Dawson City, Yukon Friday, June 22, 2001

The Commissioner's Residence is the annual home of the Commissioners' Tea, held each year on the Saturday closest to June 13, our territorial birthday. Photo by Dan Davidson

Feature Stories

Best of Luck, Voyageurs
Housing for Rural Mothers Remains in Limbo
Community Agrees: Dawson Needs Doctors
Commissioner's Residence Celebrates its Centennial
Commissioner's Barbecue Celebrates Yukon's Birthday
Rangers' Commander Visits Dawson
Richard Hartmier: For the Love of the Land
Seeing Objects Outside of a Big Scene
A Summer Sunday Reading Draws a Crowd

Welcome to the June 22, 2001 edition of the online Klondike Sun, which reproduces a selection of the 37 photographs and 34 articles which were in the 32 page June 19 hard copy edition. We also printed the annual four-page financial statements of the City of Dawson. See what you missed by not subscribing?

During this issue, our editor began his vacation, so his name pops up a little less often. Summer student Heather Robb will bear the brunt of the writing for the next two issues.

Seriously, we do encourage viewers of this website to consider subscribing to the Sun (details on the home page). It would help us financially and you would get to see everything closer to when it's actually news. About 600 people read each issue of this paper online, and we'd love to be sending out that many more papers.

Best of Luck, Voyageurs

by Michelle Dubois


The crew of intrepid Voyageurs sets out for the Yukon River. Photo by Diane Marengere

By the time this paper hits the stands, the Voyageurs will be on their way to the Pelly Banks. Paddlers include Andrew Robinson, Claus Schytrumf, Michelle Dubois, Cory, Peter Maxwell, Agata Franczak, Michel Vincent, Kim Bouzon, Cor Guimond, Rock Boivin, Natasha, and alternate paddler Dave Reed. Kat and Marilyn Gavin, and Benjamin Gallant will accompany them on support canoes and Halin De Repentigny will meet at Pelly Crossing and be supporting and photographing them from a boat. And, Duncan Spriggs is acting as the Bourgeois in honour of Chief Factor, Robert Campbell. The community is invited to welcome them back on July 1st at 7:30 p.m.

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Housing for Rural Mothers Remains in Limbo

by Heather Robb

Dawson is passionate about its mothers. This was a prevalent feeling when community members and local health care workers filled up the Downtown's Convention

room on June 10, a hot and dusty Sunday evening, to talk about local health care with Yukon Minister of Health and Social Services, Don Roberts. Speaker after speaker addressed the issue, not unfamiliar to Roberts, of the need for non First Nations pregnant women to have access to affordable housing during the time they spend in Whitehorse waiting for delivery (First Nations expectant mothers do not factor here because they have non insured health benefits which cover food and housing).

Midwife to the discussion was Carol Tyrrell, coordinator of Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies, Dawson's chapter of the Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program. Tyrrell reiterated the suggestion, formally proposed to the Ministry by the Victoria Faulkner Women's Center, that the government rent a two bedroom apartment in the Women's Center house for fifteen thousand dollars a year specifically so that rural mothers-to-be can stay there for their final days/weeks of expectancy.

"What makes the whole thing so difficult," suggested Tyrrell, "is that a woman never knows how long she's going to wait. If she's considered a high risk pregnancy, we advise her to go down a month before the due date. And if she stays at a hotel, that could be $100 a night if they have room for her. Or she could go down and deliver three weeks later or six weeks later."

The financial factor is particularly pertinent to self-employed women who aren't eligible for Employment Insurance, and the included fifty weeks of maternity leave pay.

Expectant mothers are eligible for YTG's medical subsidy of $30 per day- beginning on the fourth day that they are away from home- a stipend available to any person who must leave town for medical reasons.

Of the twenty-five pregnancies in Dawson last year, twenty-two women went to Whitehorse to give birth, while two women traveled South to deliver their babies in the company of family; of the twenty-two women who went to Whitehorse, eighteen had interventions. Tyrrell personally believes that this high rate of intervention may be linked to Dawson women's precarious living arrangements around the time of birth.

the Territory." At the time the decision was made, the group hoped that the Territorial government would take over the project. So far, nothing has happened; the Victoria Faulkner application has neither been approved or rejected. It remains in limbo.

