by Dan Davidson
A simple desire for a bit of warmth on a chilly evening ended in near disaster for an 18 year old Montreal man when his campfire engulfed his tent and belongings on the Moosehide Slide in the wee hours of May 14. According to Dawson fire chief, Pat Cayen, the fire would have started somewhat before 3 o'clock that morning. He received the call about 3:02.
Cayen described the young man, who has not been identified, as having "decided to place himself where he would have a great view" about half-way up the Moosehide Slide. For the fire department, this posed a definite problem. The spot was well out of range of any equipment they had on hand, underlining the reasons why open campfires are against city bylaws.
The original fire might have been safe enough, but when the camper retired to his sleeping bag, apparently without making sure it was totally out, it didn't take all that long for the steadily rising wind that night to fan it back to life.
Fortunately, the Forestry department has equipment here. Cayen says the three forestry firefighters who attended the blaze had troubles getting there. One hiked to the site, but the others were lifted up by helicopter. The chopper then began hauling water to combat the fire, which had spread quite quickly to the immediate surroundings.
Michelle Hoar, another camper in the area, recalls hearing the chopper at work about 5:30 in the morning, the whup-whupping of the blades sending pressure waves at the tents on the hillside and waking the transients who have begun to fill the old Saint Mary's Hospital site over the last couple of weeks.
The fire occupied the crew for about three hours, and was successfully contained, although the camper lost everything he owned. The camper himself was "singed and scared" but unharmed, Cayen reported. Still, he was now in the Yukon without a single possession to his name, and faced a miserable May day filled with bitter winds and even scattered snow squalls.
Michelle Hoar estimates that there are about 50 tents currently lining the hill, some down over the bank and some in the woods out of sight. Aside from tents, there are also people in campers and vans, and a few spending the nights in their cars.
While the new arrivals have been spending the last week or so in the area that most people have come to call the North End Pit, they will only be permitted to stay there until the ferry goes in the Yukon River on Thursday. After that they will be asked to vacate the area and camp on the West Dawson side of the Yukon.
Hoar estimates that the number of 150 campers which has been bruited about is probably a bit high, but guesses the number is between that and 100. Statistics Canada may eventually have the best data, since the census takers in the Dawson area have also been busy on the hillsides over the past week.
Summer campers are an annual occurrence in Dawson, one generally seen as either a mixed blessing or a mitigated curse by locals. While there seems to be general agreement by the chamber of commerce and by town council that the summer economy would be impossible to operate without the labour pool they provide, they are still seen as a nuisance by many, and local youth uncharitably classify most of them as "hippie wannabes".
by Michelle Sturley
The Department of Northern and Indian Affairs has certified 36 Emergency Fire Fighters (EFFs) under a new training program. Although First Nations Citizens and locals were given priority in the admission selection, only 5 of the trainees were local, the majority came from the community of seasonal workers. The newly certified EFFs will be called to work when fires exceed the management capacities of the permanently employed crew. The purpose of the new course is to provide training for participants that will prepare them to work effectively on a fire crew to help reduce the safety and financial risks involved in dealing with inexperienced fighters. Steve Cash spoke of the shiver felt by some of the long-term members when they see a crew of "shiny boots" step on to the fireline.
Two days of practical instruction were added to the three days of theory, to bring the trainees to an overnight camp where they had the opportunity to compliment their classroom knowledge with hands-on experience. Experience that one emergency fire fighter, Dean Drinkwalter, says has given him more confidence with safety and organizational skills to work in the reality of a forest fire.
"Having a camp set up, creates an unfamiliar environment." says crew leader Steve Cash, "The unexpected creates an excitement that can really enhance learning."
At the camp, the trainees were able to practice working as a team on a simulated fire suppression attack and familiarize themselves with safety techniques and equipment that they may encounter on a real fire. It would not be possible to train people for every potential situation when dealing with the unpredictable power of fire, the department was looking to provide guidelines. "It's not a matter of teaching someone, it's a matter of getting people to think for themselves and improvise," says Cash.
submitted by the Yukon Anniversaries Commission
1996 marks a special year for Alaska's neighbor -- Canada's Yukon Territory. One hundred years ago, on the 16th of August, 1896, gold was discovered on Rabbit Creek, a small tributary of the Tron'dek River. The creek was renamed 'Bonanza' overnight, and the river became "klondike" to white prospectors who couldn't handle the glottal stops of the Han First Nation language.
The Klondike Gold Rush was on. News of the discovery flashed up and down the Yukon River like lightning; prospectors poured in from more than a hundred miles away, from settlements in both the Yukon Territory and Alaska.
