Dawson City, Yukon Friday, April 11, 2003

In this view of Dawson the ice bridge can be clearly seen from Mary McLeod Road. With the announcement that work has begun on a bridge plan, its years may be numbered. Photo by Dan Davidson

Feature Stories

MacDougall Takes Percy, Chops Two Hours from Record Time
"The Percy Is Unique" Says Second Place Musher
Extreme Bikers Head for Nome to Recreate 1900 Journey
Quigley Landfill Issue Boils Over
Geotech Testing for Yukon River Bridge Under Way
Dawson Women's Shelter Doors Will Remain Open
A Sense of Fascination, Northern Adventure Still Linger in Gold Rush's Dawson City
Napoleon Conquers the Cultural Centre
Bedded
Shape of a Girl
Young Music at the Odd Hall
The Accordion Player
Minute Pools

Welcome to the April 11, 2003 edition of the online Klondike Sun, which reproduces a selection of the 37 photographs and 22 articles that were in the 24 page April 8 hard copy edition.

The hard copy also contains Doug Urquhart's famous "Paws" cartoon strip, our homegrown crossword puzzle, the Fraser's Edge and obviously, all the other material you won't find here.

We encourage viewers of this website to consider subscribing to the Sun. It would help us financially and you would get to see everything closer to when it's actually news. I usually tell you how many people read the last online issue, but our counter program crashed just after it passed the 50,100 mark and it was a few days before we noticed. Since it was reset there have been 225 additional hits on the site. That would mean that 384 people read out last issue and that about 75,484 have visited us since we went online in March 1996.

Anybody Got a Loonie?

If every person who logged onto this website would send us a loonie, we'd be able to pay off the lease on our new laser printer in just a few issues. Seriously folks, since the beginning of this year there are more of you reading this digest edition of the Sun than there are reading the real thing on paper.

MacDougall Takes Percy, Chops Two Hours from Record Time

by Dan Davidson


Race committee president Brent MacDonald and Eldorado Hotel manger Karen Jenkins present the antler trophy to Brian MacDougall. Photo by Dan Davidson

It's easier for Brian McDougall to remember the number of times he's come second in the Percy DeWolfe Mail Race than it is for him to recall the number of times he's run it. For the record he's been out there thirteen times and has captured first place nine of those. But give him a moment and he can recall each time he was beaten and by whom, all four of them.

He either wins the race or comes in second place.

This year was his ninth win, and he took it in a record shattering time of 18 hours and 46 minutes, a cool two hours faster than his previous record. In fact, all three of the top runners broke the record of 20:22, which MacDougall set last year.

William Kleedehn looked like the winner on Thursday when he blazed down the trail to Fortymile in under four hours and set a new course record for the first quarter. Ed Hopkins was looking strong as well. But both men slowed their pace a little on the way back from Fortymile, and MacDougall, who has usually been in the lead at that point if he was having a good year, managed to pass them.

Kleedehn's second place finish was in 18:55, just nine minutes behind, while Hopkins crossed the line at 19:03, a close third. They took in $3300 and $2200 in prize money, while MacDougall pocketed $4400.

He left some of it behind by buying a round for the house for those at the banquet, which was held this year in the Oddfellows Hall and catered by Tintina Bakery. He said it was to make up for bad speech-making, the part of winning this race which he has always disliked.

Of his record breaking win, he was modest, placing the credit first with the trail makers of the Canadian Rangers and then with the men who set the pace.

"This can probably never be done again," he said. "The trail conditions - it was just like a highway out there. It was straight; it was flat; there was hardly any jumble ice; it was perfect.

"It was ideal weather conditions. I realize it was pretty hot in Dawson but out on the ice there was a wind blowing and it kept the dogs cool, kept them running fast. Most of the trail was put on the left hand side of the river this year and in the shade, so we didn't have to race any hot weather. The dogs could run without booties. It was ideal."

The trail was fast both ways. The trip to Eagle took an hour less than usual, so the dogs were fresher after their six hour layover for the return trip.

"Eddie and William had really solid teams that set an incredible pace and just kept the competition moving."

McDougall actually didn't expect to win the race as he began his return trip. He's generally been ahead of the pack by the time he hit the last quarter, and this time he wasn't.

"If they hadn't have slowed down a little bit at the end I never would have overtaken them. Good dog teams. Good dog drivers. They certainly deserve the credit for breaking the record."

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"The Percy Is Unique" Says Second Place Musher

by Dan Davidson


A delighted William Kleedehn receives his $3300 winnings from race Marshall John Borg. Photo by Dan Davidson

There are a number of things that make the Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race a special event but, according to William Kleedehn, one of them is that the Percy pays out its prizes in cash at the end of each race.

Kleedehn picked up $3300 for his second place finish on the weekend, though he didn't get to take it all home. He explained how that happened while also pointing out another of the Percy's special features.

"William does not take home $3300," he joked. "First I have to pay $5O of a fine for being late at the (mushers') meeting, which is a good deal because I know lots of races where you used to be disqualified ... for not being on time."

The ready cash was another bonus.