Roberts is no stranger to this issue, as it's been raised in the legislature on a few occasions. As well, members of Dawson's CPNP, and the Women's Shelter Society (which administers the program) wrote letters to Roberts, and also to all the female members of Caucus urging them to approve the funding. One such letter to Roberts, by Kim Marceau, who spoke both as a mother and as a member of Dawson Shelter Society, was published in the Sun on March 27 of this year. And, of course, Tyrrell has thoroughly discussed it with the Minister one-on-one.

Roberts suggested that the delay on the decision about the application was partly due to some reservations that he and members of Caucus have around the proposal, such as the issue of where the woman's partner would stay.

"Go back and look at the proposal again," replied Tyrrell, at the forum. "We suggested that if no one else is staying in the apartment, the spouse can stay. If any of the women staying there feel uncomfortable, then the spouse would have to find his own place to stay."

Tyrrell also wished to emphasize that the apartment would be used not only by Dawson women, but also by non First Nations women from other rural communities in the Yukon, (although their numbers are slight). While in the past year there were about twenty Dawson women who could have used the facility, there were only three that Tyrrell knew of, from other areas.

"Probably only at one time did we have two [pregnant women] that were there at the same time," she added.

"Of course, we had thirty-eight births the year before... It's kind of an unpredictable thing," she said.

Tyrrell feels hopeful about the outcome of the meeting. "It showed a certain amount of courage for [Roberts] to do that, and he handled it well," she said.

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Community Agrees: Dawson Needs Doctors

by Heather Robb

At the June 10 public forum on health care held by Yukon Health and Social Services minister Don Roberts, it did not take Dawsonites long to reach an energetic consensus. They want access to more services locally so that they can be treated in their own community, rather than making costly trips to Whitehorse and beyond.

The reason they're so efficient at reaching a verdict on health care priorities is because they've had years to meditate on the same problems.

And everyone agreed without hesitation- action is preferred over more consultations and government reports.

"In the past ten years, there's been health review studies done over and over again where bureaucrats come to Dawson, and get health care professionals and lay people together to come up with suggestions for health care in Dawson," said Doctor Suzanne Crocker. Crocker shares what is currently the only full time doctor position in Dawson with her partner, Gerard Parsons; the two are also raising their young child together.

"One was done for the whole building, to see whether we need a new health center," she said. "But we never hear back from any of them. They sit on someone's desk and nothing ever happens."

She's impressed because it's the first time (that she knows of) that the Health Minister has held a public forum in Dawson. However, she's disappointed about the poor advertising for the event.

"They didn't tell anyone they were doing it- I only heard about it at the last minute. Maybe they thought they could just breeze through town quietly, and have nobody show up, just so they could say- well, we held that public forum."

Roberts prefaced the discussion with a warning about the ministry's predicted growth rate of expenditure which exceeds Canada Health and Social Transfer payments. The Territory predicts that, in 2000/1 they will spend approximately $128 million on health and social services. Even with $2.7 million from CHST, the Ministry predicts there will be a $2.9 million shortfall. And in 2002/3, they predict an $8.3 million shortfall. With each succeeding year, the number grows bigger.

In response to Roberts' request for feedback about how to balance community needs with the deficit concern, people agreed that the ability to admit patients locally and on-call physician coverage would abate medical travel expenses by eliminating unnecessary med-evacs. Over the past ten years, the territory's medical travel costs have risen dramatically- from 1.28 million in 1990/91 to 4.37 million dollars in 2000/1.

"The government has a rule that we can only keep patients for 24-48 hours- so that the nurses don't burn out," said Crocker.

Whether or not patients are even admitted depends on the availability of nurses. While Dawson's expanded role nurses are widely skilled, the Nursing Station is seldom fully staffed.

"The bureaucrats are always pulling our nurses out to go work in Whitehorse," said Crocker, adding "the government is not up to snuff when it comes to attracting nurses here."

As for on-call physician coverage, Crocker suggested that it's "part and parcel to having enough doctors here."

"In order to have it, we need three permanent full-time doctors in Dawson, and right now we're having trouble finding even one more." So far, the medical center has been getting by with a series of locums (short contract doctors) in addition to Crocker and Parsons.

Since 1996, the Dawson community has been consulting with the Yukon Territorial government about ways to attract and keep needed doctors in Dawson so that on-call coverage is possible; yet for the last two years there has been none.

