Dawson City, Yukon Friday, July 23, 1999

Photo opportunites are a big part of any celebration in Dawson. The Mounties pose with the ladies from Gerties on Canada Day. Photo by Dan Davidson

Feature Stories

Departing Fire Boss Honoured
Alaska Trip Proves to be Bust for Car Thief
Bear Mauling in Tent City
Fair Family Issues Statement
Canada - Celebrating the Nation and the Aged
Writer-in-Residence Shares the Spotlight
History of Jack London's Cabin
A New Voice at the Robert Service Cabin
Community Bids Farewell to Museum Director, Mac Swackhammer
Dawson Post Office Plagued by Staff Cuts
Student Ministry Program at St. Paul's Anglican Church
France Meets Dawson
Comment: Some Fire Fighting Insights

Welcome to the July 23 edition of the online Klondike Sun. Our news stand edition went on sale on July 20 and was 24 pages long. It contained 37 pictures and 23 articles. as well as several cartoons and a map guide to the forest fires in the region. You'll never see it all here, but welcome aboard anyway.

Departing Fire Boss Honoured

by Dan Davidson

By the middle of last week BC Overhead team fire boss Roy Benson was feeling a bit frustrated. He likened the fire situation here to one of those arcade games where you bop the groundhog with a mallet only to have another one pop up somewhere else.

None of the interruptions were serious in terms of actually fighting the fires, but they were continuous and annoying, necessitating the rearrangement of scheduled actions against the various fires.

Take equipment, for instance. There have been two helicopter mishaps this week. It one case the chopper spun around and inadvertently turned into a hedge trimmer for a few seconds, the problem being that the tail rotor didn't take kindly to slicing through 2 inch branches.

Later in the week a much larger helicopter got snared too close to the ground when the bucket it was dipping got caught on something. The machine came down nose first, but the pilot was able to walk away from the impact. The trouble with a downed machine of that size is that it will take a much larger machine to get it out. Look for something the size of a Sikorsky in the Dawson skies sometime soon.

It should be fairly soon, since fire #11 has been active in the corner where that chopper went down. There are currently 15 helicopters in service in the Dawson area.

Basically all the northern fires (7, 3, 2 and 11) have been well behaved this week. Fire specialists tend to speak of the blazes as if they were living beings with personalities and they are variously described as stubborn, challenging or cooperative.

At the south end of the fire zone things have been a little more active, with new fires springing up and old ones digging in. New to the fire zone in this area are fires 25, 26 and 27. Number 25 was a simple lightning strike which responded well to initial attack strategies and was no longer an issue within three days, getting no larger than 5 hectares.

The origins of numbers 26 and 27 are more mysterious. DIAND's Shane Petry guesses that these fires (which popped up on July 14 and 15 respectively) are delayed reactions to previous lightning strikes. When the fuel mixture in an area isn't good for a fire it will sometimes smoulder until the relative humidity drops and the temperature rises; then it will flare. This is what seems to have happened on Caribou Creek and on Lee Creek. The latter fire was near enough to the Viceroy Mine that it was reported from there.

Petry says that both fires were pretty much quashed by the initial attack of bombers and ground crews. Number 26 was under a hectare in size, while #27 is just under 3 ha.

Departing DIAND boss Mike Collie has been quick to point out that each individual fire that has begun since that awful day on June 12 has been successfully held and extinguished. On June 12, however, 14 fires began in a 3 hour period, and that was a different matter.

Collie and his wife, Janet, and their children, are leaving soon for Alberta, a move that was potentially in the works before the fire season began and confirmed just a few days after June 12.

At the July 14 meeting of the Urban/Wildfire Interface Committee Mayor Glen Everitt presented Collie with an historical panorama photograph of Dawson on behalf of council. Everitt said it was in honour of the great work Collie has done during his years here.

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Alaska Trip Proves to be Bust for Car Thief

by Dan Davidson

It was a case of Alaska or bust for a young man apprehended in Dawson on Monday evening, but in his case the trip was a lot more of a bust.

RCMP in Dawson are puzzling over the strange travel itinerary of the 17 year old male they arrested on the George Black Ferry at 7:30 last evening.

Bound for Alaska, the Regina native, who cannot be named due to his age, was taken without incident after he had stolen two cars and a tankful of gasoline on his way to Dawson.

The story began in Faro on July 5, when the Alaska bound lad apparently broke down after a trip north on the Campbell Highway. His abandoned vehicle was found after Faro RCMP were notified of a theft in town. Two thefts, in fact, since his first choice of a a free ride also broke down and he had to take another vehicle, a 1988 Chev 4x4, to finish the job.

His next stop was Stewart Crossing, where he filled the Chev and drove off without paying. This was reported to the Mayo detachment, who passed it on to Dawson.

As a result of this, the press release notes that the "Dawson City RCMP, Mayo RCMP and the Division Police plane initiated road blocks and searches..."

Police here were contacted when the vehicle turned up at the George Black ferry and arrived at the scene with their weapons drawn, as it was known that the young man was armed.

Cpl Tim Bain, NCO in Charge-Operations, indicated that it's unusual for the force to have weapons out most of the time, but they knew the man was armed. He had two high powered rifles in the Chev with him but was taken without any difficulty.

The ferry was held up about 20 minutes to get the stolen vehicle off the boat. This involved backing all the other vehicles off first, so there was some delay.

The young man does not appear to be wanted for anything in Regina, so his motives are a mystery at this time.

The youth will be appearing in court later this week in Whitehorse to face charges which include "theft, possession of stolen property and firearms related offences."