"One of the reasons why I had to really get up to this race is that I finished another race that went through Dawson about a month ago, and they haven't paid their bills yet, but I certainly have to, so it was time to get some fresh cash flow rolling.

"That's one reason why the Percy is unique. Those guys pay. They stick up to their word and they're on the money. That's true, just like the mining spirit is.

"Some of those other races," Kleedehn went on, " are run by too many bureaucrats. Not that I'm puttin' them down - I just want to put some pressure on them."

The Percy committee is busy fund raising all year long to come up with the money for their event. As Kleedehn noted, direct cash donations amount to about $3,000, while the main race itself offers over $14,000 in prizes. The rest of the money comes from fund raising.

The committee is hoping for more than that, though when it comes to raising the dollars to host the World Championship of Dog Mushing in 2005.

Percy Committee president Brent MacDonald re-announced this event at the banquet. With the cooperation of the City of Dawson and the Yukon Government it will bring 200 to 300 dog teams to the Klondike.

"In March 2005 we'll have all classes of sprint mushing, all Nordic events ... and also the world junior championships. It'll bring world wide attention to our small town ... The World Championships, including the Percy, is going to provide almost a month of continuous dog racing action."

Mayor Glen Everitt, who assisted the committee in securing the event, spoke briefly of how the team making the application put together the proposal in about a week and a half.

"If it wasn't for the commitment of the government of the Yukon to provide us with financial assistance if we were successful, we wouldn't have been able to do the bid.

"Our bid was actually written in the back of a car. We were at a meeting. Brent was in the back seat of a car and I was in the front with a laptop on my lap."

They were up against a state with a full multi-media presentation, but their pitch carried the day.

"We just told them that we were simple people. It's important to have a sponsor, but when you have one you don't sell the race."

The town provided $10,000 to the international committee for assistance to bring mushers to Dawson from abroad and $5,000 to start a committee to make dog mushing a part of the winter Olympics."

"Our MLA sitting over here, Mr. Jenkins, we need to thank him as well for being part of it," Everitt said, "and we look forward to him delivering the cheque to us within the next couple of weeks."

YTG promised $60,000 to help put this event together.

When it came Jenkins turn to speak to the crowd he certified the promise.

"I'm just with the government. I'm here to help you. Your cheque is in the mail. But you've probably heard that before.

"As a government we're committed to supporting the event in 2005 and if there's any further help needed we'll be there and willing to hear your voices. And they won't be voices in the wilderness, because this event is very much a focal point of the the community."

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Extreme Bikers Head for Nome to Recreate 1900 Journey

by Dan Davidson


The Bikes on Ice team poses at Saint Mary's Catholic Church. Photo by David Edwards

In early March three intrepid adventurers, or maybe just nuts - it's all in how you view it - set off from Dawson City to recreate an historic bicycle trip to Nome made 103 years earlier by two men, Max Hirschberg and Ed Jesson. As strange as this may sound, this was done independently by these two would be gold seekers during an era when the bicycle was seen as a perfectly acceptable mode of transportation for going long distances.

As far as the idea of winter travel was concerned, there are usually a number of people even now who keep their two wheelers in motion just about all year round.

Kevin Vallely, Andy Sterns and Frank Wolf have a habit of making strange and unusual journeys. In various combinations they have ridden bicycles around the island of Java (Frank and Kevin), stopping to climb its thirteen volcanoes along the way; crossed Canada coast to coast by canoe (Frank and another buddy); sea-kayaked the west coast of Thailand (Frank and partner) and whitewater kayaked in Malaysia.

They also have a fascination for the north. Andy Sterns skied the Serum Trail in Alaska with a friend as well as racing the Iditarod twice himself as a musher and once with Kevin and another fellow on skis.

As Kevin tells it, it was the stop at Ruby, Alaska, during that last trip in 2000 that introduced them to the tale of Ed Jesson. The story was fascinating enough in oral form to make them look it up.

"We thought we were doing something amazing then," Vallely said,, but this was even better."

Talking to Kevin and Frank in their Dawson headquarters at Saint Mary's Catholic Church in early March (Andy had yet to arrive from Fairbanks at that point), they were both clear that it was Jesson's memoir which inspired them to travel from their homes in North Vancouver and peddle off down the Yukon River on a journey they expected to take them about 6 weeks.

"We actually found his diary. Sure enough it was a true story. His diary was so thorough and good that it was considered one of the best diaries of the Klondike era, period. Also he was inspired enough to take newspapers with him, including papers from Seattle and Dawson."

As we know from other tales of the time, anyone travelling with recent, or even old, news was an instant hit where ever he went.

"When he arrived in Nome ... the city stopped, they took one of the biggest halls in the city, the dancers were given the night off, everyone filed in there and they read the newspapers aloud. As a result he became this hero that everybody remembers."

The Bikers on Ice trio planned to take papers along with them too, especially ones in which they had been written up.

Their route plan is to follow the Yukon River to Circle and along the Yukon Flats to Tanana and back to Ruby. From there it follows the the Iditarod trail to Kaltag, after which they have to "portage" 160 km to the Bering Sea. From there it's a final 400 km to Nome.

