Dawson City, Yukon Friday, September 20, 1996


Employees pick over the wreckage the day after the fire that destroyed the Han Building in Dawson on August 31.  Photo by Dan Davidson

Feature Stories

Mining for Votes in the Klondike
Candidates Forum Draws Appreciative Crowd
Webster Resigns as Dawson Mayor
Preliminary figures show strong tourism summer in Dawson
Review: Reliving the Klondike adventure
White Lightning Wins Number Eight

Editor's Note:

There is an election under way in the territory at the moment. The Sun published self-profiles of all the candidates in its most recent issue, but there are too long to put here. Instead, we will substitute the summary item that I prepared for the Whitehorse Star. It was drawn from those pieces. In addition, the Sun will not have coverage of the election forum, since the election will have been held by that time. The forum coverage from the Star is also included in this on-line issue. I should mention that I am the Star's stringer here in Dawson and that this material is used with their permission.

Mining for Votes in the Klondike

by Dan Davidson
Sun Staff

Four candidates are offering their services to the voters in the Klondike Riding this time out, vying to replace outgoing MLA David Millar, who represented the riding for the Yukon Party.

The former government has a new candidate in Peter Jenkins. After nearly a decade and a half as Dawson's mayor, Jenkins lost his last mayoralty contest to former NDP MLA Art Webster (who has since resigned after serving two thirds of his term) and diverted his energies to other important projects in the community, including becoming treasurer of the Klondike Visitors Association while continuing to own and operate the Eldorado Hotel and other business interests.

Jenkins lost his last bid for territorial office in 1989, along with all the other sitting mayors who ran at that time, but this is probably not a good barometer of his strength. While some decry Jenkins for his bulldog tactics and impetuosity, he has a strong following in the business community and is admired for his dedication to his vision of the community.

In his own summary of issues, to be published in this Friday's Klondike Sun, Jenkins lists the building of a Yukon River Bridge at Dawson City, improved rural education facilities and delivery, new recreation facilities, Land Claims settlement and maintaining a strong economy as key objectives.

He addresses the sensitive issue of the Yukon Party's wage restraint/rollback legislation by saying that he agrees with the economic rationale while taking issue with the process used. He would vote against any similar move in the future.

His advertising campaign is heavy and well planned, with six high-impact ads hitting both The Klondike Sun (the local paper) and The Centennial Post (the local ad flyer and TV guide) during this week.

The New Democratic Party is putting their faith in Tim Gerberding, a two time Dawson City councillor under Jenkins and currently a land claims advisor with the Tr'ondek Hwech'in. Gerberding was a vocal opponent of Jenkins when on council, sponsoring motions that led to two investigations of abuse of power by the municipal office of the YTG. At the polls Gerberding outdistanced all other candidates, but he decided not to run for a third term due to a perceived conflict of interest between his job and his political position. He turned instead to seeking a post on the Robert Service School Council.

The former Yukon River fisherman's campaign has been rooted very much in the notion that the Yukon Party's record is its worst baggage. His profile speaks of needs for accountable government, the conclusion of Land Claims, the encouragement of mining in the Klondike, the upgrading of educational facilities and the preservation of the environment. He supports a consultation process which might lead to the construction of a bridge but it is not his priority item here. He contends that the Yukon Party's planning process was never intended to produce a bridge that could be built.

Glen Everitt, the Liberal candidate has been actively seeking the position since January. He has served on councils with Gerberding where the two were often pitted against Jenkins. He has held a variety of jobs in the service sector, youth work and small business since coming here in the mid-eighties. Currently he works at the Gas Shack and was running a new, and apparently successful, restaurant, M.T. Bellies, until the fire at the Chief Isaac Centre.

Everitt has always been a strong advocate of the Yukon River Bridge at Dawson City, clashing with former mayor, Art Webster, over the latter's lukewarm advocacy of the project. A plan to develop a bridge with a combination of public and private funding and participation was one of the first Liberal party platform planks to be announced.

