Dawson City, Yukon Friday, July 9, 1999

Smoke along the dyke: There's been lots of smoke in Dawson City on some days, but the situation is not serious. The town has not been evacuated. See story below. Photo by Dan Davidson

Feature Stories

Smoky Days Return to Dawson
Dawson Council Pleased with Fire Fighting Efforts
Sailer Becomes Second Woman Champion
Yukon Queen II
Celebrating 80 Years
Celebrating a Dual Anniversary
Departing Principal Gets Quilted - Dawson Style
St. Mary's Restoration Project
The Journey Matters More than the Destination
Guns and Ammo Shop Gets a New Lease on Life

Welcome to the July 9 on-line edition of the Klondike Sun. Our July 6 hardcopy edition was 24 pages long, containing 31 photographs and 29 news stories, 2 short stories and a poem. Getting a subscription (see the home page) is the only way you'll ever see it all.

From time to time we publish short stories, poems and even the odd short play. Some of this material might be interesting to readers, but we haven't been including it in the dated issues. Our webmaster is going to set up a separate section of the site to contain this material.

Smoky Days Return to Dawson

by Dan Davidson

As the third week of fire season drew to a close Indian and Northern Affairs reported 59 fires under way, three of which had started in the Mayo district over the holiday break. Of that list, the June 29 bulletin listed 34 active, 9 out of control, 12 under control and 22 under observation while 13 were out. Two of the most recent fires near Mayo were also classed as observation only fires, while the third was a .2 hectare fire near the Frances Plateau which was being "actioned".

In Dawson City four fires continued to cause trouble and there was much morning and evening smoke around the community on both July 1 and 2, although things tended to clear somewhat during the day and it remained sunny, the sun burning though the haze with a stubborn luminosity.

The Dawson 7 (Moosehide) fire had grown to 1600 ha by the time it was completely surrounded by a cat guard. As of Friday morning communications officer Pat Webber was saying that it was active and producing a lot of smoke, but within its perimeter.

Local Fire manager Mike Collie confirmed this on Friday afternoon. At that time #7 was being handled by a 9 person sustained action team from B.C., plus a 6 man First Nation crew, two skitters for hauling logs, a D6 cat on standby, two helicopters (a 212 and a 206D) flying support.

"This weather is challenging us," Collie said. "It's a real dirty burn and it will be active for quite a while, but we won't let anything get up an run. The tankers are close to town."

Fire #11, north of Dawson near the Chandinu River, received some limited action on its south flank, to keep it from coming back towards #7. The wind has been gusty and northwesterly, creating some cause for concern.

"It took a good run down to the river," Collie said Friday, "and did spot onto an island there where Kormendy's cabin is, but we went in there with an IA (Initial Attack) crew and mopped that up today." That fire also has a 15 person crew and a couple of choppers to support its camp.

The Sulphur Creek fire was described as having slowed down and had been remapped at 7200 ha. Other fires being actively fought were at Garner Creek and Ballarat Creek.

The smoke in the Dawson area was thick enough to warrant a travellers' advisory on July 2, with a warning that "People with respiratory problems are advised to contact their local health centre." The smoke did seem more acrid and annoying to the eye and throat, even though there seemed to be less of it. On the other hand, a special national tour group travelling in the RCMP aircraft had no trouble flying in and out of Dawson on July 2.

There a number of fires in the observation zone that are free burning and Mike Collie says that columns of smoke will be visible from those for as long as this weather holds. DIAND is flying over these fires daily to check growth and direction.

A July 3 fire bulletin indicated that some of the smoke Dawson was suffering from was not local, that weather patterns indicated it was drifting in from fires in Alaska. Fire conditions in Dawson were described as EXTREME.

top.gif

Dawson Council Pleased with Fire Fighting Efforts

by Dan Davidson

Dawson's town council may be concerned about the existence of fires so close to the town, but they had nothing but praise for the handling of the local crisis, which occurred while most f them were out of town at the meetings of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities in Halifax.

Local fire chief Mike Collie and B.C. based Incident Commander Darrell Orosz attended the regular meeting of council (held in the Downtown Hotel conference room during the relocation of City Hall) to fill council in on the events of the last week.