The bikers actually left Dawson on March 3, a day when the temperature hit -35?C and they were headed into a stiff headwind. The update on their website (http://members.shaw.ca/kvallely/Expedition%20updates.htm) for that day recorded the event for an article by Vallely which later appeared in the Vancouver Sun.

"Thursday morning March 6th rises cold and sunny as we head down Front street to the bank of the Yukon River and the start of our journey to Nome. The -35?C temperature and strong head wind gives us a solid wake-up punch as the river takes its first swipe at us. A huge mushroom cloud looms ominously just north of Dawson City signalling open water ahead and we are sobered by the thought that the river is not fully frozen. We quietly slip down the bank to the ice below and are finally off."

Three weeks later their postings reveal that they have entered a rhythm of sleeping in trappers cabins or in their high tech tent, rising early and travelling from 10 in the morning until early evening when they settle down for a meal and sleep.

Their spirits are still high, though the trail has been both colder and tougher than they expected. They're still aiming for a mid-April arrival in Nome.

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Quigley Landfill Issue Boils Over

by Dan Davidson

The City of Dawson has announced that it is tired of waiting for a series of territorial governments to follow through on promises made when the Quigley Landfill replaced the old Dawson dump half-dozen years ago. It is going to cut off some services to certain territorial buildings in an effort to get the government's attention.

At the time the landfill was set up to operate in a more organized manner than the previous dump, and it was accepted that there would be a need for increased operational costs in order to meet the demands of sorting the waste and recycling where possible. To that end, an additional landfill management fee was tacked onto the utilities bills paid by all Dawson residents.

The landfill, however, serves more than just the town. Klondike Valley residents are also able to make use of the facility, even though the town can't charge them for the service it has to pay for. That money, a sum equal to that in the utility bill, was supposed to come to Dawson from the YTG.

It never has. Mayor Glen Everitt and his predecessors have been harping on that particular issue for some years now. Everitt says that lots of promises have been made at the political level by the various parties that have run the territory since the landfill was opened, but all such promises tend to turn to vapour when they get down to the level of the civil servants who are supposed to implement them.

As of this year, the amount owed to the City of Dawson might be as high was $137,000 or as low as $60,000, but it's enough that the town would like to have the bill paid. City manager Scott Coulson says that so far in this term of office, no one at YTG has even wanted to discuss it, which is part of the reason that the town has decided to take action now.

Everitt announced that water and sewer services, as well as garbage collection, would soon be cut off to the territorial Liquor Store and the Property Management building.

"There has been a big dispute going on between the City of Dawson and the government of Yukon which owes the town thousands upon thousands of dollars for the landfill use by all the residents that lie outside our boundaries.

"We can't punish the people who live outside of town. It's not their fault that the government is not paying this bill."

The action will start with the two buildings named, but will spread to other buildings as time passes without a response.

"Right now the taxpayers and rate payers of Dawson have been paying this bill for far too long without YTG owning up to its responsibilities," Everitt said. "So we'll continue to keep the landfill open ... but we'll begin disconnecting the services that we provide to the territorial government buildings."

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Geotech Testing for Yukon River Bridge Under Way

Extracted from a story by Jason Small of the Whitehorse Star

Work on the new Dawson City bridge has begun.

The Star has confirmed that Aurora Geosciences of Whitehorse has been hired to do a "geophysical investigation" for a Yukon River bridge, according to the government's contract registry.

Aurora confirmed on March 21 that the work is being done in Dawson City. Despite the lack of money in the recently-released territorial budget specifically allotted for this project and the lack of announcement, the Yukon Party has started work on one of its biggest 2002 election promises.

During last fall's election campaign, the Yukon Party's MLA for the community, Peter Jenkins, said constructing the bridge had been estimated in 1995 to cost between $14 million and $20 million.

The Yukon Liberal Party vowed to investigate a bridge during the 1996 election campaign, but did not repeat its pledge in the 2000 campaign, which saw it form a government.

Glenn Hart, the Yukon Party minister responsible for highways and public works, said the testing of the soil is continuing the initial bridge study that was done in 1995.

"(It's) to fulfil the requirements on environmental assessment," Hart said this afternoon. "(It's) just part of their environment assessment to see if there's any faults in the riverbed."

The study is looking at where the ends of the bridge would be put on both sides of the river.

Hart said there could be more work done on the environmental assessment.

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Dawson Women's Shelter Doors Will Remain Open

The Dawson Shelter received unanimous support at a recent community meeting held Monday, March 24, 2003. The Shelter will keep to its original mandate of providing emergency care to women and children in crisis 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It was also noted at the meeting that the Shelter was one of only a few services that provided evening and night staffing, most other programs require phoning ahead to get assistance.