Recently the Yukon Medical Association proposed a new program for the Recruitment and Retention of doctors which involves the coverage.

"The government is going to let us know this week if it's going anywhere," said Crocker. "So really we're still a step before negotiations. Basically the Department is considering whether they will put in place a strategy which may include on-call coverage."

As for finding and keeping a doctor in Dawson, Crocker commented that nearly everybody is doing their part.

"The City Council provides accommodation- they have a house for the new doctor to live in. The people in the community welcome them with open arms, and wine and dine them."

As well, Crocker and Parsons have themselves taken on a major role. "We do the advertising and the looking for doctors. We also furnish the house, and often pay for their travel expenses to get here."

"And we wine and dine them too," she added.

"If this is a partnership, then the community, the City, and the current doctors are all doing their part, and so YTG needs to do its part too."

The minister called attention to the fact that Dawson's one full time physician is more than some other Yukon communities have.

Crocker, in response, stated that Dawson's situation is unique because it is the largest Yukon community outside of Whitehorse, and because it is so far away (550 km) from the nearest hospital. She also stated that "we're a special case because we typically get 1000 tourists a day in the summer, many of whom are elderly.

"And we have an active placer mining industry that is running twenty four hours a day."

With a nation-wide shortage of doctors, the Yukon is the only place in Canada where doctors in rural areas are not reimbursed for being on call doesn't help.

"Yukon's not that attractive right now for doctors because everyone else offers them a better deal," said Crocker. She's been a Dawson doctor since 1993, while Parsons has been one since 1986. What keeps them here?

"It's the best small town in Canada. The people are great, there's wonderful arts and cultural and recreational facilities here. It's great."

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Commissioner's Residence Celebrates its Centennial

by Dan Davidson


Buffalo Taylor is not receiving a ticket from Sgt. Steve Gleboff. They're just acting up for the camera in front of the Commissioner's Residence. Photo by Dan Davidson

It's the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Commissioner's Residence and, guess what? According to Parks Canada hostess Justine Mackeller, they've finally got Cable in the building. That's Commissioner Jack Cable, who was on hand on Saturday to preside over his very first tea.

As noted by IODE regent, Myrna Butterworth, the Tea, a joint production of the IODE and Klondike National Historic Sites, was the 28th since it was begun in the 1970s. The venue is always the front and side lawns of the residence, along with the large balcony. Tea, coffee, lemonade and all sorts of cakes and sandwiches are the order of the day.

Butterworth made an appeal for donations to her association, explaining the IODE's usual main source of revenue, the Yukon River Break-Up Pool, was shut down to a lack of ice. Since these profits support all the IODE's charitable projects, they're a little short this year.

Commissioner Cable was very enthusiastic about the residence and the community. He remembered arriving here for the first time in a court party some 30 years ago, staying up way too late and having to struggle to get to court the next day. He still remembers his first midnight sun.

"It was an exhilarating feeling and every time I come to Dawson that first impression is repeated."

Cable compared Dawson City to Upper Canada Village in Ontario and Kings Landing in New Brunswick, two historic recreations of frontier life. Recreation he said, isn't the same as being there.

"It's interesting, but it doesn't have the same character as what you people in Dawson have. This is where the history happened; this is where the gold fields were; this is where the first nations people had their first major contact with non-first nations people and the cultures came together.

"This is where many of these old buildings originally stood and this is where Robert Service, years later, pen and inked the ledger down at the old Commerce Bank. So Dawson is a very different experience than Upper Canada Village, and it's an experience I very much enjoy.

"I enjoy walking down the boardwalks; you can feel the history come up through the boards. You can feel the history come out of the clap boards on the sides of the buildings. It's something that I think most Canadians should attempt to experience, how people lived here, up in our most northern and western area of Canada, many years ago."

The Commissioner lavished praise on KNHS, private industry and the town council for the restoration work that has been done here over the years: "I think it's magnificent."

The Commissioner also took time to note the presence at the tea of Joe and Annie Henry, who were honoured last year as the world's oldest living married couple, and are now working on their 81st year together.

Butterworth and Cable cut a special birthday cake with a picture of the residence on the top of it.

Special events at the tea included a dance demonstration by the grade 4 and 5 class at École Émilie Tremblay (who were also the servers this year) and a musical number by Diamond Tooth Gertie.

