Charlotte Gray Comes to Edmonton!

Me and Charlotte Gray after her talk in Edmonton
I was absolutely thrilled to learn that Charlotte Gray, my CanHist hero, was going to be in Edmonton this week as a guest of LitFest and STARFest. Last Saturday night she spoke at the St. Albert library to a room full of fans – one of the most responsive audiences I’ve ever encountered, in fact. They made all the appropriate noises at all the appropriate times during her presentation, and it was obvious they were smitten with her and her works.
The book up for discussion that night was her latest, Gold Diggers, which was published last year by HarperCollins Canada. I happily bought my copy for her to autograph, and it actually comes at the perfect time (which, I find, is often the case with books).  I just dove into my gold-rush-era material for my book on northern aviation – there was a balloon ascension in Dawson City in 1899 – so her tome will provide great background and description. Of course I’ll still get out Pierre Berton’s Klondike (after all, there’s supposed to be a mention of the ascension in it), but it’s great to have a more recent, socially-balanced tome to work with.
It was wonderful to finally meet Charlotte in person. She called me last November after I had Skyped-in to the Berton House Gala fundraiser in Toronto from Dawson. And we shared the same space at different times in Berton House, of course (and I made sure to put my book next to hers on the bookshelf!). But to get the chance to chat for a few minutes and shake her hand was, well, a highlight in this young historian’s life.
Thanks, Charlotte, for continuing to convince Canadians their history is interesting and relevant, and for embracing the filth, messiness, lace, and rubber boots of the past. 

Berton House Top Ten

It’s that time of year. The time of year when magazines, tv shows, internet sites, and everyone else make top ten lists. So I will too. About my time up north (although it’s very hard to pick just ten!).

Here they are in no particular order:
1. Working, reading, watching tv, chatting, and napping at Berton House on the sectional snuggled up in the HBC blanket.
2. Experiencing ice fog in minus 40-degree weather in Dawson. Yep, I’m a little strange.
3. Doing the sourtoe cocktail with friends at the Dowtown bar in Dawson.
4. Going curling in Inuvik and hanging out in the curling club post-game. Best place in town on a Friday night!

5. Hiking up Dome Mountain in Dawson in December – and then sliding down on my backside!

6. Finding out I had family in Whitehorse and getting to spend great times with them. Thanks so much, Judy, Bruce, Ben, and Charlie!
7. Hanging out at Bombay Peggy’s and being there for close-down on November 10th!
8. Doing old-timey portraits with the gals in Dawson: Easy-laine, Diamond Tooth Sandy, and Jailbait Jenny. Oh yeah, and I’m Dawson Dani (the one with the gun).

9. Visiting Old Crow and getting to attend a community feast. Such a friendly town and glad I got the chance to go twice!
10. Skagway, AK in September: delicious food, good hiking, and seeing that the Sarah Palin store actually exists!

Yukon’s northern charms hard to resist

The Edmonton Journal featured an article about the Yukon in its Saturday travel section and a friend forwarded it to me. Of course I couldn’t resist writing in! My letter was published today (but the photo’s my little blog addition):

Edmonton Journal December 7, 2010

Re: “Yukon’s northern charm beckons; Newcomers thrill to area’s rich history,” The Journal, Dec. 4.

I got a real kick out of reading Andrew Renton’s travel piece at Berton House in Dawson City, Yukon, after several days of 40 below weather.

I arrived in the Yukon Sept. 23 just as a blizzard moved into the territory. Tourist season was definitely over: The SS Klondike was dry-docked; the White Pass railway was shutting down; and many spots from Whitehorse up to Dawson were boarded up, their owners having gone “outside” for the winter.

Now that I’ve been here for three months as writer-in-residence at Pierre Berton’s childhood home, I feel I’m halfway between the “Cheechako” and “Sourdough” Renton talks about. I’m still excited by the Air North service and food, and now I know the de-planeing drill for refuelling on the “milk run” between Whitehorse, Dawson, Old Crow, and Inuvik (and use the “seat taken” slip like a pro).