Collie described the situation of extreme dryness and unseasonable warmth which led up to the lightning storms of June 12. Orosz handed out a map which showed the distribution of fires in the Dawson area during the afternoon. While lightning caused fires had been anticipated, this day brought about twice the number that were expected, and all within hours, sometimes minutes, of each other.

Collie described the origins of these fires, and indicated that they had moved from mere wisps of smoke following a strike to full-fledged rank five fires within minutes.

The trees in this area, Orosz told council, simply have no water to speak of it them. He described his own surprise at being able to lift a fairly thick tall tree that had fallen and finding that it weighed nothing like what it should have.

He told council that they should envision a rank five fire as having flames 200 feet long, capable of moving at will where ever they wanted to. If the wind is 20 miles an hour, he said, the fire will move that fast or faster, and it is capable of creating its own wind to move it along. In such circumstances, Collie said, no one will deploy firefighters on the ground unless it can be certain they can be extracted if the need arises.

Collie responded to some of the rumours that have been circulating. There has not, he said, been any shortage of fire retardant. It won't put out a fire anyway, he added, it will only buy the ground crews some time. There are situations where it is pointless and wasteful to use it, and decisions about its use were made on that basis.

The fires in the area were so numerous they had three classifications. "Observation zone" fires are simply watched and left to nature. "Action pending" fires were in areas where people and property might be affected if things took a wrong turn. The primary emphasis, however, was on the "action Zone" fires, in this case, numbers 7 (Moosehide) and 4 ((Sulphur Creek). At the time of this report, #7 was under control. A perimeter had been established around the fire and ground crews were advancing to drown every spark. This one is small enough (at 1200 ha) that it will be possible to check all of it in person and with infrared sensors.

The Sulphur Creek fire is different. At 7850 ha it is too large to treat that way. a containment zone of 500 metres will be established all the way around the fire and the area inside that left to burn.

Orosz explained that his presence as incident command is no reflection at all on the worth of the local fighters. There is, he said, no jurisdiction in Canada which is able to handle the worst 5% of its fires without assistance. There aren't enough resources or trained people for that. So the practice is to share the experts across the country in areas where they are needed. His specialty, since the mid-1980s, has been fighting large, intense fires and that was one of the reasons he was here.

All the councillors were appreciative of the efforts made here. Aedes Scheer, who was deputy mayor through most of this, expressed her thanks. Eleanor Van Bibber, who noted that she has relatives in Mayo heavily involved in this business, said she was impressed by what she had seen and heard of things here.

Mayor Glen Everitt thanked the pair for clearing up some of the rumours that people had been telephoning him with. As a result of calls for a federal inquiry by MLA Peter Jenkins, Everitt said his phone had been very busy in the two days since he has been back, but that he now had a better idea of what was real and what wasn't.

Dawson Fire Chief Pat Cayen added his praise as well. While admitting that fighting forest fires was not his area of expertise, he said that what he could see of the plan and the action being carried out, he had no doubts about the quality of the effort being put forth here.

"There has been some press out there, and it may not necessarily be in the best vein. The efforts I've seen of our local firefighters has been outstanding and they do need to be congratulated."

top.gif

Sailer Becomes Second Woman Champion

by Dan Davidson


Noreen Sailor receives her prize from Sgt. Steve Gleboff. Photo by Dan Davidson

It looks like the Sailer family will have to expand their gold panning trophy wall this year. After sweeping the Seniors, Team Challenge and Yukon Open Events at the Yukon Gold Panning Championships in Dawson on July 1 it seems they are determined to keep the gold medals in the family.

The surprise, if you can call it that, is that it was Noreen Sailer, not Art, who took the individual titles this year while the family's Ace Placers captured the team event.

Noreen found all 5 flakes in the Senior event in a time of 4:46.2, with Art coming in second and Irene Crayford third.

But that was just her warm up for the big money, the championship that carries with it the right to represent the Yukon at the world panning event in the Czech Republic later this summer.

Noreen found the six flakes of gold buried in her bucket of pay dirt in a time of 4:24.2, well ahead of second place Grant Klein (6:42.2) and third place Ralph Nordling (8:15.2). Competition was quite fierce in the field of 13 contestants near the end of an increasingly hot afternoon.