In addition, the tea was saluted with a fly past by the historic Fokker mail plane that is currently touring the Yukon. As the plane flew past several times, all those in period costume rushed across the street to the dyke to wave at it, thus becoming part of a video being made for CBC by Black Spring productions.

The weather for this year was a complete contrast to 2000's rain and cold. If The Tea really is the premiere event of the social season here in Dawson, an indicator for what is yet to come, then the rest of the summer should be equally sunny and hot.

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Commissioner's Barbecue Celebrates Yukon's Birthday

by Heather Robb


The trio of Saskia, Sandy, and Larry were just part of the entertainment at the birthday Barbecue. Photo by Kerry Barber

The Commissioner's Barbecue, in celebration of the Yukon's 103rd anniversary as a territory, and the 100th anniversary of the Commissioner's residence, felt like an extended family picnic. The weather on Saturday night, June ninth, was superb, making it possible to lounge on the grass, and take in the entertainment and speeches, or socialize, or both. And that's pretty much what everybody did.

Prompted by a suggestion made last year by John Gould, this is the first time that the KVA held the party outdoors as a casual affair.

"It was a wonderful success. Of course, the only reason it didn't rain was because we set up that extra tent at the last minute," said KVA Special Events Coordinator Phoebe Rumsey who gracefully organized and emceed the event, with help from Wendy Burns, the KVA's Manager of Marketing and Promotions.

Because there were no tickets and no admission fee, locals and tourists alike were able to wander in at their leisure.

The Percy DeWolfe Society won over hearts and tummies with their $12 dinner plate, which featured delicious barbecued salmon. At 220 dinners and nearly eighty hot dogs, the crew finally raised a red flag.

No one, not even those who ate a full dinner, could resist the Dawson 4H Club's dessert tent. The organization gathered desserts, donated from members of the community, and offered them up at $2 and $3 a slice to raise money for their trip to Alaska this summer to attend the Tenana State Fair. The five members wished to mention that they will be available to do odd jobs in the upcoming weeks, in order to further fundraise for the trip.

KVA VP Brenda Caley, Mayor Glen Everitt, Commissioner Jack Cable, MLA Peter Jenkins, and MP Larry Bagnell were all present, and each had warm words for the crowd.

The evening's entertainment was kicked off by Les Souliers Dansants, a talented young dance troupe from Whitehorse, lead by Emile Tremblay. Next, a local group consisting of Sandy Silver, Saskia Robbins and Larry Reick, treated the crowd to their bluesy folk-rock numbers, and at least one Indigo Girls cover. We also got to hear from local singer/songwriter Marieke, whose songs are far too complex and intricate to pass as merely sweet. A cappella singer Reanne from Whitehorse followed. And from Mayo, the Na-Cho Nyak Dun Youth Dancers mixed traditional and pop sounds to create a unique and visually stunning performance. Finally, Kustar's Last Band, Kapital Kickers and EXHALE wrapped up the evening.

Rumsey, a self-proclaimed "organizational addict," gushed about the help she received from the non-profit organizations.

"We're especially grateful to Parks Canada and the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire who put on the tea, because they got everybody in the spirit of things," she said.

Next year, which will mark Dawson City's 100th anniversary, the KVA will return to holding a gala ball.

"I think it was a good breather, but we're looking forward to the ball again next year," said Rumsey. She added that the KVA may alternate having formal and casual parties, to see which format people like better.

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Rangers' Commander Visits Dawson

by Dan Davidson


Col. McLeod, the commander in chief of the Canadian Rangers, was recently in Dawson to meet the troops. Photo by Dan Davidson

When Dawson's Ranger troop had a chance recently to tell their commander what they would like to see happen in their future, they made it clear that they had a short but fairly intense, wish list.

Colonel Kevin McLeod, in charge of Canadian Forces Northern Area, is based out of Yellowknife, but he tries to get around to see his far flung Ranger groups as often as he can. His trip to Dawson on June 6 was his third recently and he expects there will be more.

McLeod heard Sgt. John Mitchell's group tell him that they wanted to see more training, especially longer field exercises, where Mitchell says that more gets accomplished.

They also want more training in first aid, to assist them in the search and rescue (SAR) and emergency measures operations (EMO).

In an open question and answer session held in a hospitality suite donated by Peter Jenkins (M.L.A. - Klondike) at the Eldorado Hotel, rangers indicated that they have a fierce pride in their identification as rangers, and it irks them when they have to step outside that role in order to do some types of SAR and EMO operations. They feel that they'd be doing the same job anyway and they'd rather have their Ranger hats on.