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Bear Mauling in Tent City

by Dan Davidson


This is typical of the campsites that can be seen not far from the road. There are sites further back in the bush as well.

Tragedy struck a City of Dawson worker in the overflow camp ground known locally as Tent City on Friday when she was mauled by a black bear. Carrie Fair was one of many summer workers who spend the season in the well maintained spot near the ferry landing on the west side of the Yukon River.

Sgt Steve Gleboff of the Dawson RCMP says they got the call between 11 and 11:30 that morning. By the time they and the ambulance crew could arrive the bear had already been driven off the young woman by the actions of David Calnan, a local landscaper and contractor, who beat at the bear with a club to get it away from her.

"Dave had about a four foot club," said Gleboff, "and he literally saved this young woman's life. He ended up clubbing the bear and that's really what made the bear leave the person."

The bear did not quit the area, but circled, so that when the officers got there it was to hear Calnan yelling that the animal was still in the vicinity.

"When we arrived, it was still sitting there licking its paws," Gleboff said.

As he knew where it was and what it looked like, and had what seemed to be a clear shot, they handed Calnan the rifle. Unfortunately he missed.

"It took off like a streak of light."

While this was going on the ambulance crew cared for the victim, who had suffered injuries to the calf of her left leg, evacuating her first to the Dawson nursing station for evaluation and then to Whitehorse by plane just over an hour later and on to Vancouver from there.

"We spent the bulk of the afternoon searching for the bear," Gleboff said. The search included calling in a helicopter which hovered over the camp grounds, trying to spot it or flush it out.

Torrie Hunter of Yukon Renewable Resources had arranged with Adam Morrison of Trans North for the helicopter. Cnst Tim Bain went up with them for 30 or 40 minutes. Gleboff said they had the doors off the machine so they could get a really good look out, but saw nothing.

Later, over in Dawson, Const Antony Pompeo was riding his horse, Justin, back in the direction of the detachment office as part of the Red Serge program when he saw a black bear swimming across the Yukon River and, realizing it might be the one, gave chase.

"He spotted this bear...and it was very possible that the bear could have circled around and started swimming across the river," said Gleboff. Conservation Officer John Russell shot the bear, but it turned out to be the wrong one. Gleboff stressed that there was no way to tell prior to an autopsy if it was the right bear. This one had not ingested human flesh.

This is not the first instance of bear trouble here this season, but Torrie Hunter says there hasn't been much. Most are sightings where the bear passes by and doesn't come back. One bear, which made a nuisance of itself at the home of Wayne and Kandice Braga on the Dome, was live trapped and relocated. To date, this year, there had been no reported complaints of bears in the West Dawson campgrounds.

There were 20 to 30 tents in Tent City at that time, and Gleboff said the camp was reasonably clean. The residents vacated during the crisis and were asked to come back and pick up their gear later on. As an alternative site, until the area is safe again, the town has set up portable toilets at the Robert Service School yard and, with the cooperation of the Department of Education, has told the campers to stay on the soccer field for a few days.

Few seem to have taken this option, preferring to bivouac elsewhere with friends, leaving their gear at the site.

Hunter says it is not unheard of for black bears to become predacious. So far the one which attacked Carrie Fair has not been sighted. Officials have hairs from the scene of the attack and should be able to do a DNA match if they actually find the bear.

Carrie Fair was working at the Dawson Pool for the summer, acting as a lifeguard. Her brother is working at a mine on Gold Bottom Creek.

Carrie Fair is a native of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and noted there for her role on the Dalhousie Tigers varsity basketball team, where she has played post position for the last two seasons. She is an Arts major at the Halifax university. Interest in this story has been high, with items appearing in the weekend editions of both the Halifax Chronicle Herald and the Halifax Daily News.

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Fair Family Issues Statement

by Dan Davidson

While the family of Carrie Fair is being inundated with calls and requests for information, they are far too involved with Carrie's immediate problems to answer them all. In Dawson Erin Parker, Robbie Fair's girlfriend, has been asked by Ian and Leslie Fair to issue the following statement.

"The Fair family would like to express their most sincere thanks you's for all the prayers and good wishes that have come from the Dawson community and nation wide.

"Carrie Fair is still in serious but stable condition in the Burns and Plastics Unit at Vancouver General Hospital. As there has been a great number of people interested in contact with Carrie and her family, please feel free to contact her via the mail, attention: Carrie Fair c/o Burns and Plastics Unit, Vancouver General Hospital, BC, V5Z 1M9"

Presently Carrie is in and out of surgery, Parker adds, and it's too soon for the family to make a firm statement about her condition.

Dawson citizens are rallying with their usual open heartedness to aid the family in this situation. A fund raiser evening was held at the Westminster Tavern (known by all as the Pit) last Friday night. Local artist Halin de Repentigny donated a painting for the event. Owner Duncan Spriggs contributed 50 cents for every beer purchased that evening. Mayor Glen Everitt waited tables and promised to match any tips that he made to go into the pot.

The pool community where Carrie worked planned two car washes on Friday, one at the pool itself from 1-5 and at Guggieville. Pool manager Jennifer Vinton says this effort involved kids, parents and the crew from the aqua-fit classes.

Ruby's Hideaway put on a special luncheon, the proceeds of which contributed to the Fair Fund.

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Canada - Celebrating the Nation and the Aged

by Dan Davidson

Canada Day parades in Dawson City are just not as elaborate as those we stage on Discovery Day, but they still have lots of spirit. Let's face it, where ever you can pull a troop of mounties together in red serge, line up a bunch of whooping fire trucks and, assemble some legionnaires and Girl Guides and count on the antics of Diamond Tooth Gerties and her girls, well, you've got a parade.