"This marks an event which hasn't happened before," said Denny Kobayashi of the Klondike Visitors Association, "that the champion of the Yukon Open is also the champion of the Seniors Open. Her husband is going to have to cook her dinner and do quite a bit more."

In other categories there were few new names this year.

Twenty-five people entered the Cheechako competition and searched for five flakes of gold. Donald Clausen of Los Angeles found all of them in 3:13.4, beating out Alberta's Joseph Juzil and Illinois' Joy Dionne.

In the Youth 12 and under category had 23 entries. Neil Loveless took the gold medal, followed by Monica Nordling and Katie Foster. They had to find five flakes of buried gold.

In the Under 15 category Andy Sigurdson found three of the five flakes in an aggregate time of 13:44.7 (a 5 minute penalty is assessed for each missed flake), followed by Lonnie Farr and Chris George.

The Klondike Open was captured by Pierre Guiollard of France in 6:37.8. He led a field of 10 contestants, beating second place Morris George of Whitehorse and Debbie Algotsson of Dawson.

top.gif

Yukon Queen II

by Tara McCauley


The Yukon Queen II sits at the dock in Dawson. Photo by Dan Davidson

If you have taken a walk on the dyke lately you may have noticed that there's a new boat in town. The Yukon Queen II, run by Holland America Westours, arrived in Dawson on June 23rd after making its way up the Pacific coast from Seattle to the mouth of the Yukon River in the Bering Sea, then up the river to Dawson. The journey took six weeks.

The vessel is impressive by its sheer size alone. At 99 feet long this state-of-the-art catamaran seems to dwarf the other boats on the dock, including its predecessor. Constructed in Australia, it is designed to carry 100 passengers and has a design speed of 32 knots.

It has replaced the smaller Yukon Queen I that has for the past 11 seasons has run river tours between Eagle, Alaska and Dawson City.

Although large in size, the new boat is equipped with a shallow draft and minimal wake that minimize its impact on the environment. With an on-board crew of eight, the vessel offers several features including several viewing decks and giftshop and concession in its spacious interior.

The narrated day tour allows visitors a chance to learn about various historical sites and natural features along the way including Moosehide and Fortymile, as well as see the way of life on the river. Visitors then have a chance to visit the small river community of Eagle, Alaska, located 13 km from the Yukon/Alaska border.

Plans for the future of the Yukon Queen I have not yet been determined.

top.gif

Celebrating 80 Years

by Kathy Gates


John and Madeleine Gould strike a "gothic" pose. Photo by Dan Davidson

"Very Surprised!" was how John Gould described his arrival at the Bear Creek residence of daughter and son-in-law Susan and Ken Herman on June 19th. He thought that a quiet family gathering was in the wind, but had not counted on the 50-plus friends who had arrived to share in the celebration with the family, of John's 80th birthday. A family conspiracy, led by Susan, Ken and John's wife, Madeleine, set the stage for a low-key but very comfortable evening.

Family and friends brought gifts, greetings and so much food that the picnic tables were groaning under the weight. Perhaps, however, the socializing that went on all evening was, in John's opinion, the finest of gifts, for it reminded him of an earlier Dawson, pre-television, when any excuse to gather was most appreciated by the community.

Amongst the gifts John received, was a framed 80th birthday greeting signed by the Prime Minister of Canada, Jean Chrétien. Former Dawson Museum archivist, John Richthammer, had earlier, made a request for the certificate, had it framed and sent to John. The words on a second, elegantly displayed plaque, left John speechless for a few moments, and when he was able to talk, he simply said "Wow!" The Klondyke Centennial Society's plaque recognized both John's birthday, but also appreciation for his many years of service to the community of Dawson City.

I was originally asked to prepare an article on John and his milestone birthday celebration, However, this plaque is a great opportunity to delve back over John's 80 years of Klondike living, to better appreciate why the Klondyke Centennial Society has honoured his contributions

John was born on June 22nd 1919, at the old St. Mary's Hospital right here in Dawson City. His father, Robert S. Gould, arrived in the Klondike in 1901. By 1903, he had staked claims on Nugget Hill, on Hunker Creek. The Gould family actively mined those claims for the next 96 years.