Everitt's profile emphasises a partnership between the government and the first nations, an end to confrontation in government, good economic planning, improved health care and educational facilities.

The final, and last, candidate is John Cramp, a fiercely independent miner and farmer in the Klondike Valley who has made his mark in municipal by appearing at nearly every council meeting armed with up to five questions for the membership. These are often complicated items that speak to the hours Cramp spends reading old legislative documents and bylaws. His seemingly obsessive interest in the minutiae of government stems from his experiences in unions in British Columbia and his involvement in opposing the expansion of Dawson's municipal boundaries a few years ago.

He lists mining , forestry and medical policies, devolution, land disposal policies, property rights and Klondike infrastructure as his chief interests. He has run for office in Dawson, but has never polled many votes. He says though, that he would "remain independent (or have an unrealistic price tag)..." if he were elected.

The deadline for voter registration looms, all the parties are making sure that their supporters, or their proxy votes, are registered before Wednesday night. The NDP have contended that they lost mainly on proxy votes the last time around and they are determined to register as many potential voters are possible in order to counter what they see as a Yukon Party ploy to sign up seasonal miners.

Two things are certain. One is that the other candidates are in some way running against both the Yukon Party and Peter Jenkins, whose records they see as doubtful, but for different reasons. Jenkins, on the other hand, is emphasizing his reputation as one who has "a track record of getting the job done" (from his campaign ads). While he embraces the Yukon Party's economic record, he is also putting forward two issues on which his party failed to deliver during their first mandate: expanded education facilities and a bridge.

The riding has grown significantly since the last election, when about 855 voters were registered. Over 1,000 were captured in the preliminary count this time, and more than 200 were added during the revisions, making close to 1300 voters. This is spite of YTG statistics that have a shown a decline in the riding's population, a decline which has led to a reduction in block capital funding. No matter who wins the race, you can expect the City of Dawson to petition for increased funding on the basis of this official count.

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Candidates Forum Draws Appreciative Crowd

by Dan Davidson
Sun Staff

"I have the vision and the focus is the Klondike and everything that is in it." With those words Yukon Party hopeful Peter Jenkins summed up the essence of his appeal to the electorate of the Klondike riding during the all-candidates' forum last evening (September 19).

With repeated references to the need for strong representation "at the table" on every issue from educational planning to federal health care devolution, Jenkins capitalized on his reputation as a fellow "who gets things done". He said he had decided to run for the Yukon Party simply because independents have so little actual influence on events.

While he supported the territorial record of his party with respect to financial management in the larger community, he made no reference to the lack of achievements locally over the last four years. Indeed, his shopping list for the riding included two items which are carry-overs from his predecessor, a second school and a bridge across the Yukon River, as well as items like recreational facilities and new medical facilities which have traditionally been a part of his long term plan for the region.

Borrowing a phrase from his opponent, the Liberal's Glen Everitt, he concluded one of the responses to a question by saying, "Glen is bang on. It's our turn." But he then returned to the theme that he was the candidate best equipped to do that job.

Everitt, on the other hand, emphasized the teamwork aspect of his candidacy, grouping all of the items mentioned above under two general categories: standard of living and economic stability. Like Jenkins, Everitt appeared comfortable with all the issues under discussion, but declined to offer an opinion on issues (such as Bill C6, the new mining legislation) with which he was not familiar. This approach earned him a round of applause. He was magnanimous throughout the evening, even deflecting a couple of shots made by questioners at Jenkins when he felt they weren't fair.

Tim Gerberding, by contrast with the others, came off sounding like the fiscal conservative of the group. The big four items on everyone's shopping list were not achievable within the next mandate, said the NDP candidate, no matter who took the seat, so the community needed to set its priorities and tackle them in sequence. Any other approach, was simply "a bidding war" he said, using a phrase which has been in the NDP lexicon all week.

The need for planning, consultation and long range thinking dominated most of Gerberding's answers, which were firm and thoughtful, but with little flash.