I’ve seen the Yukon River freeze up and gone to Bombay Peggy’s for season close down. I’ve done the Sourtoe Cocktail, driven part of the Dempster Highway in whiteout conditions, and spent a night at Muktuk Adventures being serenaded by 130 huskies. So far the aurora borealis have been elusive, but I’m hopeful I’ll catch a glimpse before I leave: with sunrise at 11 a.m. and sunset at 3:30 p.m., there is plenty of night sky to scan.

While I’m looking forward to being in Edmonton in time for the holidays, I’m already planning a visit back “up here” next year. These northern charms are hard to resist!

Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail, Dawson City, Yukon

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

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Striking Writer’s Gold in Klondike Country

We may be stuck in a holding pattern when it comes to the move from Wyoming to Edmonton, but at least I know where I’ll be living from October to December of this year: the Yukon!
I just got a call from the Writers’ Trust of Canada that I was chosen for the Berton House Writer’s Retreat in Dawson City, YT. For three months I get to live in this town of 1,300 “hardy and generous” people (as one visitor described them), work on my projects, explore the area, and bask in bookiness.
As you can see from this map, Dawson is north – waaaay north – even further north than Edmonchuk, which many in southern Canada consider to be an arctic wasteland. It is above the 60th parallel (and not that far from the arctic circle). It is a one-day drive from Edmonton, a 13-hour drive north of Whitehorse and a 13-hour drive from Anchorage, AK. And I can’t wait!
Now the fact that it’s so north means it will get cold and dark very quickly. I’ve already checked climate and sun tables and when I get there in early October daily highs will be around freezing with about 11.5 hours of daylight. By the winter solstice that will drop to “freeze your arse off” (official terminology) and 3.7 hours of a sun that barely peeks over the hills. So I will be packing my woolies and my personal happy light.
I will be living in this cozy two-bedroom bungalow, the childhood home of legendary Canadian historian, Pierre Berton. Since 1996, over 40 other Canadian authors – including one of my heroes, Charlotte Gray – have spent time here, and I am hoping to soak up all that collective creative energy.

Above: Berton House. Apparently in 2006 HGTV’s Design Guys featured
the house on their show and made over the interior.
Below: Pierre Berton, who passed away in 2004, was a prolific writer and brought Canadian history to the masses. The year before he died he published a memoir/writing guide called The Joy of Writing. I read it after I finished my M.A. in 2007 and was looking for reassurance that I might be able to make a living as a popular historian and fiction writer.
Now he’s helping me again – thanks, Pierre!

During my time in Dawson I’m also planning on doing some serious research for my history of aviation in Canada’s north. Not only is there a northern-themed library on-site, but there are great-looking libraries and archives in the region. Plus, I’m hoping to chat up anyone who’ll talk to me about local aviation history… I’m guessing that’s what the program’s stipend is for, right? To buy beers (or Sourtoe cocktails) in exchange for stories?

The only downside to this grand adventure and honour is that I’ll be separated from Doug and the pets. Doug is hoping to take a couple of weeks off work to join me in October, though (besides he ran off to Scotland for three months of training last year!). And after repeatedly wrestling Guinness-the-cat off my keyboard, etc this morning, I’m not feeling terribly misty-eyed about leaving the animals behind. (Do you know how unnerving it is to have a cat staring at you when you’re struggling with a scene in a novel?)

So in addition to the grand adventure of moving to Edmonton sometime in the next month or so, I get to be writer-in-residence in a very cool place later this year. I have a feeling getting material for this blog will not be an issue…

Dawson is right on the Yukon River and the scenery looks amazing. Doug’s looking forward to doing some recon for a future canoe-camping trip.

Above: Main street in warmer months with a view of the ancient Moosehide landslide.

Below: Main street when I’ll be there: dog sled central. I will HAVE to try that!

© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.