John attended school in Dawson, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Pierre Berton....a friendship that proved helpful many years later. In 1933, the Gould family moved to Burnaby, B.C., where John continued to attend school. He returned to the Klondike each Spring from 1936, until W.W.II began in 1939, to assist his father at the family mine.

John was called up for one month of basic training in the Canadian Army in January of 1941, and was then placed on reserve,. He claimed that that was the hardest month he ever endured. In 1942, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force as a single engine pilot, flying Hurricanes overseas, based from the UK. In April 1943, John and a buddy gatecrashed a dance at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto, and as Madeleine will agree, he danced with her and has never been the same since!

After his discharge, in Vancouver, he and Madeleine were married in Greenfield, Ontario, in 1945, and returned to the Klondike to settle and raise a family. The couple's first home, which still stands, at the SW corner of Princess and 7th avenue , cost him 2 months wages, or $300:00

Three things form the cornerstone of John's interest in Klondike history: listening to his father share stories and describe old mining machinery; joining the Yukon Order of Pioneers in 1951, and listening with rapt attention to many of the old "Trail of '98'ers" reminisce, at the Social that followed the YOOP meetings; and reading Pierre Berton's Klondike. He would probably agree that working on the "Cat Trains" that took supplies up to Eagle Plains for Western Minerals and then Secony Mobile for 5 winters starting in 1955 added to his expanding knowledge. The same would apply to the 5 years he had a Mail contract to deliver to the Creeks, meeting and talking to many of the old timers who preferred their creek lifestyle for retirement, to life "Outside".

In 1968, his local knowledge became an invaluable asset. Hired as the first employee for National Historic Sites (now Klondike National Historic Sites) he was responsible for hiring guides to provide tours of the Palace Grande Theatre and the S.S. Keno. Now, he had to call upon his formidable knowledge and do further research to better equip his staff.

Since then, his contributions include compiling, along with Barb Hogan, the first Goldfields Inventory of artifacts and structures, as well as a survey of Mining in Kluane Park. He has been a member of the local Museum Society, has worked with the now defunct Heritage Klondike society to convince Heritage Canada to restore a Dawson structure, the Yukon Hotel, which dates from 1898, and is a founding member of the Klondyke Centennial Society.

As a director of the Klondike Visitors Association, it was his idea to hold an annual Commissioners Ball. In 1986, the Yukon Historical and Museums Association, of which he is also a founding member, honoured John, with their annual Heritage Award. He is a founder and longtime contributor to the Klondike Sun newspaper as well.

Reaching the age of 80 hasn't slowed John and his quest for Klondike history, down very much. Names of the old-timers punctuate his conversation, Alec Adams, Teddy Watch, Sebastian Babler, John Drabeson, Monty Velge, Madam Zoom ......John knew many of the old-timers and has some wonderful stories to share about them.

As a Klondike historian he is in constant demand to assist descendants of the Klondike pioneers with their research, and summer time can be very busy at the Gould home on 7th avenue. The phone rings and someone from Maryland or Wales wants some help. When local history comes into question, John is around to quietly provide the accurate information and to persist in objections to inaccurate naming of streets for example.

Overall, now that he has reached the age of 80, John Gould is pretty happy with the restoration and revival of his old hometown. He is obviously delighted to still be able to contribute to the betterment of the Klondike as well. He claims he will be even more delighted if his unpublished manuscript on Early Mining Technology gets published while he is still around to see it in print.

top.gif

Celebrating a Dual Anniversary

by Dan Davidson


Pete and Brownie Foth enjoy the evening sun along Bonanza Creek. Photo by Dan Davidson

Pete and Brownie Foth were only able to return to their beloved Dawson for a couple of weeks this year. While it saddened them that they had only 11 days in their cabin on Cripple Creek, it's still a trip they wouldn't have missed.

For Pete, it marked a couple of significant anniversaries. First, it was a celebration of his 87th birthday. Second, it marked the 60th anniversary of his arrival in the Yukon.