The Shelter and its staff were also praised for their outstanding efforts in promoting awareness and prevention, and in the excellence of the Outreach Programs offered by the Shelter to the community. The Programs offered by the Shelter encompass not only the workshops associated with awareness and prevention of family violence but also a weekly Kid's Time drop in, a Girls Night Out, Christmas Hampers and Emergency Food Hampers, and a Family Support worker. The Shelter undertakes many other projects throughout the year which combine awareness and promotion with fundraising such as our Annual Walk-a-thon, Valentine's Day Chocolates, Christmas Bazaar, Highway Clean-up and Community Garage Sale.

Monday's meeting was well attended, with representatives of the R.C.M.P., H&SS, the City of Dawson, the Dawson Chamber of Commerce, the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in and other interested individuals being present. The consensus was that the Shelter maintain its operation as a 24/7 Safe House, while continuing to offer the variety of workshops and programs which support the development of a healthy community.

The Shelter had already had in place a three year agreement with their funding agency which was to have been in effect from April 1, 2001 to March 31, 2004. To cut the funding in the final year of the agreement, with no prior consultation with the Shelter or its Board will seriously impact the level of service the Shelter can provide the community. The proposed cut in funding will result in either job losses or a reduction in the services offered. There is currently a petition circulating the community from the residents of Dawson to the Minister involved. We are asking the Minister of Health and Social Services honour the signed agreement and restore the full funding for the Shelter in the last year of its agreement.

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A Sense of Fascination, Northern Adventure Still Linger in Gold Rush's Dawson City

by Ken McGoogan of the Winnipeg Free Press


Ken McGoogan at the Berton House last fall. Photo by David Edwards

Dawson City, Yukon - If you look out the window of the boyhood home of Pierre Berton, you see a one-room log cabin in which the poet Robert Service spent three years in the early 1900s, writing poems like The Cremation of Sam McGee:

"There are strange things done in the midnight sun / By the men who moil for gold...."

If you step out the door and walk one block along a hard-packed dirt road, you arrive at the cabin in which Jack London carved his name in the late 1890s, during the Klondike Gold Rush, when instead of precious metal he found material for The Call of the Wild, the novel that made him an international celebrity.

Half a century later, in 1958, Pierre Berton -- who spent 10 years living in the two-bedroom home where I write these words -- published a first important book called Klondike: The Life and Death of the Gold Rush. An evocative history of the most dramatic gold rush North America has ever known, it rocketed onto bestseller lists and stayed there. Berton went on to publish numerous historical blockbusters -- among them The National Dream, The Last Spike, The Invasion of Canada and The Arctic Grail -- and to win so many honours and awards that he has become a Canadian icon.

In 1989, Berton spent $50,000 to buy and refurbish his boyhood home. Then he donated it to the Klondike Visitors Association as a retreat for Canadian authors, a place where writers can go to experience "North" while they write.

Recently, the Canada Council for the Arts became a co-sponsor and began providing authors with a modest living allowance. Now, the Berton House Retreats Society, which is based in Whitehorse, receives 70 or 80 applications each year.

Mine was successful because I am writing a book about Samuel Hearne, the 18th-century sailor, explorer and author who walked to the Arctic Ocean. A quarter-century ago, in the book My Country: The Remarkable Past, Berton wrote that he found Hearne (1745-92) the most intriguing of all northern explorers: "I would dearly love to spend an evening with that uncommonly sensitive and sensible man." When Berton learned from my application -- not my first, I might say -- that I was writing a biography of Hearne, he registered a deciding vote.

So, for the past couple of months, I have been writing about Hearne in Berton's old dining-room; sleeping in the bedroom that his father added to the back of the house, and in which he himself slept; and rambling around the town he celebrated not just in Klondike, but in the classic NFB documentary City of Gold.

Both tell the story of that brief, blazing period at the dawn of the 20th century, when tens of thousands of gold-seekers streamed into town, most of them having traversed the dread Chilkoot Pass before sailing, rafting or river-boating down the Yukon River, to turn Dawson City into the largest Canadian settlement west of Winnipeg.

After a few years, when all the richest mining claims had been staked, this small city imploded with equal suddenness, turning almost into a ghost town. Yet Dawson City, situated where the Klondike River flows into the Yukon, never quite died. There was just enough precious metal in nearby creeks to keep goldminers coming.

To remain profitable, mining had to become mechanized. Massive, three-storey dredges replaced maverick gold-panners. Along the streams outside Dawson, these produced massive, serpentine trails of rocks or "tailings," which from the air are quite hideous to behold. Those gargantuan operations, too, became obsolete, and today families or teams of six or eight use high-tech equipment to take out what gold remains -- unless, of course, someone finds that elusive motherlode.

Meanwhile, during the past couple of decades, Dawson City has become something of a tourist mecca. Each summer, tens of thousands of people arrive not just from across Canada, but from the United States and Europe, especially Germany.

This is thanks largely to Parks Canada, which has preserved the town's wild-north character by buying up historic buildings and controlling the face of development.

Tourists flock here to experience "the spell of the Yukon." They explore the cabins of Robert Service and Jack London, where they listen to poetry and stories of the gold rush. They visit massive dredges that no longer function and go gold-panning in groups. They ramble Paradise Alley, where, once upon a time, many a gold-seeker sought comfort among ladies of the night. They take photos of the restored stern-wheeler Keno, and of the town's historic buildings, and even of Berton House. They take trips down the Yukon River.