The wild card of the evening was Independent candidate John Cramp, who admitted off the top that he was one who generally had "an opinion that is debatable...fixed...and right".

He saw the whole shopping list as unrealizable. No bridge could be built within five years. Health care transfers would take forever. The local dream of a multi-use recreation centre was one he did not share. The major issue where he did agree with the others was on the need for a second school.

"I honestly want to see that," he said, but speculated that party politics could kill it. He was also adamant in his support of adult education in general and Yukon College in particular. "I owe Yukon College a hell of a debt. A person just has to support their educational facilities."

Questions from the audience were varied but fairly predictable.

Senior Harold Shannon asked about health care, which prompted all candidates to support improved facilities, another long time Dawson wish.

Former mayor and MLA (NDP) Art Webster asked how the money could possibly be raised for all the needed projects, which led to discussions of funding sources and different pots of federal and territorial money as well as the possibility of assistance from first nations and even the Klondike Visitors Association in some areas.

Helmut Schoener, the local dentist, will be gratified to have learned that all the candidates value his presence in the community and intend to keep any federal agency from disturbing its smooth operation.

None of the candidates felt that there was any inherent conflict between mining and protection of the environment. It may have been John Cramp who said "I will only support responsible mining" but it was in all their answers. The Klondike thrives on a tripod of natural beauty, mining and history based tourism, and no one wants to kick that tripod over.

There were differences of opinion. Jenkins may feel that the Yukon Party is a good financial manger, but all the others would like to see the books which prove it, and neither Everitt nor Gerberding accepted the debt to solvency line Jenkins was peddling.

Quite naturally, in a town where a lot of people work for the territorial government, the question of the Yukon Party coalition's wage restraint legislation came up. It was no surprise that the actual legislation and its implementation was repudiated by all four candidates, even Jenkins, who said that he accepted the economic need but not the method. None of them would support any similar legislation in the future.

As the meeting was televised locally, about every third question came from the home audience, which must have been at least as high was the eighty or so in the ancillary room at the Robert Service School. Originally the Dawson City Chamber of Commerce had talked of holding the forum in city council chambers, but that would never have worked out. Still chamber president Torfinn Djukastein did not look at all unhappy at having lost his bet.

As for winners at the forum, it would be difficult to make a call. All four men seemed nervous at the beginning, but warmed up as the two and a half hours wore on. Tempers did not flare. All of them were calm and polite, and if they always behaved this way, would make good representatives. There was a bit of humour throughout the evening, but no serious cheap shots and nothing that would leave a bad taste in the mouth. The applause for all the candidates was warm and enthusiastic, without much difference in the levels. The three party candidates are more likely choices than the independent, but they all handled themselves well and should present an interesting choice on polling day.

It was revealed after the meeting that there will be an actual debate here, to be held during the joint AGM of the Dawson City and Yukon Chambers of Commerce, which will be held here on September 26-28. The debate will take place during the afternoon on the 28th and so will not receive press coverage prior to the election itself.

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Webster Resigns as Dawson Mayor

by Dan Davidson
Sun Staff

There will be more than one election in Dawson City this fall. In a surprise move, Art Webster has stepped down as mayor, effective September 3, with more than a year left of his mandate. He presented his letter of resignation at a special planning meeting which followed the regular Monday night council meeting that night.

Webster says he is pulling out now for a variety of personal and business reasons, but he says that he doesn't think his departure will seriously damage the process of municipal government here.

He says he believes that the open and public council over which he has presided for the last two years has inspired a great more public confidence and willingness to participate in community affairs. He sees this as a major change over the style of the previous administration.

"The other thing that's changed is that we have a really good team in place, of managers and office staff. Their expertise, their knowledge will prove invaluable is helping council achieve their goals and objectives.

"This council actually has the big picture, the long term plan, in mind, and they've gone out about to set goals to achieve those...objectives."