Pete came from Saskatchewan by way of Vancouver in 1939. After 7 years in B.C. job pickings were getting lean. A friend who had gone to the Yukon advised him that there was work to be had, so he marshalled his goods, bought a second class ticket north for $39 and came to stake a claim in the job market.

Pete was willing to try anything but he ended up working for a farmer in Sunnydale that first year.

"The going wage at that time was $5 a day," he recalls. Freeze-up found him still in Sunnydale, so he helped his employer hunt caribou for his winter meat.

Once in Dawson he got a job washing dishes at a Cafe and progressed to bread baker.

"That's how I got acquainted with people around here," he says. One of his fellow workers from his time at that cafe was then a young girl who he still sees in Vancouver all these years later.

Still, his goal was to go into mining, and that meant getting a job with The Company. In those days when you said "The Company", you meant the Yukon Consolidated Gold Corporation. Pete was happy to get on with them eventually, working on the dredges along the creeks.

"It was the main employer of the north here. If you didn't want to go out and cut wood or something like that, you got a job with YCGC. And that, of course, was only summer work - up to 8 months if you were lucky.

"That's the way it was in those days, You had summer work and in the winter you had to make your own job if you wanted to work. I cut wood sometimes, hauled it into town, bought a small truck. Eventually I got a job, sort of a contract with the government to supply the government building of that time - which is the Museum now.

Later, after his war service, Pete signed on with Bear Creek Placers and rose from deckhand to the top job - superintendent - on a series of dredges that took him around the creeks.

In this manner 12 years passed and he met Brownie, the woman who became his wife. She had come north to follow a career in nursing, and actually did that for 10 months at the hospital before getting married.

Operations at Clear Creek ceased in 1966 and Pete moved to a 13 year career with Canada Customs which took him from here to Beaver Creek, briefly to Whitehorse and then back to Dawson. The final return was no choice at all. His family couldn't wait to come home.

On and off during much of that time, the Foths pursued a family placer mining operation near where their retirement cabin sits. Their daughters, Debbie and Lynne, learned to use a pan and shovel when they were just kids. The low return for the effort involved was one of the factors that moved him to seek the customs job.

When Pete decided to retire in 1977 he and Brownie had nice log house built in town on the lower part of 8th Avenue, and also decided to spend their winters in the White Rock area.

"Six months in and six months out," says Brownie, " and we did that for many years." As the years passed, though, the months in Dawson shrank to week and for the last decade it's been mostly summers. They had to miss two of those when Pete developed a heart condition three years ago and now they don't like to stay too far from their regular hospital for too long, even though his pacemaker seems to have solved the problem.

Around 1980-81 they realized they weren't here as much and they decided to sell their house in town. It didn't take long for their daughter, Debbie, and her husband, Hans Algotsson, to indicate that they wanted to buy it. Part of the deal worked out was that Hans would build his in-laws a cabin.

"I'd always wanted something on Bonanza Creek," says Brownie. "I'd always wanted to live on a creek."

Their cabin in the Bonanza Valley is situated on a slight rise overlooking the valley, not far from where Pete and Sox Troberg used to run a hydraulicking operation. It's a cozy, one-room cabin, with two beds at one end, a kitchen at the other, and adequate living space in between for two people and the odd visitor. It's not completely rustic; they have full toilet facilities in another building outside. Their ice box, however, is a hole somewhat deeper than a metre dug into the side of the ridge and closed off with an insulated door. Ice cream won't keep in there, but soft drinks come out crisp and cold.

"It's just perfect for us in the summer. It's just five minutes from town, from the post office," she says. It's not actually built with winter in mind, but Debbie and family use it when they go skiing.

Says Brownie, " I couldn't have such a good winter out there if I didn't know I was coming back to see friends and relatives every summer."

top.gif

Departing Principal Gets Quilted - Dawson Style

by Dan Davidson


John and Pat Reid display their new quilt and hanging (in Pat's hand) on the back steps of Saint Paul's Anglican Church. Photo by Dan Davidson

One Dawson tradition which remains strong is that of giving quilts to departing friends and associates. When John and Pat Reid recently left town, the circle of associates involved was fairly large and they received a good-sized hanging with squares reflecting all the various activities they had been involved in during their five years in the community.