I arrived just in time to catch the tag-end of tourist season, to dine at Klondike Kate's, catch the racy season-finale show at the Palace Grand Theatre, and play blackjack at Diamond Tooth Gertie's Gambling Hall, where gartered can-can girls -- professional dancers imported from Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto -- put on a naughty show three times a night.

Then suddenly, late in September, the dirt streets and board sidewalks went empty. Restaurants, hotels and even bars closed their doors and shuttered their windows. And Dawson City became its year-round self -- population: 1,800.

Still open are: Two grocery stores, one coffee shop, three hotels, a few bed-and-breakfasts. Also three or four bars, among them Bombay Peggy's, perfect for a quiet pint; The Pit, a raucous bar in the Westminster Hotel, which was the scene of the wildest Halloween party I ever expect to attend; and the Sourdough Saloon in the Downtown Hotel, where visitors can enjoy a sourtoe cocktail -- a drink of your choice in which a petrified toe has been placed for your delectation. (It is a real toe; and I collected an admittedly suspicious-looking piece of paper that attests to my having done the deed.)

Also open: A few gift shops, a hair salon/barbership that offers not only haircuts but massages; a video store called Jimmy's Place and Maximilian's Gold Rush Emporium, which sells many gewgaws but specializes in books, newspapers and magazines.

Contemplating that magazine rack recently, I realized Dawson City is the farthest-flung outpost of Western civilization in Canada. Certainly, you can find communities farther from Toronto or New York, but none where you could buy Harper's or The New Yorker, or enjoy such mixed blessings as cable TV and high-speed Internet service.

I have done no more than scratch the surface of this town, encountering few first nations people, for example, whocomprise one third of the population. Yet I can attest that Dawson City is a kaleidoscope of characters. I think of DawneMitchell, the Jack London aficionado who lent me her truck to drive the Top of the World Highway; of Dan Davidson, thehigh-school English teacher and reigning newspaperman who gave me, as visiting author, not one, not two, but three hits in The Klondike Sun; of Father Tim, the Catholic priest who invited me to the celebration marking the arrival from California of his Steinway grand piano; and of Suzanne Saito, the unofficial minder who not only helped me bring high-speed Internet into Berton House, but bailed me out with a loaner-monitor when my fancy new laptap, bought specially for this occasion, went dead the day after I arrived.

At Bombay Peggy's, I chatted with miners and social workers and a doctor, and also an articulate man in his mid-30s who spends every spare moment paragliding off the top of the Dome, the highest peak in the area, and who explained the differences between his sport and hang-gliding -- paragliding alone evolved from sky-diving -- and only once in seven years was forced to use his emergency chute.

I think of the bushy-bearded "Caveman Bill," who has spent four years living in a cave on the far side of the Yukon River, doing odd jobs to make ends meet. During the above-mentioned Halloween party, where he reached the finals in the costume contest, largely on the strength of his moose-head mask, the Caveman told me he is planning to build a catamaran and sail it from Dawson City to the mouth of the Amazon River.

Every second Friday, the Klondike Institute of Arts and Crafts organization shows a foreign or classic film -- perhaps a Jean Renoir or an Ingmar Bergman. A few nights ago, after viewing one of these, I was quaffing beer in Bombay Peggy's and learned that every one of the four women at the table happened to live on the other side of a river, either the Yukon or the Klondike.

What does this mean? "Gaby" is in her mid-30s, hails originally from Montreal, attended Concordia University and has been living in Dawson City for four years. Soon after midnight, when we emerged from the pub, she would pile into her half-ton truck and drive a dozen or so kilometres along the Klondike River, chasing a winding two-lane highway into the night. Then she would turn off onto a dirt track, bounce a few hundred metres into the bush and park. She would climb into her waiting canoe and, by the light of the moon, paddle cross the fast-flowing river to her log cabin -- no electricity, no plumbing, just a dozen sled dogs howling at her arrival.

Nobody at the table thought this peculiar. Those present did admit to looking forward to freeze-up, however, because then, instead of paddling, they would be able to "ski-jor" across one river or another, using a single dog to haul them on cross-country skis.

If you visit the Yukon, bring a sense of adventure.

The Dawson City airport is situated about 19 kilometres out of town on the nearest available flat land. Unfortunately, it's also near the Klondike River and often gets fogged in. The day I arrived, we flew circles for an hour before the sun burned off enough fog that we could land.

My wife, Sheena, had worse luck. She had joined me for a couple of weeks and, the afternoon she was scheduled to leave, the aircraft couldn't land. She had a next-day connection in Whitehorse, a distance of only 540 kilometres: Maybe we could rent a car and drive? At 3 p.m., both local car rentals agencies gave us only voice mail but, acting on a hunch, I phoned an acquaintance, Andrew Van Schie, the artist-in-residence at Macaulay House.