Some of the smoke from the fire near Fort Reliance had lifted by the time the parade made its way from the Visitor Reception Centre on Front Street to the Victory Gardens on Firth Avenue, and there were quite a few locals and tourists out to watch.

At first it didn't seem like a lot, but by the time they had all gathered to hear the speeches and watch the water bombers fly by in salute, there were several hundred in the audience.

Gertie led off the formal part of the meeting with a singing of "Oh Canada" assisted by her girls an flanked by an escort of red coats.

Councillor Shirley Pennell took the podium on behalf of city council and, assisted by French teacher Helen McCullough, delivered a bilingual welcoming address.

"With the help of people from all over the world,:" she said, "we have made a peaceful nation - the best country in the world in which to live."

Pennell celebrated the recent creation of Nunavut as an example of Canada's commitment to cultural diversity.

MLA Peter Jenkins allowed that the Klondike has been "particularly well blessed. We have one of the richest and most colourful histories in all of Canada and while people may think that gold is our greatest treasure, it really isn't. Our greatest treasure is the people who chose to make the Klondike their home."

Representing Klondike National Historic Sites, Rose Margeson spoke of the national and international themes which will colour events this year.

"Canada's theme for 1999 is 'Canada - a Society for all Ages', " she told the audience. In addition to this, the United Nations has declared 1999 to be "The International Year of the Older Person."

"Canada's participation in the IYOP is designed to benefit myths about aging and by promoting a more realistic image of aging between generations."

After the formal events, emcee Jim Reilly invited the spectators to dig into the birthday cake and join in the events around the Museum, which kicked off with the Teddy Bear's Picnic and the Potato Sack Race almost immediately.

The only downside to the morning was that Captain Canada was unable to make his annual paraglide entrance. Steve Kurth tried to launch off the Dome twice, but the wind was wrong and he was forced to abort the sail.

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Writer-in-Residence Shares the Spotlight

by Kim Adams
Public Librarian


Mansel Robinson, poet and playwright.

On Thursday, July 15, Dawson Community Library, Berton House, and some local writers presented an Arts coffee house at Paradise North on 2nd Avenue. People came, they stayed, they ate and drank, and listened to some great poetry and stories. I tried to count heads, but lost count around 45 which included some listeners standing outside on the front porch, enjoying the cool breeze and warm rain shower.

Paradise North's funky decor provided an exciting, but casual summer setting and set the tone for a excellent mix of writing and presentation styles. Special thanks are due to Paradise North's owner/operator Leanne Brown and her staff for the fun venue, the good service and good food.

A film crew from Switzerland, making a film on modern mining, filmed much of the reading while concentrating on Jack Fraser and his story.

Poet and playwright Mansel Robinson not only shared his work, but also the spotlight which has, in the past, been focused exclusively on the Berton House writer-in-residence.

Actually, the evening's success is largely due to Mansel who suggested the sharing, and largely organized the event as well as helping with publicity, and acting as master of ceremonies.

I'd like to thank Mansel and all the other participants namely featured writers Jack Fraser, and Jo-Anna Davidson, and Open Mike performers Dawn Mitchell and Barb Hanulik, for sharing so generously of their work.

As Kim Marceau was unable to attend and read her work, I leapt into the breech and shared a few of my poems. The audience was very kind. Hopefully, we will hear Kim Marceau's poems in the future, perhaps as early as Friday, July 30, at the local talent night fund-raiser for the Woman's Shelter. Mansel will be participating that evening and continues as our writer-in-residence throughout August. His books are available at Maximilian's.

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History of Jack London's Cabin

By Ken Spotswood
Freelance journalist


Jack London's cabin and cache in Dawson City.

The log cabin at Jack London Centre in Dawson City is a misnomer. While it was the home of the celebrated author during the Klondike Gold Rush, it is only a half-truth. That's because it's only half of the original log cabin.

The other half is the centre of a similar tourist attraction at Jack London Square in Oakland, California, where London was born and spent his childhood.

The story of how the original cabin was discovered in the bush 120 kilometers from Dawson City--and how it was authenticated--is a masterful piece of detective work by Yukon author Dick North.

It is because of North--and his relentless and dedicated search for proof over a period of five years--that the cabin was found at all. It was a daunting and often frustrating task that many would have abandoned as a lost cause. But North prevailed, and even Sherlock Holmes would have been proud of the man's exhaustive investigation.

The tale begins in September, 1964, when North was visiting Rudy and Yvonne Burian at their homestead on the Stewart River. They were discussing London's story "To Build a Fire" in which a prospector froze to death on the left fork of Henderson Creek.

The Burians maintained that London's story was based on a real life tragedy that had occurred on the Stewart River before London set foot in the Klondike in 1897. It was their opinion that London simply changed the location to an area that he was familiar with. When North quizzed them further, the couple said they had heard that London, in fact, had lived and worked on the left fork.

This first clue sent North to the mining recorder's office in Dawson where he scanned the record books. And there it was--long since forgotten. London's claim read 'Number 54 above discovery ascending the left fork of Henderson Creek'.

North was forced to return to his newspaper job in Juneau, but he kept in touch with the Burians. In December of 1964 they wrote to him that a trapper named Ivor Norback had once used London's cabin on his trap line in 1936--and that London had written his name on a log on the back wall of the cabin.

This news was too exciting to pass up. North contacted his friend Roy Minter who then worked for the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway. He asked if the company would help finance a search to try and locate the cabin. Minter agreed at once.