John Reid was the principal of the Robert Service School for the past 5 years, making his one of the longest tenures in the last several decades, but Reid was no content to do his job and leave the community to itself, nor was Pat, was the school library clerk at the joint Dawson Community Library.

Both were deeply involved in the life of Saint Paul's Anglican Church, helping to see the parish through a substantial renovations project which is still under way.

John, a former physical education teacher, served for some years on the town's recreation board, while Pat was a member and chair of the Dawson City Museum and Historical Society.

Their sixteen square quilt was presented to them at the year end staff party held at the Top of the World Golf Course late in May, and displayed again at a farewell potluck held at Saint Paul's in mid-June. They also received a stained glass hanging which contains a piece of the original glass from the church's windows.

The Reids leave the Yukon for High River, Alberta, where the house they have been planning for the last several years will soon be getting under way. One room of that house will be devoted to curios they have collected during their years in Dawson. They sold most of their household goods before leaving, but they took lots of memorial artifacts with them.

top.gif

St. Mary's Restoration Project

By Tara McCauley

The St. Mary's Church restoration project has been a learning experience for Father Tim Coonen. The project is now in its third year of preserving, storing, cataloguing and displaying various artifacts that have been stored in Mary's Catholic Church (located 5th Ave. & King St.) over the past number of years.

Four years ago as the church building was being gutted for restoration, Father Tim Coonen kept finding more and more items that had been in storage and needed to be looked after. With no previous experience in conservation techniques, he began to ask around for advice. He found a number of people from various organizations including Parks Canada, the Territorial Conservator and the Dawson City Museum who were quite willing to help, give advice and provide materials.

Three years ago he applied for and received his first grant from the Canadian Museum Association (CMA) through the Young Canada Works in Heritage Institutions Program. Along with assistance from the Challenge Program through the territorial government he was able to hire a couple of students to assist in this project.

The first year was spent cataloguing thousands of artifacts such as textiles, vestments, and metalwork. They also designed and implemented a storage plan to prevent further damage as well as designed a database for cataloguing purposes.

Although these artifacts consist mostly of church oriented items there are several artifacts from the old school which closed in 1963 and a few from the hospital which burned to the ground in 1950.

In the second year, he received the same grant from the CMA allowing the project to continue. That summer they catalogued a couple thousand volumes of books and magazines from the old school, some dating back from the mid-1800's. These included accounts of early missionaries to the area, textbooks, research materials and items of general interest.

Now in its third year, Father Tim considers this year the "mop up phase". As the bulk of cataloguing is completed and most items have been stored, what rest are smaller projects which will keep him and his two summer students busy until mid-August when the grant runs out.

The two summer students get a real taste of historical conservation and do a bit of everything from maintenance to carpentry to working with artifacts. Initially, the scope of the whole project was a little overwhelming due to its size but the "ability to hire a couple of students has helped tremendously," says Father Tim. He is very happy with the students working with him and says without them, the project would never have been realized. "I'm amazed at the talent that came into Dawson with the transient workers. They've been terrific employees"

This is Adrian Moore's third summer in Dawson. Originally from Abottsford, BC, he is currently studying geography at St. Mary's University in Halifax. Mark DeMone hails from St. John's, Newfoundland where he has just finished a degree in archaeology. This is his 1st summer in Dawson.

At the present moment they are working on a large display case, installing a special film on the back of the glass to reduce UV rays and better protect the contents of the case. Designed by Laura Massey, the case will be located in the back of the church and feature the recently donated crucifix of Father Judge among other articles.

The display case project will be completed in a couple of weeks and the crew will then be moving on to their next task which is cleaning out a small room in the back of the building that still has some things left over from the days when the basement of St. Mary's was used as a school. "The process all along has basically been: as we've been cleaning sections of the building and getting things organized we've been finding things and realizing that they too deserve to be kept... It is an on-going process."

"I take very seriously the responsibility that I feel to look after the stuff that's here... I hope that in 100 years from now someone else is going to crawl way up into the dusty cabinets and start opening up these acid-free boxes and say, 'Wow, look at all the neat stuff we have here,' and then put it away again.

