love, and will deeply miss.
    I felt I needed to share this insight into the man I knew as Squirrel after I read some of the Posts by the idiot known as Hommer99. I am going to follow Squirrel’s example; I will turn the other cheek and ignore him, he hides his identity and his words have no weight, and I have better things to do like talk to my friends. Thanks Squirrel, I get it now, and you will be missed…

  9. A face we love is missing

    a voice we know is still,

    a place is vacant in all our hearts,

    that only you could fill.

    Tears in our eyes they won’t go away,

    we wish you were here with us today.

    We know you never meant to hurt us,

    or to make us cry.

    Our love for you will always stay,

    if only things didn’t end this way.

    But now you’ve brought it to the final end,

    we will always remember you as our friend.

    We love you

    Rest in Paradise until we meet again.

  10. Hommer99 — I feel very sorry for you. You sound like a very sad, bitter, lonely, person.

  11. To Squirrel’s family and to Melissa; I am so sorry that someone felt the need to be so hurtful and cruel in such a public way. It is heart breaking, and very sad. I thought the article on Squirrel was a well written tribute to a well lived life. I am so happy to have known him as much I had the chance to, and am sad I did not get to know him more. I wish you all peace, and hope those thoughtless, cruel comments are deleted.

  12. Hey Homer99,
    Read your comments, hahaha, finally someone who speaks the truth. Please contact me at harleygirl1978@live.ca, I think we could become good friends :-)

    • you sound just as much of a low life as hommer99 you too deserve each other…you could be good lesbians together with no friends.