Want to drive to Whitehorse? Sure, why not? Twenty minutes later, Van Schie turned up in a Honda Civic with more than 420,000 kilometres on it (not a misprint). The highway proved gravelly and icy by turns, but what the heck, we were travelling in the Yukon. We had covered about 200 kilometres when we got a late-afternoon flat. No problem. The Civic came equipped with one of those tiny doughnut spares -- and on that we ended up driving, slowly, the rest of the way, arriving in Whitehorse around 11 p.m.

Next morning, as we waited to install a new tire at the only open garage, we met a guy in his mid-20s who had driven the highway behind us in a half-ton truck, hauling a high-end motorcycle in a covered trailer. With this rig, he had hit black ice, pulled a 360-degree turn and ended up in the ditch -- and all he'd done was knock one of his tires off its rim. He was still shaking his head.

Incredibly, Van Schie and I made it back in one piece.

Today the sun is shining -- not a cloud in the sky. It's my last afternoon in Dawson City and I have decided to inaugurate the Berton House Hike. I'll follow King Street uphill, then stand a moment and look back over the town, and perhaps watch the ferry take a couple of cars across the Yukon River. Then I'll resume hiking along the dirt road, making my way between historic graveyards onto Dome Road, a two-lane highway. I'll branch off to enjoy two favourite views, one looking north to the mouth of the Klondike, the other looking south along the Klondike River valley to the rolling mountains in the middle distance.

Finally, I'll swing down Dome Road past the baseball field and Trans-North Helicopters. Along the Yukon River, I'll follow the dike to Front Street, where I'll nip into Jimmy's Place, Maximilian's and the General Store before wending through town back to Berton House.

Tonight, I'll hoist a final pint of Yukon Gold at Bombay Peggy's, and maybe afterwards check out The Pit.

I'll toast Pierre Berton, who made possible this sojourn. And I'll vow to return to Dawson City, and mean every word.

(Ken McGoogan is the author of Fatal Passage: The Untold Story of John Rae, which won the Writers Trust Biography Prize, the CAA History Prize and (jointly) the Grant MacEwan Authors Award.)

(c) 2002 Winnipeg Free Press. All Rights Reserved. Used with Ken McGoogan's permission.

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Napoleon Conquers the Cultural Centre

by Dan Davidson


Art Napoleon as "Joe Indigenous". Photo by Dan Davidson

Art Napoleon provided an engaging two hour show of comedy and music at the Dänòja Zho Cultural Centre on the evening of March 28, bringing his self-deprecating humour and intense lyrics to the stage there.

Art is a Cree musician, writer and performing artist from Moberly, British Columbia who grew up with his grandparents and says he learned a lot about being a native from that experience. Though he quickly notes that that it was not all a bed of roses, he took away more good than bad from his youth.

Art is busy in a number of artistic endeavours. His stage presentation includes aspects of stand-up comedy, story telling and philosophising, as well as musical presentations in a number of styles.

His English lyrics tend to deal with the sadder side of aboriginal life, while his stories poke fun at any attempt to take that life too seriously. As Joe Indigenous, he performed a "Cree Rant" (can be viewed at http://www.screenweavers.com) which he made up as a spoof of the "I Am Canadian" commercial, and also read a short story which poked gentle fun at a group of "native elders" who were being taken way too seriously by people at a conference.

In media, Art has been involved with the Cree for Kids project (see http://www.creeforkids.ca/) for which he provides the voice of the elder puppet Mosum (granpa) Marvin.

Art likes to involve his audiences in his performances, so it was no surprise that locals Georgette McLeod and Dominic Lloyd ended up on the stage providing percussion for one of his Cree chanting songs.

The audience at the cultural centre appeared to have a great evening with Art. His humour and music seemed to strike just the right notes for a Friday evening out with friends.

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Bedded

by Palma Berger

These are very intimate photographs of people. Each of the various people is in bed. In only one is there an intimation of clothing. But as the photographs are from head to shoulders it does not matter. The intimacy is caught not only because they are all close ups, very very close, but the photos are so enlarged that there is not a hair or a pore that is not caught. You are so right in close with them that you can read their every gesture, interpret every look. There is so much in each photograph that one can read several stories in each. The more one looks the more one sees. Talk to the visitor next to you and you will get another interpretation. It takes time and still one is not satisfied.

The photographs are the work of Jennifer Long from Toronto. As she says in her artist's statement "'Bedded' is a series of open-ended dialogues about the acceptance and rejection of touch. Physical contact can depict the complexity of relationship more accurately than words."

Some photos are split. One has the female subject's right hand lightly curled on a pillow, and in the adjoining photo the same female has her other hand to her face as she stifles a memory or thought. Again one does not see all the face. The gesture is what gives the thought to the viewer. Was this gesture brought on by the outreaching right hand?

In another the boyfriend with eyes closed has his face in the hair of his beloved, but her face is so alert with eyes wide open as if she has something else to think of.

Again the photographer, "the viewer enters an intimate tableaux where depictions of gesture create a narrative of longing, desire, uncertainty and sadness. The models appear relaxed and seemingly unaware of the camera, absorbed in the privacy of the moment."