"Part of the thing with having a collection and managing a collection is that you never really do anything with it, you're just hanging on to it. But if you hang on to it in such a way so it's not in your way and it's not being damaged, it's a treasure. It's a legacy for those who come after us."

Although most of the collection is in storage and there are no official tours of the church building, the church is opened to the public daily. Visitors are welcome to wander through and take a look at the newly restored building as well as a historic photo display and some displayed artifacts.

top.gif

The Journey Matters More than the Destination

by Dan Davidson


Werner with his maps at Dawson City River Hostel. Photo by Dan Davidson

It's not every first time canoeist who decides to make his debut by travelling the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Emmonak on the Bering Sea. But then, Titze Werner doesn't have a lot of options open to him. He may not have another chance.

Werner is suffering from bone marrow cancer, and this trip into the Yukon's wilderness is something he may not be able to manage in a year's time, if he is still alive by then.

Titze Werner caught the Yukon bug 8 years ago, when he toured the territory with his former wife The one time mailman decided two years ago that he would make this trip a reality.

"It was time for me to going," he says. "I like to travelling. I like the nature. I was around the world, so I thinking this would be new adventure."

The former mountain climber had already decided that his favorite sport was getting harder and harder as he moved into his forties. It's a lot of work going up. He decided to try something where the activity itself could work with him.

"The canoe goes the river down," he explains, "so I can sit in a canoe."

Just about a year ago, however, after he had done a lot of his research to prepare for the trip, he began to show the first signs of the cancer - pains in his chest. Specialists gave him little relief. Over the New Year he took the tests that confirmed the worst.

"They're standing around and they all have serious face. I am thinking 'Oh well. Bad news here.' and then they told me I have cancer." Doing his own research through reading and on the InterNet led him to Professor Emmerich in Munich. That specialist told him he had perhaps three years at the outside.

"So now I know my life goes to the end," he says.

There is an experimental treatment that Emmerich is conducting which Werner will join in October after his daughter's wedding. The chances of it being successful are just 50-50. In all he has a 30% chance of beating the three year deadline, but it's an extension, not a cure.

This news brought him back to his dream and he decided that this trip was something he should do for himself. His doctor agreed, provided he could manage to schedule sessions for blood tests and get his medication.

His relatives and some of his friends thought the idea a bit hare brained - too dangerous for a sick man who is slowly getting worse. But Werner dismissed their concerns.

"What can I lose here? My life? When I'm in Germany waiting, it's the same. Every day I'm a little closer to death."

"I had never before drove a canoe," Werner says with a laugh in mid-June. "He taught me what to do," he says, gesturing towards the muddy Yukon from our table at the kitchen of the Dawson City River Hostel.

The trip, the act of starting each morning grateful for everything it has to offer him, has helped to buoy his spirits and keep depression away. He's been studying a bit in Navaho spiritualism and he feels that being close to nature in this way is one of the best things he could have done for himself.

While hale in spirit, he has to be careful. He has cracked a few ribs on this trip, and could easily break a bone but he handles the pain with medication and doesn't do anything too strenuous. One of the reasons he stayed in Dawson for a few days was to rest up.

At 47, Werner has been on a 70% pension for some years now, since his supposedly secure government job disappeared after the post office in Germany was privatized. Money is not a big issue with him. He found it was cheaper to buy a canoe for this trip than it was to rent one, so he did that, but he plans to give all of his gear away in Emmonak at the end of the trip, which he anticipates will end in mid-September.

If it looks like he can't make his Saulgrub deadline of October 2 , or if his health declines along the way, he will end the trip before he reaches his destination.

He would like to finish, but he has come to feel that it is the trip itself, not the place at the other end, which counts.

top.gif

Guns and Ammo Shop Gets a New Lease on Life

by Dan Davidson


This photo shows where the stresses have collapsed one corner of the building, as well as revealing the damage to the roof. Photo by Dan Davidson

A Whitehorse businessman has decided to come to the rescue of one of Dawson's more peculiar attractions. Don Cox, the owner of Northern Metallic, has decided that he cannot bear to see the Guns and Ammo Building follow its obvious inclination and meet the ground at last.

After years of struggling against the elements and becoming one of the most photographed buildings in Dawson City in the process, the Guns and Ammo, otherwise known as Strait's Auction House, was finally slated to get the ax this fall. It had become a danger to anyone who might attempt to enter it, and a potential fire hazard.