As an example Webster cited the development of building lots in the North End of the city, noting that the last major subdivision was established on the Dome, some two councils back. He also sees considerable improvement in recreational facilities, giving as an example the Youth Centre which was opened last year.

"I also think that relations between the city and community groups and other governments, be it the Tr'ondek Hwech'in, the federal...or even the territorial government, have improved immensely. That's resulted in progress in all matters requiring joint cooperation."

So Webster is saying that his leaving is no great disaster and his absence will hardly be noticed?

"I think that's true," he said. "Yeah. I've always thought I'm not indispensable."

What about his election promise to bring a new style of local government to Dawson City, one based on consensus building and consultation?

"What I'm saying is, within two years, that's proven to be true. If this council, under the leadership of a new mayor, tried to go back to the old ways, it would be extremely difficult. It would be a shame not to use the talents and expertise of the people on council not to make the decisions."

Of his future plans Webster seems candid. No, he isn't moving. Yes, his family will be taking a holiday, "a nice long break which we haven't had for the last two years." He blames that on a combination of political and business pressures.

"We are exploring some options this winter to develop our commercial property on Third Avenue. That has suffered as a result of working on council." He and his partner, Ann MacDonald, are planning to develop a second business to complement Art's Gallery, which they already operate.

By coincidence the election enumerators arrive during this interview. Over the phone Webster can be heard confirming that he lives here, that he will be here and plans to vote in the territorial election. He's vocal about supporting the NDP, whose candidate, Tim Gerberding, defeated him in his bid to take back the Klondike seat which he held for two terms.

Webster had first announced that he might quit as mayor on the night of that nomination meeting, telling his party faithful that he would resign immediately to work on the election if he were selected as their candidate. He lost that chance by one vote, and says that the losing did hurt, but he fully intends to support the man who defeated him and says he is the best of the three candidates who are running here.

Webster is the second member of this council to resign. Acting Mayor Denny Kobayashi stepped down to seek the city manager's job and then ran to reclaim his seat when he didn't get the job.

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Preliminary figures show strong tourism summer in Dawson

by Dan Davidson
Sun Staff

It may seem early, with the June visitor figures barely dry on the paper, to say that the summer of 1996 was an extremely successful one, but the two dozen tourism operators and business people gathered for a summer wrap-up round table here on September 12 had no trouble doing just that.

The meeting, called by the Klondike Visitors Association, began with a run down of visitor figures by KVA general manager Denny Kobayashi. They showed substantial increases in a number of categories of traffic, based on a total of 83,000 people crossing our various borders in the month of June.

Overseas visitors were up 20%, motor coaches rose 5%, rental vehicles carrying fly-in traffic were up 45%. There was a 21% increase in visitors from central Europe alone.

All this was fairly exciting to the people around the table and they were scribbling madly to take it all down, when Kobayashi suddenly revealed that these were June figures only.

Said KVA treasurer Peter Jenkins, "It doesn't even deserve discussion if all we have on the plate here is June. It started slow in some areas and it's picked up. A lot of it was tremendously higher. The overseas market was very good. Motor coach traffic was extremely good. Independents were damn good. In fact this winter I might even be able to buy my kids new socks."

The general sense around the tale at the Downtown Hotel conference room was that the summer was very good, with some dips. It began slowly due to poor weather, but this year there were no fires to chase people away, and so, for the most part, visitation continued to build through the summer. Even August, traditionally a fairly marginal month, was strong right to the end.

Gail Hendley, of White Ram Bed and Breakfast, cited the number of nights when there was simply not a bed to be had in the community if a person had not booked ahead. She said it felt horrible to have to send them as far away as Stewart Crossing, nearly two hours south.

Jenkins ventured that this was perhaps the most hectic summer since 1979-80, when it will be recalled that Dawson was recovering from a massive spring flood.

"Canada Post will be rubbing their hands together," said Postmaster Lambert Curzon. "It's the biggest year probably in the history of the post office here." June, with the launch of the Goldrush stamps, was expected to be the busiest month, but Curzon said that it wasn't.