In another the man appears asleep or is he just shutting out, by turning his back to his companion. She is not resting. Only the lower part of her face is shown and this looks as if it is slightly strained to look or to implore?

One becomes so engrossed in their every gesture that any thoughts of voyeurism or invasion do not predominate.

The artist hopes to get the viewer to reflect on the tactile quality of skin and hair, and the subtle movements within the relationships. By making these images larger than life, attention is drawn to space and gesture; to those in-between moments when touch suggests something beyond the obvious.

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Shape of a Girl

by Palma Berger


Jenny Young played multiple roles in "Shape of a Girl". Photo by Palma Berger

This play wasn't about Rena Virk. It wasn't about how this fourteen year old died, or how long her body lay in the water.

The play was about bullying. Bullying by teenage peers, picking on a weaker member of their group. The author, Joan McLeod, created Braidie an average fifteen year old. Braidie has the average teenagers understanding of what is wrong with her life and it is confined to the narrowness of her experience of life. In this case it is her busy working mum who only has time to call out instructions. Braidie dreams of a no-mum house, with only dads. But dads only if they bring supplies. So she is an ordinary teen.

Joan McLeod who created this play lives on Bowen Island. She wanted to present the idea of bullying. It has won awards, and began its life in Calgary, and from there it has travelled to twenty cities across Canada in two years. It is produced by Green Thumb Theatre in Vancouver. After appearing in Whitehorse it came to the Oddfellows Hall in Dawson City with the help of Nakai Theatre and Yukon Arts Centre. Jenny Young who plays the young Braidie has been the sole actress for all this time. She gives a marvellous performance as she switches back and forth from a very young, or insecure, or happy Braidie and back to the Braidie of fifteen.

The stage was starkly furnished so the actress was alone as she brought the play to life.

Adrienne was Braidie's bosom friend growing up. As her dad said, 'They seemed to be joined at the hip'. They were inseparable with Adrienne being the leader.

They had other friends, but at age twelve a new girl, Sophie, joins the group. Here Young brilliantly changes to a twelve year old as she re-enacts accepting the weaker Sophie into the smarter, brighter group. Adrienne the leader decides on the mean little games to play to exclude the yearning Sophie.

Braidie has problems keeping up attendance at school. One day when she missed the bus yet again, she stayed home and watched television. The news was of a bunch of teenagers who had cruelly bullied and eventually killed fourteen-year-old Virk. Braidie is shocked. She wonders if the leader of the aggressors is a girl in the shape of a monster, or a monster in the shape of a girl.

Later Braidie recalls a school trip when Adrienne verbally forces Sophie to attempt to climb out the bus window. Sophie gets stuck, is bawled out by the driver, is humiliated, and provides much amusement to the group. Other incidences occur.

Eventually, Braidie in trouble for not attending school, announces she is going to do home schooling. Her exasperated mother agrees. This places Braidie home alone with her studies, and away from the influence of her friend Adrienne. Part of the studies include Current Events. To her surprise they are studying Rena Virk's killing. Braidie is not only shocked that the girl was killed, but shocked that there were onlookers. Then she learned the awful fact that the story was told around school. But there was silence. She could not comprehend that no one spoke out.

After two weeks Braidie returns to school. She discovers that Sophie is 'in statue mode. Her body is uninhabited'. Adrienne, increasingly bitter over her boyfriend, brutally takes her bitterness out on Sophie. As she is being beaten Sophie looks pleadingly at Braidie. But Braidie does nothing at the time. But she can't forget.

She wanders down to the Play School she attended as a very young child. Here she is sparked into action by the undemanding love with which her old teacher welcomes her. She tells this teacher about Sophie.

This play touches one so deeply without preaching. It presents the awfulness of wanting to be part of a group so badly that a young person will overlook the standards of that group. The play was presented with wonderful dialogue, often humour, great acting, great stage presentation, all adding up to a memorable evening.

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Young Music at the Odd Hall

by Dan Davidson


Monica Nordling was the vocal soloist at this year's spring recital. Photo by Dan Davidson

One of Dawson's local traditions is the Spring Music Recital put on by those students who are about to try their talents at the Rotary Music Festival. Some version of this event has been going on for the last 16 years and it's always a treat to see how far things have come since the last time.

The emphasis was on piano performances this year, with students from two teachers who work out of the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture, Gwen Bell and Lorraine Millar.

Their students included Victoria Holmes, Bailey Kuzma, Stuart and Bryan Leary, Pascal and Alix Causer-McBurney, Amanda and Ashley Graham, Miriam Moore and Charmaine Christiansen. They performed a variety of music from simple tunes to Beethoven and from classical to jazz.

The Robert Service School Choir has been under the direction of Betty Davidson for the last 16 years, and has sometimes spanned a wide range of grades, but this year her other teaching duties and the split timetable at the school meant that she couldn't find a time when both elementary and secondary students could rehearse together, so she had to limit her group to grades 4 through 6, making it one of her younger choirs.

This year the choir had prepared one younger song, "Chim Chim Cheree" (Sherman and Sherman) and one topical older song, "Down by the Riverside" (traditional spiritual). The choir was accompanied by Brenda Caley.