The Klondike Visitors Association debated various means of saving the structure at its annual general meeting this spring, but in the end decided that it could no longer shoulder the risk to its liability insurance.

It was shortly after an article by this reporter appeared in the Star and the Klondike Sun, around the time of the Dawson City Gold Show, that Don Cox first had his local agent, Peter Dunbar, approach the KVA with a proposal.

He would develop the building, restore it to a useful condition and undertake all the financing if the society would transfer to him the ownership of the structure when he was done. He would operate a business out of the building when it was complete.

The KVA was willing to enter into preliminary negotiations on those principles, but had a few additional ones. There must be appropriate signage to identify the site and a interpretive display must be maintained. The KVA would do this, in conjunction with Klondike National Historic Sites.

A detailed page-long list of other requirements was forwarded to Cox the second week of June, and early this week he signed agreement to the list and returned it. The project is a go, in principle, at least. Letters of intent have now been exchanged and a management committee will be set up.

Don Cox would have been happier to keep quiet about this whole project for awhile yet, but CBC radio broke the story a little early and so he has agreed to talk more about it.

Why would a businessman want to embark on a $200,000 project for the sake of preserving an old building in a town where he doesn't even live?

Cox says that Dawson has been very good to him and his business over the many years he's been associated with it, and he feels strongly that he has a duty to put something back into the community.

He arrived here in the early 1950s, when Dawson was still the territorial capital, and watched as wealth, political power and prestige were swiftly siphoned away from here after the construction of the Alaska Highway. He thinks the town still has a great future, and that both mining and tourism will play their part in making that happen.

Preserving as many old buildings as possible seems to Cox to be an important part of this future. The Guns and Ammo is part of that vision, as has been the case with many other buildings in town. Sometimes, though, you have to take extreme measures.

"It's impossible to save it in the shape that it's in," Cox says. "Pieces are starting to fall off it and people are packing them away. It's gone past where we could keep it in the same state.

"I've eyeballed that old building for a long time, wondering what its future was, hoping they were just going to leave it there and let people photograph it or try to recreate it. It's going to have to be recreated."

Cox hopes that when he is finished people will appreciate the store for what it was and not just the decaying wreck that it has become.

"At the time it was built, it was a building of character. It's hard to see it now because it's all crippled."

Cox is determined to restore it to that grandeur. He concedes that it probably won't be as interesting to the passing tourist once it's fixed up, but its departure as it is was imminent in any case, so he proposes to save it.

On the ground floor he'll run an extension of his present store, which he bought from White Pass a few years ago. He thinks he might call it the Gun and Ammo Shop and carry a range of goods related to outfitting or the automotive field. The new building is separated from the present Northern Metallic Store by a laneway, which he would like to acquire from the town and use as a fenced storage area for parts and equipment. That would allow him to move his present fenced yard from Front Street, where he says "it's as ugly as sin" and make a parking area where the yard is now.

This fall he intends to get the Guns and Ammo out of the mud and put a roof over it to keep out the weather. Then, as time and finances permit, he will bring it back to what it was when Ebenezer Strait first built it to be his home and business in 1901.

It was a general store and auction house until 1910, and one of the signs hung from the second floor balcony gave it the nickname by which it has become known over the years. The sign, stolen a few years ago, read "Guns and Ammunition, Hardware, Tobacco, Furniture, Clothing, Crockery, and Tents". Within, the remains of a weather ruined old piano can still be seen on the ground floor.

As the sign currently outside the building states laconically, "after the Gold Rush era, successive owners let it deteriorate."

The next significant date in its history was 1971, when the town government of the day deemed the building unsafe and determined they would bulldoze it. Albert Fuhre came riding to the rescue, raised enough money to buy the building from its owner and presented it to the KVA for safekeeping. In cooperation with KNHS, the KVA stabilized the building and so preserved it for over 25 years, but the slow deterioration continued, the leaning became more pronounced, the ground floor crumbled under the weight of successive winter snows and when the roof gave way a few years ago, the rot accelerated quickly.

Klondike Sun Home Page