In a later interview McLeod said that he was "extremely proud of the Dawson City Rangers.

"They have a tremendous link with the community. They have tremendous esprit de corps and they are a tremendous asset to the Canadian Forces and, in fact, to Canada."

McLeod says that he attempts to get into the field to see his troops as much as possible.

"The aim of my visit is to travel around to the communities, meet the Rangers, try to meet the leadership of the communities, try to find out what are the issues and what are the possible solutions."

McLeod agreed that more advanced training was the way to go. He told his troops that there was no point in repeating the same sorts of activities, at the same level of proficiency, over and over.

He noted that some of the concern over SAR and EMO activities came from different methods of operation clashing with their own training. The lead roles in a lot of these situations are already defined. Some searches fall under the control of the RCMP, some under the local and territorial EMO. The organization that has the lead role tends to be the one that pays the bills.

There should be a way to coordinate such activities so that everyone still feels valued and useful.

McLeod also wants to do some joint exercises with the Americans and with contingents from Greenland (in Nunavut) so that he can become familiar with the ways in which their forces might interact.

"As a commander I must know my flanks."

McLeod would like to be able to increase the basic equipment given to Rangers. At present they get their rifles and ammunition, a basic uniform, tents, camping stoves, lanterns, global positioning devices, and communications gear. He feels they probably need more, but it will take time to evaluate that.

At some point in the future he realizes the Canadian Forces may have to look at renting or providing some sort of transportation. At this time they provide their own skidoos, ATVs, etc. There is a boat here, but locals say its a lake boat and of little use on our rivers.

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Richard Hartmier: For the Love of the Land

by Dan Davidson


Photographer Richard Hartmier and his dog, Lindy, are a frequent sight in Dawson, and the Klondike is well represented in his new book. Photo by Dan Davidson

Richard Hartmier says that his new photo book, Yukon, was probably one of the easiest projects he's ever worked on. In fact, he intimates the whole thing kind of fell into his lap.

Yukon is one of a series of books, currently twenty-two in number, that Whitecap Books has been producing for the Chapters/Indigo market.

"I've been ruminating about a book for the last couple of years," said Hartmier during a recent visit to Dawson. His first collection, Yukon: Colour of the Land, came out from Lost Moose in 1995, and is still selling in hard cover and paperback, but he figured that the market might be ready for something with a different approach, and has been working on a concept.

"I was on the phone with some people in Vancouver and we were pitching them on another book, and while we were talking about it, it came up that they were going to do a Yukon book as part of their Canada series.

"So I piped up and said, 'Why don't you just sole source the book?' which they don't usually do, and they said sure."

So Yukon was born. It's a 96-page book with a reasonable price tag ($17.95) aimed at the southern market. It's probably not exactly what Hartmier would have chosen to assemble himself, but he's happy with it.

"It's what they think the Yukon is. I have to respect that, because that's what they're selling."

Hartmier supplied the publisher with broad categories of pictures from his massive archives, about 1100 images altogether.

"I sent them down and they came back in a book."

The publisher did all the selecting and formatting, hired Tanya Lloyd to write an introductory essay and photo captions, and put the book together in about four months. It contains between 80 and 90 pictures.

Yukon appeared in print so fast that Hartmier was taken totally by surprise the day that CBC radio booked him to talk about it.

"I didn't even know it was in print. I didn't even know what was the cover."

I did, because Whitecap had sent me an advance copy about two weeks before, but it took a month or more to get me and Richard in the same room to talk about it, and even then he kept begging the servers at River West on Front Street to rescue him from my tape recorder.

He really doesn't like doing the self-promotion side of his work ("That's why I'm so comfortable here with you, Dan.") which is too bad, because he could probably do a marvelous slide presentation as part of a book tour if he was of a mind to. He recalls each picture, the circumstances under which it was taken, and often the lens he used. Every picture has a story and as Hartmier loses himself in talking about them, he becomes increasingly eloquent and you begin to understand why he is a photographer.

As we walked through the pages of photos, he did find the odd cropping and placement that he felt should have been done differently, but he was philosophical about it.