North returned to the Yukon in March, 1965, to begin the hunt. At Stewart Crossing he met Norback's trap-line partner Jack MacKenzie who described the cabin--and the legendary author's signature. In his book 'Jack London's Cabin', North quotes MacKenzie:

"I was busy chinking the inside of the cabin when I came upon a signature, written about five feet off the ground, on a log in the centre of the rear wall of the cabin. It said 'Jack London, miner author, Jan. 27, 1898'."

MacKenzie said he didn't think much of it at the time, but years later he began to realize its historic significance. He went back to the cabin on his own and, with his axe, carefully sliced it off the log. MacKenzie later went to Mayo where he gave the artifact to mining recorder Sam Wood for safekeeping. He hadn't seen it since and had no idea where it was, or if it still existed.

Back in Dawson, North hired native guide Joe Henry and his son Victor who agreed to take him by dog team and search the left fork of Henderson Creek for the elusive cabin--a cabin that had a slab of wood carved out of a log in its back wall.

Henry was a veteran woodsman and knew the country well. In his younger days he had led the first survey crews by dog team over part of a trail that is now the Dempster Highway.

For four days the three men and their five sled dogs mushed through miles of silent, snow-blanketed wilderness. Often the only sounds they heard were North's cussing at having to walk and pull his own weight on snowshoes when the dogs had to break trail.

They crossed dozens of frozen creeks and streams and camped along the way. They slept on spruce boughs in a canvas tent The journey gave North a better appreciation of what the early gold-seekers had endured.

"Shuffling along on my snowshoes, I thought of what it must have been like with thousands of people stampeding down the Yukon," North wrote. "Even now, on this stretch of the Yukon River, there were perhaps two families in 200 miles. Yet, once there were thriving little towns and trading posts all along the route I was traversing--Stewart River, Sixty Mile, Indian Creek, Swede Creek, Caribou Creek, Henderson Creek--all had clusters of hopeful prospectors. After the gold rush the whole shebang had regressed to the wolf and the moose and the caribou."

The group reached the Burians' home on the Stewart River and enjoyed a day of rest--and speculation about whether or not they would find the cabin. The next day they made for the left fork of Henderson Creek--accompanied by Robin Burian and his four-dog team. Robin was raised in the area and knew it well. At age 22 "he could live six months in the bush with nothing but matches and snare wire," North wrote.

The dogs grew tired from having to break trail through the deep snow, and the mens' spirits were low after the many disappointments they found along the way. There were remnants of ancient log cabins scattered here and there, and they all had to be inspected. But none had the tell-tale slash on the back wall.

North grew tired as well. He gradually fell behind as the more experienced woodsmen forged ahead. When he finally caught up with them, they had started to make camp for the night outside another dilapidated relic of a cabin. The middle of the sod roof had caved in.

"Is that it?" North asked.

"Come look for yourself," Robin answered.

"I took off my snowshoes and walked up to the door and looked inside. Sure enough, the first thing I saw was a slash on the back wall. The slash was the principal clue I had been looking for and we had found it," North wrote.

It was on the fourth log from the top at the back of the cabin. It measured four inches wide and 12 inches long. They camped overnight and savored their reward.

The next question loomed large: Where was the slab and its signature?

North went looking for Sam Wood in Mayo and learned that he had died. His widow had later remarried. She was now Mrs. Rose Zeniuk and had moved to Merritt, B.C. North tracked her down and was reassured to learn that the slab was safely stored in Mayo. Mrs. Zeniuk sent him a photograph of the signature and North then busied himself trying to authenticate it.

He had the photo enlarged and sent to the RCMP in Ottawa. He sent another copy to Donald Doud, Examiner of Questioned Documents in Chicago

The RCMP response identified differences between the slab signature and authentic samples of London's handwriting. They speculated that this was probably because London was standing up when he wrote it. They asked for more material.

Doud's response was similar. In order to be proved authentic, he stated, the signature must have no "unexplainable differences."

North also contacted the Huntington Library in Los Angeles. While they found similarities, they weren't proof positive. Further queries led North to retired lieutenant Ludlow Baynard, formerly of the Louisiana State Police and touted to be one of the foremost handwriting experts in the U.S. Baynard was no slouch. He even asked for a sample of trapper Jack MacKenzie's handwriting to eliminate the possibility of a hoax. Finally, after careful study, Baynard gave his professional opinion.

"He said the writing was authentic, and explained the differences as resulting from Jack holding the pencil as one would a paintbrush, this necessitated by the rough surface of the wood. That was good enough for me."

But North didn't stop there. He insisted that the log cabin be tree-ring dated. He and Robin Burian returned to the site in August, 1968. They sawed the ends off two of the cabin's logs, then cut down a mature tree and took a cross-section of it for comparison. The samples were sent to the Forest Products Laboratory of the U.S. Forest Service in Madison, Wisconsin. Their findings were inconclusive.

"I think, however, I am safe in saying that because of the marked increase in growth rings around 1900 in samples A and B, the cabin logs were cut prior to 1900. This means the cabin logs could have been cut any time between 1875 and 1900. There is not sufficient evidence, Mr. North, to pinpoint the time any closer than that period," wrote the lab analyst.

He still wasn't satisfied with his scientific evidence. But by this time 'detective' North had another brainstorm--historical evidence.

London frequently populated his stories with people he knew in the Klondike--the men and women who staked claims and lived on the two forks of Henderson Creek. In many instances London used their real names. North believed he would have spent a lot of time with them to describe them in such detail. He went back to the Dawson City mining recorder's office and pored through the records for 1897-98 To his delight, the names in London's stories began to match those with registered claims in the same area.