The solo vocalist at this year's recital was Monica Nordling, coached by Father Tim Coonen and accompanied by Gwen Bell. Monica faced the difficult task of singing three classical test pieces in foreign languages These were "Star vicino", "Med en Primula veris" (Grieg) and "Collette" (Chaminade). In the second half of the program she was able to let loose a bit more freely in jazzy renditions of "Route 66" (Troup) and "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" (Hammerstein & Kern).

It's always refreshing to hear our young musicians stretching their skills.

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The Accordion Player

by Palma Berger


Geoff Berner at the keyboard. Photo by Palma Berger

"You're going to hear Geoff Berner? He's great. I heard him at the Dawson City Music Festival last year. He plays the accordion." Accordion? Was this going to be an evening of polkas or ethnic folk music at the Oddfellows Hall? It certainly was not. Berner is a singer song writer who presents his own compositions. One would expect this sole performer to have a guitar, but no. It is an accordion.

The accordion appealed to him not only because of its connection to his ancestors, eastern European Jews, but he also "finds it a more comprehensive accompaniment to a singer-song writer. It has a bass player to the left hand, chords for the right, and tapping of the keys has a percussion element".

This Vancouver based musician came here under his own steam. He enjoyed last year here so much that he wanted to return. He wanted to return and he did it. This directness is how he presented his act. There was no introductory palaver, he went on stage and went straight into the music and song.

The music was great, the voice had many shades to it. The words got to you. They were so strong. The writing at times raw and personal. It glossed over nothing.

His first song, "Beautiful in My Eyes" muses on how his very attractive girl friend will act when her beauty fades and she no longer commands the immediate attention she is used to. For "Iron Grey" the colour of his 'true love's eyes', he offered the explanation he thinks it is a love song from the point of view of a terrorist. Here his voice showed real sadness for what could not be a normal way of life.

In "Volcano God" he feels every song is a kind of prayer. This Volcano God is avaricious who takes away more and more from the individual, while demanding more and more. Our modern life?

He showed a sneaky sense of humour. On announcing "We all Gotta be a Prostitute Sometimes", he remarked that the last time he sang this song here, was in the Catholic Church. Not his fault, 'Dom booked me there.' But it could have been what any church deals with, the humiliation of having to sell oneself one way or another to survive.

He lives in East Vancouver where garbage piles up, and the police don't come as fast. His song, "That What Keeps the Rent Down Baby", is sung like a lullaby but the words paint a different picture as in '...lady's face is swollen. Everyone we know has had their stereo stolen'.

In Prague he once met a girl at the "Clown and Bard" who had come into an inheritance in Baltimore but could not break her habit of drugs and drink to return to collect. His voice became bar husky to sing this song.

Then came the forceful "Maginot Line". This line of defence was erected by the French against the possibility of an advancing German army during the 30's. He likened this to present day America's foreign policy.

"thought you were so safe and strong.
Stupid! Stupid! You were so wrong.
A perfect fortress makes a perfect tomb."

The audience had to grin as they anticipated the chorus after each verse described the hopelessness of this unbelievable preparation.

The audience related to his songs and loved his presentation. He presented so many insightful pictures of today, some not pleasant, but his forthright honesty and humour won everyone over. After last year's Music Festival he went to Norway. "But things that happened here in the Yukon and the people you meet draw a person back. This place I like." You will enjoy his CD "We Shall Not Flag or Fail, We Shall Go On To The End". The accordion was great too.

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Minute Pools

by Palma Berger

The guessing is on again for the time the ice break up on the Yukon River. The I.O.D.E. have their tickets on sale at various outlets in town. The Museum has their Minute pools out.

With the minute pools you choose a minute that the ice will go out irrespective of the month, the day, the hour, or a.m. or p.m., just the minute. These were very active in years past, and every business, bar, the movie theatre had its Minute Pool. If you guessed the right minute you collected all the money paid in on that sheet. Some businesses even had actual prizes as well. As each sheet was filled, the sheet was prominently displayed either in the window or within the business itself, then when the ice went out, one could see who won, who came close, or how far off they themselves were.

But then regulations came in. To have a lottery you had to have a permit. To have a permit for a lottery you had to be a certified charity. None of the businesses qualified as charities of course, so the Minute Pools died away.

Last year John Gould had the bright idea of resurrecting the Minute Pools to benefit the cash strapped Dawson City Museum. He and the Board took the necessary steps to have a Minute Pool again. After much difficulty persuading the powers that be that this indeed was a lottery, they got their permit and sold their tickets around town.

As again this year the 'boards' of 60 minutes have $2.00 purchases of the minute, as well as $5.00 and $10.00 boards. The winner gets 50% of the monies paid into the board, and the museum gets 50%.

The lucky winner last year was Ed Roberts. He cunningly chose one number and bet on that number on each board. His minute came in and he really cleaned up.

This year again the Minute Pools are available. Some sheets were dropped off at some businesses, and some individual Museum board members are also selling them.

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