Within a fortnight, every inch of Bonanza Creek and its smaller feeders, or pups, was claimed by goldseekers eager to get staked before the snow flew. Then, established, they settled in for a long winter -- thawing frozen ground with woodfires, hauling the gravel to the surface and stockpiling it for sluicing (washing) next Spring.
In June of 1897, when commercial trading steamers from far-off St. Michaels on the Bering Sea worked their way into the heart of the Yukon, they were met on the shores of a new townsite, Dawson City, by a group of very dirty, very happy miners -- whose 'cleanups' had exceeded their wildest expectations. After what had been, for most of them, years of hardship and deprivation, they were about to become fabulously wealthy.
Carrying their hoards in old carpetbags, battered suitcases and pouches made of moosehide, the first Klondike Kings arrived in San Francisco and Seattle in July of 1897. They arrived in southern climes (now called the 'Lower 48') in the middle of a depression greater in scale than even the Depression of the 1930's -- and their news electrified a nation and the world.
From around the world (though certainly mostly from the USA, more than 100,000 men and women struck out for Canada's Yukon -- between 30 - 40,000 actually made it -- over a painful and desperate wilderness route that stretched over 500 miles, through mountain passes in winter conditions then downriver to the fabled Klondike. It took many of them months of arduous travel from their home towns; most didn't arrive until late Spring of 1898. Coming into the Territory now -- a hundred years after Discovery -- you'll find Yukoners busy in every community, working to commemorate their heritage in a monumental way. More than one hundred endorsed events and attractions are being highlighted in 1996 all themed in some way to The Year of Discovery. In keeping with the fact that three out of the four people in the party who struck gold were Yukon First Nations, there is also emphasis placed on their cultural heritage and the important role they played in nurturing the first non-natives, at the same time educating them on survival and sharing their ways.
In 1997, the focus will shift from Discovery to commemorate 100 Years of Transportation, and will highlight our diverse and often original models of transportation in the North. From snowshoes to dugouts and moosehide canoes, from hand-crafted rafts to the steamers plying the river and on into the 20th Century with 'planes, trains and automobiles', 1997 pays tribute to the determination and ingenuity of all Yukoners' forebears. 1998, of course, will commemorate The Rush itself and will most likely be the "Jewel in the Crown" -- though there are other important centennial landmarks which also will be featured, like the White Pass & Yukon Route's centennial in 2000.
For the visitor, there's more to do in the Yukon than ever before. And that doesn't even take our scenery into account, which is attraction enough on its own! Visitors can spend a month in the Yukon, see most communities, take part in the special events while enjoying a number of different geographic surroundings, pretty much without repeating more than a few miles of any one route.
We love where we live, and it shows. As the signs say at all our highway entry points, "We're proud of our past -- and happy to share it!" You'll find a warm welcome in Canada's Yukon.
submitted by the Dawson City Post Office
The summer season is upon us and lots of exciting changes and activities will be happening in our local Post Office this year. To begin we'd like to welcome all our new summer residents and to remind them that this is an extremely busy season for us and to please remember to check our signs in the lobby as to whether the mail is sorted or not. And to our local residents -- we'd like to thank you for your patience with the anticipated line ups for the upcoming season. Together with Parks Canada we will be operating for the summer season out of the Old Post Office where we will be offering the service of postage stamp sales, Skypack, Expresspost and Priority Courier on letters only. The cutoff for these mailings will be 3:30 p.m.
The Old Post Office will be open for the season on May 25, 7 days a week from 12 noon until 6 p.m., ending September 8.
We are proud to be able to launch The 5 Yukon Gold Discovery Canadian stamps on a sheet of ten in an official ceremony on June 13. These stamps depict the Discovery of Gold in 1896. These stamps will be available all over Canada in Postal Outlets and the office in Dawson will be well stocked for the season.
Mr. Mark Langlais and Mr. Ed Millar from Ottawa/Northern Services Division will be unveiling the stamps in a ceremony held at 10 a.m. at the Old Post Office. It is our hope that everyone attending this first ever unveiling of stamps for Dawson City will attend in period costume to make this event truly a great success. Please note that the Post Office on 5th Avenue will be closed between 10-11 a.m. so that our staff can attend the unveiling.
A first day cover of these stamps will be available on a 5x7 postcard. The picture is of the Old Post Office and will be offered for sale at $5.00 each. They will be collectors items for sure and only available in the Yukon. We will be canceling stamps for the 1996 season with a special cancellation of a Gold Panner at no additional charge if so requested beginning June 13. These cancellations will only be available in Dawson City.
The theme of the Discovery of Gold will be carried out this summer in both outlets with the staff in costume and the 5th Ave. office decorated for the celebrations. We have the "Gold Fever" and we hope this summer season will be a most eventful one for you all!
Lambert, Lorie, Monna, Dina, Trish, Nathalie, Pat & Greg
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