The final proof came when Sgt. Ralph Godfrey, of the Oakland Police Dept., held the slab over the blaze that had been cut more than 30 years before. "Ralph put the slab over the little knot in the wood and it fit perfectly," North wrote. "The last step in that long journey which had started so many years before, was completed."

The decision to make two smaller cabins from the original was devised by North and Russ Kingman of San Francisco. Kingman handled advertising for the Jack London Square Assn., and he convinced the Port Authority of Oakland of the tourism potential of shipping one of the cabins to Oakland. The other would be moved to Dawson City as a similar attraction.

London's cabin was carefully dismantled and moved by the Burians to their home on the Stewart River. Here they crafted two identical small cabins from the original logs. They were later shipped to Dawson City.

One was reassembled at its new, permanent home on a lot at Eighth Avenue and Firth Street--at what is now Jack London Centre. It's one short block from the cabin of famed rhyme-rustler Robert Service. The childhood home of celebrated author Pierre Berton is directly across the street from Service's cabin. This stretch of Eighth Avenue has become known as 'Writer's Row'.

The interpretive centre in Dawson was developed by the Klondike Visitors Association (KVA) and the Yukon government. On display is a collection of more than 60 photos, documents, newspaper articles and other London memorabilia from North's personal collection, which has since been acquired by the KVA. It includes the only photo ever taken of London during his one year in the Yukon--on the Chilkoot Trail with his mining partners and their native Indian guide.

The California-bound replica was trucked to Whitehorse, then to Skagway where it sailed to Seattle aboard an Alaska state ferry. From Seattle it was driven all the way to Oakland where it was installed in Jack London Square. It was a fitting finale that the cabin was delivered by Robin Burian, Joe Henry and 'detective' Dick North.

But the cabin in Dawson has something special that Oakland's doesn't. It has North, who still works each summer as an interpreter at Jack London Centre, sharing his wealth of knowledge of London with interested visitors and guiding them through the displays. The centre is maintained by the KVA and is open to the public seven days a week.

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A New Voice at the Robert Service Cabin

by Dan Davidson


Charlie Davis in the the big chair on Robert Service's front lawn.

There's a new voice at the Robert Service Cabin this summer, a voice that's been haunted by the notion of "strange things done in the midnight sun" since he heard the words fall from his parents' lips when he was just a lad. He doubts if they knew exactly where they got the phrase, but he was an enlisted man in the Korean War in 1952 before he found out.

"While I was over there, I went down to a British rest camp and I picked a book off the shelf - and, lo and behold, 'strange things done in the midnight sun'... It was a copy of Robert Service's work."

He took"The Cremation of Sam McGee" and wrote it out in longhand, wanting to memorize the words he had known for so long. In the process he began to recite it and later found that people still liked to hear it .

Robert Service must have gone through something like the same process in his early days when he used to recite "Gunga Din" and "The Face on the Bar Room Floor", works whose rhymes and rhythms are embedded in his own verses.

Charlie kept on reciting, kept on reading, kept on committing the work of his favorite poet to memory. He's has been a Service booster ever since.

"I've got about four hours of Robert Service put to memory," he tells me on the slightly smoky day in July. He's just finished delivering a half dozen of them to a small group of about 20 people on an afternoon when tourists have begun to worry if Dawson is the right place to be this summer.

Generally there are about two and a half times that number, but the smoke and rumours of fires have taken their toll.

"Back home (in New Brunswick) I've got programs set up in the schools. I'm trying to get the kids to memorize these poems. I've got programs going in the libraries. I have a television program that I do through the radio months and I do different radio clips."

He's a believer in the oral tradition, and his own experience has told him that work like Service's can live on even with people who haven't read his books.

Charlie put the poems to work in his later life. After twenty years in the military and a stint in the New Brunswick forestry service he and his wife ran a bed and breakfast establishment - eight rooms and a dining room. Charlie was the cook, but one of his daily chores was to recite Service as part of the evening's entertainment.

"I'll bet you," he says, "that there's not a senior citizens group in the Maritimes that I haven't done Robert Service before - and Lions and Rotary clubs, too.

"Down home there's not a lot of competition. You do a few television shows and then they know who to call, and it's 'Would you come or could you come?'

"I don't generally get paid for this. Sometimes it's my gas or a meal or two."

Now, mostly he wasn't looking for money, because he sees this mainly as a hobby.

"Some people like to work at wood when they retire, and I just decided I'd like to do Robert Service's poetry."

In all those 40 years of reciting the works of Robert Service, Charlie's still seldom been as tickled as he is this summer to be sitting in the big rocker on the lawn, talking about his literary hero, telling about his life, reciting the standard works and having a ball.

It's hardly like work for him, though his wife Diane is somewhat more businesslike at the ticket booth.

"I knew about this tender package and that it's been tendered before, so I decided to bid."

Charlie has had a bit of a rough ride from people who assume that he had something to do with ousting his predecessor, Tom Byrne, but Charlie says it's just not so. By the time he'd decided to bid on the job, Byrne had already made it clear he wasn't bidding. Besides, Charlie likes the deal he's won from Klondike National Historic Sites and is full of praise for the way they're maintained the site over the years.

He doesn't see going past the three year span of his present contract, and at age 65 is already hoping that someone a bit younger will come along to take in over when he moves on.

"I hope to God that there's always someone that will come here to recite the poetry - not just read it but to recite it.

"There was a guy here three or four days ago who loves to do Robert Service and has five or six poems put to memory. I told him that I'm here for three years, but why doesn't he come up next year and sit in the chair as a guest of mine and see it he likes it. I told him, 'if you do then you could qualify for a tender package.'