The figures at Diamond Tooth Gerties Gambling Casino look good as well. Despite a roller coaster ride which gave it some of the slowest and busiest nights ever, manager Gary Parker said the overall increase in numbers was 25%.

From the Dawson City Museum Mack Swackhammer provided what was perhaps the most indicative numerical summary of events. The usual increase at the museum runs between 700 and 800 visitors per year. It's been steady at this for a number of years. This year 3100 more people walked through the front doors than the year before.

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Review: Reliving the Klondike adventure

by Dan Davidson
Sun Staff

Ian and Sally Wilson have an odd and rather old fashioned way of making a living. Every few years they spend a year having "an adventure".

They go to someplace in Canada which is remote and challenging, figure out how to live there and record the experience in words, photographs and drawings. Then they produce a book and a slideshow.

The book takes the usual route through the stores across the country, but it also accompanies them as they embark on a tour across the nation, presenting their experiences as a slide show.

There are actually two shows, one aimed at the classroom audience and another for the more general public. It was the latter production that the pair presented in Dawson during the Discovery Days celebrations and later, in the ancillary room at the Robert Service School, under the auspices of the Dawson Community Library.

As public librarian Vikki McCollum noted when introducing the show, this was a return to familiar ground for the Wilsons, who had spent so much of the winter they passed here in the library that the three librarians (2 1/2 time public and 1 school) had once discussed putting a permanent reservation plaque on their study carrel.

The show is presented using two projectors, creating a seamless dissolving effect when allows the Wilsons to create split screens, pictures within pictures and captions for credits without any jarring cuts. The pair take turns presenting the narration and do a good job of putting their experiences across.

They spent several months in Vancouver preparing for this trip before they actually began it: reading many of the old books on the subject, examining maps, making lists of gear, learning how to make a flat bottomed boat and how to care for, pack and ride horses.

They tried one of the legendary "all-Canadian" routes to begin with, and discovered that the Stikine Trail was legendary because it was practically impassable. Still, it was an interesting experience and produced some excellent slides.

The Stikine proving a poor choice, they returned to the tried and true route through Dyea and over the Chilkoot Pass to Lake Bennett, where the Stampeders built their boats and sailed on up to Dawson City. The Wilsons then hitched a ride to Lake Laberge and did their boat building there, reasoning that they wouldn't be able to get a boat past the power dam at Whitehorse anyway.

The trip to the Klondike was uneventful, in the sense that nothing bad happened. Living in the area for the winter turned out to be a bit of a problem, as anyone who has tried to find housing in Dawson will know. Jennifer Docken, our other half-time public librarian put them on the trail of Julie Frisch, who came to their rescue, offering a vintage Goldrush built two-room cabin 30 or 40 miles from the town. This became their base of operations while the mined the library and trekked about the surrounding district.

Another resident, Jerry Bryde, later extended the same sort of assistance, and made it possible for them to gain the actual mining experience that they needed to go with the rest of the adventure. They used as much older equipment as they could to get the true feel of the time.

In September 1995 they headed south again to work on their presentations and begin lining up travel dates. Sally reports recently that they've got 60 venues and about 400 elementary schools to visit in the next year as they travel through Ontario in their 14-foot camperized cube van.

In true Klondike adventurer spirit they staked a claim while they were here and spent a bit of time trying out their luck during late August. They found some colours, but nothing too promising. Sally, however, vows to give it another try when they come by here again, and they plan to do that in 1998.

The book is called Gold Rush - Reliving the Klondike Adventure in Canada's North and is available from Gordon Soules Book Publishers Ltd. Sally also produced a booklet of Goldrush inspired drawings.

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White Lightning Wins Number Eight

by Dan Davidson
Sun Staff

Outhouse Trotters - White Lighning gears up for another win in the annual Outhouse Race. Photo by by Rob Fisch


Three-wheeled outhouses would seem to be the key to getting up and keeping up a good head of steam during the Great Klondike International Outhouse Race.