"I had a choice. There was going to be a Yukon book with or without my participation." If Whitecap had gone its usual route and used a stock house (like First Light, which handles Hartmier's work) as the picture source, no doubt some of his work would have been in the book. This way he got it all, a better deal both financially and in terms of exposure. His work is the drawing card in a nationally promoted book.

"This was just totally convenient, so this is what we did."

Hartmier's jokes that his career as a photographer grew out of his academic background, which left him fit for nothing but work in the government.

"I've got an honours degree in political science, two years of graduate school and a thesis that hold up a television somewhere."

The government career almost happened, but he found his heart wasn't in it. He's been shooting pictures for 25 years and turned to making a living from his hobby in 1985.

"It allows me to be free. Well ... any constraints are my own and I know if somebody screws up who did it."

An unrepentant critic of all Yukon politics, he likes to meet people one on one and he loves the land.

"It's the country that keeps me here. In the last twenty years the change in the people hasn't made it more attractive." He could spend hours bending your ear about what's wrong with politics and the economy in the territory, but on this day he was being subtle and restrained. Maybe it was the tape recorder.

His profession lets him travel all over the Yukon, dropping in on his favorite places and listening to the characters that he meets on his route, whether he's marketing his line of postcards, shooting on commission or bringing his portfolio up to date.

"You don't get rich doing this, but it's fun. I enjoy it, I wouldn't change it at all, other than that I might have been a little more businesslike earlier.

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Seeing Objects Outside of a Big Scene

by Heather Robb

To get into photographer Joanne Jackson Johnson's visual landscape, imagine a huge and prosaic machine, with some forgettable name, and brown-yellowing teeth that bite into the earth, then process it en masse. Bite and shuffle, in a robotic cadence.

Next, imagine that the ground is laced, here and there in pockets, with gems to whose beauty the machine is indifferent; it neither saves nor rejects them. Instead, they get roughed up and pitched into heaps along with rock and dirt. Newly upturned.

These gems aren't minerals.

They are people's garbage. Scraps of material history. Lard pails. An oil can with bullet holes. Political campaign literature, home-drawings of children. A red plastic toy fish.

These are the objects that Johnson's camera have recently been drawn to, and which make up the focus of her latest collection entitled "more land than people."

The objects in her collection fall roughly into three different categories- gold rush artifacts, agricultural relics (approximately 50-75 years of age) that she found on her property outside of Whitehorse, and the more contemporary discards acquired from various friends and trips to the dump.

Twelve of the 30 pieces in the collection are currently on display at the Odd Gallery. Last year Johnson showed what she calls her "tongue in cheek Yukon" pieces in Whitehorse.

"The prostitute doll, the birdseed bag- everything is once or a few times removed from what they represent. A fake stone carving of a wolf and her cub. Two plastic dinosaurs from the Whitehorse dump."

However, for her Dawson show Johnson left the edgy symbolic pieces behind, and opted for a more subtle selection. Some of these pieces, including the "Lard Pail" photos, come from the gold rush era.

"The objects came from the creeks around here so it seemed fitting that they'd end up here," she told her Dawson audience at the exhibit's opening on June 7th.

Her interest in photographing artifacts began when she was hired for a short contract by the Macbride Museum in Whitehorse to photograph more than two hundred historical objects individually for cataloguing.

"For days I was in the building with these things. I had already seen some of them in their environment, and then suddenly here they were, hundreds of miles away, in a warehouse. At first I thought, god, this is going to be really boring. And then it started to get to me. I thought, I can really do something with this!"

For the past three years, Johnson has been exploring her own artifacts in a manner akin to what she used in the museum project. With a focus on the material object itself outside the associated historical context and environment, she manages to avoid getting absorbed in the

romanticized commercial vision of the gold rush era. But she admits that approaching this subject artistically is a tough enterprise.

"It's difficult here. I think if I were to spend more time again away from the Yukon I'd be able to see it in a different way. Here it's so predictable.

I wanted to make things more open-ended- what we think of as old and valuable," she said.

Her work draws attention to the object's whole life cycle, rather than specific historical connotations.

"Things are made, their usefulness ends, and so they're discarded. But I'm not crusading, I'm just observing," she said.

Rather than attempting to preserve or restore the objects, Johnson avoids the staleness associated with museum displays. By intermixing photos that portray objects from different eras, she challenges typical chronological or linear depictions of history.

