STRIKING IT RICH IN THE KLONDIKE

To visit the Yukon in the middle of January may seem an odd choice, but when The Northern Lights Literary Festival invited us, we were very keen to go. As Lily Quan told Jane and me, “When you come here in mid-winter, people don’t look at you as a cheechako, a sort of summer tourist. They know that if you come in winter, you really want to be here.”
We really wanted to be there.
We had never been to the Yukon, so the first delightful news was that we were going not just to Whitehorse, the capital city where the vast majority of the people in the territory live, but all the way north to Dawson City, by plane more than an hour further north and west, near Alaska. It’s still based around the old Gold Rush town from 1897, when it sprang up to become the biggest Canadian city west of Winnipeg. The wooden buildings stand shoulder to shoulder, with the occasional tin building imitating the stone fronts that can’t survive above the permafrost. It’s like one big movie set, with many of the buildings maintained for the summer tourists by Parks Canada.
From Monday through Thursday we were based in the Downtown Hotel, which is right …um…downtown, on Main street just a block away from Front Street, which is right beside the Yukon River, just after the Klondike has joined it. The Yukon is a big river here (it’s the third longest river in North America, and I bet you didn’t know that!) so it was a thrill to walk across it, over the ice-bridge that allows cars and brave trucks to follow the path of the summer ferry.
It was cold, of course, but we had dressed for it (bulky parkas, long johns, big boots, fur hats with ear-flaps) so we walked everywhere. While the sun was up, that is, from roughly 10 till 4. Banker’s hours.
The literary community in Dawson is a lively one, and with our friend Dan Dowhal we visited Sheila Plunkett at The Berton House, where she was the Writer in Residence. Our visit revealed what a fine thing the Berton House programme, encouraged by a grant from my old friend Pierre, really is. It enlivens the local population by injecting talented people with names like Ken McGoogan, or Lawrence Hill, or Charlotte Gray , and then it sends them back to the rest of Canada, to rave about Dawson City, and the Yukon.
I was glad to do a couple of events. First, I ran a workshop for a dozen local writers (including ten year-old Alan, and his mother). Then on the final evening, in the grand ballroom of the old KIAC Building, I gave my “Stories About Storytellers” show to 30 kind Klondikers.
I learned that there are three special terms with a specific local meaning:–
1 Here “Han” does not refer to an ancient Chinese dynasty, but to the ancient local native people, and their language (we sat in on a conversational language class in the fine Native Cultural Centre down by the river, and learned just how sophisticated the language is.)
2 Do not use “mushy” as an adjective describing writing. Many people in town, like our friend Dan (a refugee from Toronto, who was a resident at Berton House who never recovered) are now keen on “mushing”, and dog teams are to be seen swishing along the streets as the owners pursue their passion.
3 You think you know what “kayak” means. In Dawson it means “KIAC” the fine Klondike Institute for Arts and Culture, run by Matt Sarty, who was a cheery host.
Next….on to Whitehorse. And how did a Northern town in the mountains get that name?

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6 comments on “STRIKING IT RICH IN THE KLONDIKE

  1. Kathy Stivin says:

    Your “trip report” gave me a chance to enjoy the visit as if I had been there with you. Thank you for the lively reports, keep them coming. I enjoy them. Kathy S.

    • Douglas Gibson says:

      Kathy,
      I’m delighted that you liked my Klondike visit.
      As you may have noticed, I’m back to blogging, and hope that you’ll enjoy stories of me falling off the stage in London. Best wishes, Doug

  2. davelstein@aol.com says:

    hello doug. delightful read. looking forward to more…dave stein

    • Douglas Gibson says:

      Dave,
      I’m catching up with my obligations to reply to shrewd readers like you. Hope you like the new stuff. See you soon. Doug

  3. Jennifer Brandy says:

    Hi Doug, fantastic read! More please – JennyB

    • Douglas Gibson says:

      Jenny,
      As you may have seen, now that I’m not travelling so much, I’m back to the blog.
      I hope you’ll enjoy my tales of falling off the stage in London, and so on…..Doug

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