White Lightning, deprived of its usual competition, swept the field in a record time of 8 minutes and fifty-eight seconds. After all these years, Chester Kelly's team had to give up in favour of running the Skagway relay race next weekend. There was a new team from the Downtown Hotel, the "Fleet BMWs", but it wasn't the same.

"It's a real kicker not having Chester here," said White Lightning's Kevin Anderson. "I mean, 13 years and we've been within 10 seconds of each other. That was kind of disappointing."

The other serious team had Gerard Parsons, another serious runner, and what Anderson called a "fine team of runners", but the two wheeled outhouse design was a problem. The team would lose balance while changing riders.

"Next year we'll be ready," Parsons said. "We'll modify our outhouse and balance it out."

Anderson plans to issue a bit of a challenge through the city papers, as he fears that the race may lose its competitive edge without a little goading.

"It's not near as fun when you don't have someone two inches off your tail," he said. 'I'd hate to see this thing die. It's great with all the costumes, but there are a bunch of guys that want to do the competitive thing."

"We wouldn't want that to die," Parsons added.

"We beat our time this year," said Anderson. "I can't really understand it. We had a great run but I remember last year it just about killed us." They pulled up in just under nine minutes.

"You looked like you were running easy when we saw you," Parsons said.

Numbers were off this year. Only eight entries hit the course, down from 11 in 1995. The entries included "NWT Air", a biffy with wings and props that actually held together for the entire race; the "Space Cadets", an interplanetary arrival; the "Sourdough Saloon"; the "King's Throne", a set of five playing cards from Gerties; a team from Edmonton's BEAR 100.3 fm Classic Rock station; and the cast of "Gilligan's Island", complete with a piece of the S.S. Minnow's bow.

"I think everybody's bushed," said the Klondike Visitors Association's Craig Battersby. "What with Discovery Days and the Gold Panning, it just seems to be too busy this year. I talked to a few people who were interested, but they ran out of time."

The KVA maintains a number of outhouses that people can use to run the event, and this year they didn't have to let them all out.

"Actually we got three more made after last year and never got to use them."

With the smaller numbers race organizer Battersby decided to run the course in one heat. As usual, the riders had to race from Minto Park to their thrones before the four pushers could begin the race. The sitter changes several times during the 3 kilometre track, but someone has to be on the throne at all times.

The course heads north from the Dawson City Museum, up Church Street, north on Seventh Avenue and then downhill to the Yukon River on Queen Street. From there it's south along Front Street until it meets Fifth, and then back to the starting line at the Museum.

Battersby lead the runners on a four-wheeler, running interference and doing traffic control as he cruised the route. There weren't as many road blocks available to use this year due to the fire at the Tr'ondek Hwech'in complex on Front Street.

"A couple of years ago they had a police car. Last year I didn't have any traffic control other than my spotters at the corners, and some people, even though the spotters are there, have a tendency to push out. So this year I thought I'd just drive down there. It worked out quite well. I got a motor home off of the road by the Downtown Hotel as well as three cars."

Someone forgot to let the racing crew from Edmonton's Classic Rock station know that the Klondike International Outhouse Race is a family viewing event, staged very much in public, on a Sunday afternoon. As a result their entries in the Bathroom Limerick Contest were more like "bedroom" limericks. They were the only team who failed to enter into the usual spirit of the word game, so it seems that everyone else was able to read and understand the rules.

"Oh well," said Battersby, "They're radio people so what can you expect?"

The results were announced during the festivities that evening at Diamond Tooth Gerties. White Lightning took the men's and overall speed trophy. The Space Cadets came in at 17:30 as the fastest women, and the crew from "Gilligan's Island" was the fastest mixed team with a time of 12:55.

That team also took the prize for Most Humorous entry, while the NWT airborne biffy was the most original the Space Cadets were best dressed and the Downtown team had the best limerick.

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