"I would love to help someone come along that could take this over."

As for Byrne, Charlie won't say a word against his performance.

"He done a great job here, I heard him several times. He should gloat over what he's done here, how well he got it set up and made it known."

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Community Bids Farewell to Museum Director, Mac Swackhammer

by Laura Massey


Mac Swackhammer on the violin.

Early in September of 1993, I was sitting in the directors office of the Welland Historical Museum in Ontario. Employed as the designer for the museum's Italian Experience in Welland exhibit I was going over last minute details with the director, Mr. Mac Swackhammer.

He had recently announced his resignation and departure, excited about his new position as director of the Dawson City Museum in Canada's Yukon. All day his phone had been ringing off the hook. Friends, colleagues and associates expressed their congratulations and best wishes.

They had many questions about his upcoming environment in the North. So I imagine did Mac. I overheard him tell a fellow museum director, "Well Bill, I've packed all my thermal long johns. What's that?", he laughed out loud. "Yes, I should get some fur-lined underwear as well."

Mac Swackhammer has what museum administrative assistant, Cheryl Thompson describes as "an enthusiasm, vitality and charge for energy". Klondike Visitor Association's Roz Vijendren agrees stating that, "He was involved right from day one", always demonstrating his "commitment to the community".

It was this zeal and fervor that he soon became known for during his tenure in Dawson.

A member of both the Planning and Outreach Board of Directors, advisor to the Klondike Centennial Society and chairman of the Library Board for four years, Swackhammer took an active role in Dawson's future.

He envisioned it as "a living/growing community which plans and develops in ways to honour and support its traditions and heritage, [through] both tangible and intangible [means]." He participated in the planning, performance, organization and staffing of many community, social, historical, annual and anniversary events.

Most importantly he was the Director of the Dawson City Museum and Historical Society from October 18, 1993 until this past May 31, 1999.

Throughout this time period the Dawson City Museum had one of the highest media profiles of all Canadian museums. The museum, in partnership with the town of the City of Dawson and its many community stakeholders, made Dawson City a favoured tourist destination featuring years of Gold Rush Centennial Celebrations. The museum's own Canadian Museum Association award winning traveling exhibition, "Klondike Gold" toured through Canada and the United States spreading the spirit of the Klondike wherever it went.

One of Swackhammer's special museum projects was the conservation of the locomotives, shelter and exhibition upgrade. A multi-year project sponsored through YTG Community Development Fund, Heritage Branch and the federal Museum Assistance Programme, the project's total costs are estimated and projected to be close to $250,000.

"These historical steam locomotives are a unique collection containing one of the oldest preserved locomotives in Canada and the last Vauclain compound engine in its original configuration. People come from all over the world, just to see these engines."

For this reason Mac thought the Klondike Mines Railway locomotives the most "public face" of the artifact collection making the entire project extremely important to the museum and community. Local octogenarian, John Gould said that because of such efforts Swackhammer, "was what [he'd] call a Good Dawsonite." KVA's Paula Pawlovich said she would, " miss Mac's voice," which often addressed the citizens of Dawson.

Swackhammer chose to return to Ontario for family reasons and in his words found it difficult to, "exchange these quiet pedestrian streets for the land of 16-lane highways, or trade an aurora-filled sky for the electronic brightness of a mega city."

In early March of this year I was in Mac's museum office. He was planning a vacation to Jakarta and Bali. In preparation Maria, the owner of Hair Cabaret had, at his request, given him an extremely short haircut. I complimented him on his youthful appearance and inquired if his ears now got cold. He replied that he did find it cooler and confessed to wearing a toque around the house that first evening.

Shortly afterward, Locomotive Shelter supervisor Greg Skuce gave Mac a piece of fur to line his outdoor hat with. At a going away party staged at the Eldorado hotel, museum staff gathered to present him with a nylon shell parka featuring a fur-trimmed hood. I suspect Mac will always question his environment and often laugh out loud when remembering the North.

Editor's note: While writing this article Laura Massey learned that Mac has returned to Ontario and is decompressing at his home on Manitoulin Island.

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Dawson Post Office Plagued by Staff Cuts

by Dan Davidson

Businesses in Dawson are frustrated with the growing slowness of operations at the local post office. Over the last couple of months the previously efficient outlet has been managing to get the mail sorted later and later in the day. Where businesses used to be able to pick up their mail by noon and still make the mid-afternoon deadline for turn around, they are now lucky if the mail is actually in their boxes by that time.

Dina Cayen, spokesperson for the Dawson City Chamber of Commerce, says that a number of business owners have brought this to her attention and that she has already consulted with Canada Post regional supervisors about the problem.

Cayen, herself a former postal clerk, has a pretty clear explanation of what has happened. While Dawson has been getting mail five days a week since last winter, the staff hours allotted to the office have been cut. In particular, the early morning shift, during which one worker was able to do quite a bit of uninterrupted sorting before the front doors actually opened, has been eliminated.

In addition, there has been some change of staff at the Dawson outlet and the learning curve for the new staff is rather steep, causing some slow down right at the beginning. Added to that is the fact that there are normally six staff on here in the summer and this year there are three.

The combination of cut-backs and changed schedules has not been positive from this side of the counter. Cayen has been told that Canada Post has moved to an all-day sorting regime. She has told the people she has spoken with that this isn't very useful for Dawson businesses.

It's a frustration, she says, to always be a day behind in your correspondence and it's not helpful for officials to take the line that the mail WILL be sorted when it IS sorted, rather than being able to arrange hours and staffing so that it can be done by a set time each day.