"Petrified Bone," and particularly "Concretions," disrupt the notion of the artifact that is so prevalent in her show, since neither are products of human activity. The concretions, clumps of rock that appear nearly perfect in roundness, look like they are hand-made relics. But they are actually formed by natural underground processes.

The artist's sense of her own process of aging influenced the project.

"When I was younger, and I started to get into photography, around 30, I guess, I was very energetic and physical about traveling, setting up my camera, and moving around in spaces. As I've gotten older, I've wanted instead to just take things and have them and not truck around the whole landscape."

"They're themselves rather than part of some big scene," she added.

Johnson's work deals with what's been left on Yukon's land in the wake of all kinds of human pursuits. "When people threw things out they thought, 'no one will ever find these,' if they thought about it at all. I speculate that they thought- 'we've got to go and we've got to leave everything,'" she said.

She's been collecting Yukon artifacts from her own property since she moved here from Winnipeg in 1989.

"It's not gold rush material, they don't have that mystique about them, but it's still Yukon history- a history of bringing things here, using them, and then never being able to take it away, because it's too expensive to haul back out."

Part of the inspiration for her work came from hearing about the garbage problem in Toronto.

"They have all that garbage and nowhere to put it- but here people just dump it on the land."

By isolating her selected objects from their "natural" environment and photographing them on a plain grey background, she accents the process of abstraction that's involved in creating a work of art. The artist must reframe the object and give it new life.

"It's not only the object, it's the image produced. Photography changes things- you think it looks exactly the way it did, but actually, the scale is different, and it's relationship with its environment is different. It becomes an image."

While she declares herself a kind of visual purist in terms of her preference to present an image without text, the crowd at the Odd Gallery opening wanted to know the stories behind the pictures.

"They function on two levels, there's the narrative level but there's also the object itself. It's like a newspaper photograph with a caption. People are so used to that format of information. They're drawn in by the image, I think, and then they read to see what it's about, who's in it or whatever. When I was teaching photography we'd go through this exercise where people would cut out pictures from magazines. We would look at them just to see what we saw happening without being told what to see and how to see it."

At the same time, Johnson can't resist telling the story behind the photo. If she has one.

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A Summer Sunday Reading Draws a Crowd

by Dan Davidson


Berton House writer in residence Benj Gallander was the headliner at this late spring public reading at Kate's. Photo by Dan Davidson

The heated patio at Klondike Kate's was the sunny setting for a musical and literary afternoon on June 3 when Benj Gallander, the latest Berton House writer in residence, was the headline attraction.

Gallander combines careers as a fiction writer, playwright and business analyst, but he's in Dawson to get away from the stock market for awhile and concentrate on a book. He has a quirky sense of humour, as evidenced by his story about the legal shenanigans that follow the suicide of a rich man. In this comedy of errors the man is exhumed and tried for committing an illegal suicide. The case drags on and on while the corpse deteriorates and when he is finally found guilty (after remaining annoyingly unresponsive for months) his remains blow up in the electric chair, killing and wounding a number of onlookers. In due course, what left of him is dug up again and put on trial for murder and deadly assault.

All of this is related with a perfectly straight face, and the trouble is that it's beginning to sound plausible by the end of the story.

Gallander also read from a story in progress about the possibility of Dawson having a town clock. The project to create a clock is a very real one, but the spin Gallander gives it is, once again, very dry and ironic.

As the story is not yet finished, he used the first six pages as a springboard for a discussion of the nature of time in the Klondike, which gained him a lot of notes and possible quotes from people in the audience. Nothing like combining a public performance with a bit of on the spot research.

A few local scribblers also had a contribution to make. Dawson's newest doctor, Richard Nahas, read a story that came from an experience he had recently had while serving as a physician in South Africa. It was a true and moving story of doctors attempting to save a life under the totally unforgiving circumstances.

Jack Fraser lightened the mood somewhat with a story he called "Trapped", a tale of youthful shenanigans and the consequences of getting caught. The "courtroom" scene at home in which the young offender gets cornered seemed so inevitable and familiar.

Rod Van Every read several poems about relationships and goals, including "Alone with Angels" and "Hold Fast to Dreams".

The musical trio of Saskia, Sandy and Larry were on hand to open the afternoon and to break up the readings with their offerings.

It was a pleasant couple of hours in friendly surroundings sponsored by Kate's and the Dawson Community Library.

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