Cayen praises Canada Post for getting the Old Post Office at King and Third open for tourists this summer. That does take some pressure off the main building. But it's not enough. Cayen says the the fault clearly does not lie with the people at the front lines here, who are making do under difficult circumstances.

Officials at Canada Post have told her that the matter will be reviewed. After the last staffing "innovation" in Dawson, it took the office months to recover from the business it had lost to the local courier services as a result of customer dissatisfaction. One wonders why the efficiency experts higher up in the postal system do not seem to learn from their mistakes, or, as is often said in these parts: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

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Student Ministry Program at St. Paul's Anglican Church

by Tara McCauley


Peter Molloy, chaplain to the temporary summer workers of Dawson. Photo by Terry Buckle

If you ever feel like for pancakes for breakfast it might not be a bad idea to stop by the St. Paul's Richard Martin chapel. Chances are you'll find summer chaplain Pete Molloy, 25, whipping up a batch.

Originally from Osgoode, Ontario, Pete Molloy has been in Dawson since the beginning of June. He is serving at St. Paul's Anglican Church as a chaplain to the temporary summer workers of Dawson. As summer chaplain, he spends his time hanging out and talking to people. "I try to spend my time building relationships with the summer workers and help out where I can. When I first got here I went around to find out the details of social services around Dawson. I also met the other ministers in town and found out what services they were offering."

Very little of his time is actually spent preaching the gospel. "That's not really not what my work is about. That is not to say that that I would not be happy to share the Gospel with anyone who is interested. But I'm really just trying to show that Christianity is not as irrelevant as people may think."

"A lot of the summer workers have grown up in what is essentially a post-Christian society. The consequence of this is that most have only a very distant relationship with the Church and with christians."

So far the response has been quite good. "Not many days in the week go by where there isn't somebody coming into the church, either for breakfast or coffee...... the church isn't that far removed from their experience."

Two years ago, Father John and Deacon Carol Tyrell saw a need for a minister for the transient workers in Dawson and started to inquire. They weren't able to find the funds right away and the project was stalled. However this year it came together and, at the invitation of Father John and Bishop Terry Buckle, Molloy has come to Dawson to provide a youth presence for the Anglican Church. The project was funded through the Diocese of the Yukon, which paid for the flight and the Nanton Avenue Ministry, a ministry group run out of Vancouver, which provides a stipend for Molloy.

Molloy, who already holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and economics, has been studying theology at Regent College and law at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver for the past three years. Although he doesn't plan on finishing his law degree, he is very interested in the historic tension between theology and philosophy, specifically, how that tension has manifested in the legal system of the 20th century.

After graduating from Seminary, he would like to be ordained in the Anglican Church. He hasn't always wanted to be a minister. "I was quite certain I knew I didn't want to become a minister." But about a year and a half ago he realized that this was his calling. "I had tried other work and they were good in terms that they met a purpose but for myself, I felt that none of those jobs help people live their lives." As he grew up on a farm and enjoys rural life he would like to minister in a rural parish or would like to be close to a university.

Molloy, who will be in Dawson until mid-August, has so far enjoyed his time in Dawson. Although he prefers not to dwell on career plans he does not rule out the possibility of one day ministering in the Yukon.

As well as being the summer chaplain, he also has a part-time job as a bouncer at the Midnight Sun Hotel.

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France Meets Dawson

By Tara McCauley


The Odys visit the Sun offices. Photo by Dan Davidson

Three years ago I did a year long exchange program in France. There I had the pleasure of living with Albert Ody, a dairy farmer, and his wife, Michele, a social worker. I went through an exchange program called AFS Interculture Canada and coincidentally was placed in a small town Le Genest.

After my arrival I began to learn more about the region that I was staying in and learned that Le Genest and Dawson have several striking similarities. Le Genest is a town of approximately two thousand people located in western France, which was at one point the largest gold producing region in Europe. The mine site, called La Lucette, was a hardrock mine which operated through to 1934. Although the minesite is now closed the company still processes antimony that is imported from other locations. In 1998 La Lucette celebrated its hundredth anniversary of the discovery of gold.

Much like Dawsonites, the people of Le Genest have a rich history revolving around gold production. However, these two regions are very different as well. The town of Le Genest is located twenty minutes west of the city of Laval (population 50,000) in the department (akin to a Canadian province but smaller is size) of the Mayenne. It is rural area with agriculture being one of its main industries. Although it is not as tourist oriented as Dawson, there are several tourist attractions nearby such as Mont St. Michel and the chateaus of the Loire Valley.

At the end of my stay in France my family came to France and were hosted by the Ody's for two weeks. My parents were overwhelmed by their warm hospitality and invited the Ody's to the Yukon in the hopes that they could show them that same generosity.

Whether or not the Ody's would actually come took some serious consideration. They were intrigued by the north and by the descriptions and stories that they had heard. As well they were very interested in learning more about Dawson, which seemed to have so many similarities with Le Genest. At the same time, the Yukon was quite far way, especially for the Albert and Michele who were accustomed to the closeness of everything in Europe.

Last summer while working at the Dawson City Museum, I noticed that there was a book in the giftshop on gold production in the Klondike written in French by Pierre Christian Guiollard. At the time I did not know of Guiollard but thought it would be a great gift for the Ody's and perhaps help lure them to the Yukon.

As it turned out Guiollard had also written a book about gold production at the mine near Le Genest. On the 100th anniversary of La Lucette there was an open house at the old mine site. It was there that the Ody's met Guiollard and realized that he was also the author of the book I had sent them.

Albert happens to be a town councillor in Le Genest and in the past Michele also has served as one. It was only natural then that when they finally decided to come to Dawson City that they mix in a little diplomacy as well. On June 30th, Michele and Albert, along with Guiollard met with Mayor Glen Everitt, and councillor Shirley Pennell. At this meeting, Albert presented Mayor Everitt with a copy of the book that Guiollard had written on La Lucette, which was inscribed with a message from the mayor of Le Genest, conveying greetings to the people of the City of Dawson.

Over coffee they had the opportunity to discuss several topics including the mining history of both communities, the structure and function of municipal government in both France and Canada as well as the potential of establishing a link between Le Genest and Dawson in order to promote each other's cultural heritage. At the end of the visit Mayor Everitt presented the Ody's and Giuollard with videos, pins and other Dawson paraphernalia to take home with them.

The Ody's spent three and a half weeks in the Yukon. As well as visiting Dawson they also visited Whitehorse, Carcross, and Skagway. They made a trip to Alaska visiting the Kenai Peninsula, Anchorage, and Denali National Park and went camping up the Dempster Highway. They returned to France on July 19th with several fond memories of their trip.

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Comment: Some Fire Fighting Insights

by Ron Ryant
Firefighter, Klondike Valley Fire Department

This summer, throughout the Territory there have been, and still are, many very large and threatening forest fires. During these highly stressful times emotions run high. People that have just lost their home, business or the natural beauty of their surroundings are hurt and angry and want to blame somebody.

Just before leaving the Burwash Landing fire a few weeks ago Mike and I were in an establishment owned by an individual who had just lost his home and a large part of his business. He was angry and he laid an emotional tirade on us about how "they" had known about this possibility for years and that "they " had done nothing about it.

Obviously, considering his emotional condition we didn't bother to comment that if "he " had known about this possibility for years, perhaps as the owner, and the one most affected, "he" should have initiated some action either by brushing out his property himself or by taking advantage of one of the funding assistance programs available to community groups to accomplish such endeavors.

Mike and I had been flagged down to this same place the previous night and spent several hours making his building and the surrounding area safe after he reported that the wind had blown hot embers under his building. He didn't recognize us as the guys from the previous night and he wasn't angry at us. He was just emotionally devastated and needed to blame "someone." As we were leaving, a news crew was just pulling in to video an interview and Mike and I looked at each other and thought to ourselves that we knew how that interview was going to go.

Forest fire fighting and structural fire fighting are performed in very different ways, using different tactics and different equipment. Our people train very hard, 52 times a year. They study fire behavior as it applies to structural fires, learn how to conduct a search and rescue in a building filled with toxic gasses where the ceiling temperatures could be 1200 degrees F. They learn the tactics used to defeat the enemy and drill constantly with the equipment used so that its use becomes second nature.

In some cases a building will have to be vented to allow access to a fire for extinguishment or to help improve life supporting conditions for people trapped inside so that a rescue can by attempted. While this is a necessary fire fighting technique which results in the saving of lives and property, the owner of the property will often see the breaking of windows or the act of cutting a hole in the roof as wanton destruction of his property.

My point for this illustration is that people who are not trained to fight fire often do not understand the principles of fire fighting. Structural fire fighters do not have a total understanding of the tactics used, and are not equipped to fight, forest fires. Conversely forest fire fighters are not qualified, and certainly are not equipped, to fight structural fires.

This point was brought into focus to me recently at the Burwash Landing fire when an individual in charge of the forestry aspect of the fire took us (the structural fire fighters) aside and (in a friendly manner) reprimanded us for putting out all the hot spots. This individual was well versed in forest fire fighting and also happened to be a structural fire fighter. He knew that as structural fire fighters we had a natural tendency to attempt to save the fuel (usually a house ) and explained to us that the tactics in this case required establishment of a perimeter and then total consumption of all the fuel within that perimeter. He asked us not to extinguish anything which was not a threat to a structure.

Untrained individuals, even with the best of intentions, could actually hamper fire fighting activities. If a fire boss discovered that non-fire fighting personnel, attempting to assist, had put themselves into a potentially life threatening situation, a situation into which he would not send his own trained professional fire fighters (perhaps, for example, due to low relative humidity conditions in a high fuel load condition) then he would instruct that those well intentioned individuals be removed from that situation (causing some delay) so that he could proceed with his plan to save, first lives and then property, with all the resources available to him.

Fire fighting can be very frustrating at times. Other fires burning at the same time may be assigned a higher priority due to the threat to an area of higher population density, and because of that, fire fighting resources may be limited. The tactics used to fight the fire may themselves seem destructive but may in fact be the only option to accomplish the objective of saving lives and property.

Looking down at the fire on Sulphur Creek as we were coming home from Burwash Landing we were impressed by the scene and realized that the people living there had been very fortunate. From what we could see on one quick pass there appeared to be one thin strip of green parallel to the road and it looked like all the camps had been saved. From the air you could see the incredible size of the fire and it was awe inspiring to see how the fire crews working on the fire had somehow managed to save the mining operations in the midst of all this destruction.

From up there it looked like the impossible had somehow been achieved. This is especially true when you stop to consider that the fire behind Dawson which was burning out of control at the same time had to be given priority and that almost all of the available fire fighting resources must have been diverted to concentrate on that effort.

The residents of Dawson City and the surrounding area are extremely fortunate. Without the skilled leadership and the dedicated effort from all the fire service personnel right down to the firefighter on the line, there is little doubt that many of us would now be homeless.

To all the people involved in the fire fighting process in and around Dawson City I say:

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!

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