Six Degrees of Dawson City

Dawson may be a small town (1,200 permanent residents) and the Yukon Territory may be one of the most sparsely populated places in the world (30,000 people in 2006), but it seems everywhere I go I find connections to the place I will call home from October to December of this year.

The first ‘coincidence’ was a couple weeks back when my colleague and friend, John Chalmers, invited me to take my pick of books at his mother’s house, which he is clearing out for sale. I had an armful of books – mostly CanLit and history, of course – when I spotted one that had fallen between the counter and some boxes. It turned out to be Starting Out, Pierre Berton’s memoir of years 0-27! John was nice enough to let me have it and I’ve since read the whole first chunk about Pierre’s childhood in Dawson…

Recently my mom also discovered we have a long-lost cousin living in Whitehorse, the capital of YT. Bruce Barrett is a historic sites project officer for the Department of Tourism & Culture and worked on researching and compiling an air crash registry a few years back. Can’t wait to meet him and all the aviation history contacts he’s been putting me in touch with!

“Queen of the Yukon” on display at the Yukon Transportation Museum

You never know who you’ll meet at breakfast! While chowing down two Mondays ago at the Wedgewood B&B; in Kamloops, I started chatting with the two other guests: Doug and Marie Mervyn. Not only were they lovely people, but it turned out Doug’s been flying since the 1950s and his son operates Mervyn’s Yukon Outfitting based in Whitehorse (and owns a couple of small planes for the business). They gave me his contact info and I’ll probably interview him for the book on aviation in the north!

The Mervyn Family up in YT

A few days later I was in B.C.’s Lower Mainland giving talks to the Quarter Century in Aviation Club and the Langley Aeroclub. Well, you’d better believe at least 1/2 those folks had some connection to flying in the north and many had been to Dawson. I now have a good-sized stack of business cards from flying Bishops and bush pilots ready to go! And it turns out that John Lovelace’s 2010 flying trip will be to the Yukon: it is Klondike Fever all over again!

Of course, when I’m in Dawson it will be the opposite of the ‘Midnight Sun’ – it will be the time of twilight at midday. But after meeting Claire Festel at the Creative Nonfiction Collective conference at the Banff Centre last weekend, I am even more excited about going. Claire grew up in the Laurentians, went to university in Alberta, and then went to the Yukon to work for one summer. And she fell in love with the place. Last October she returned south, settling in the Okanagan Valley, but was happy to share her tips for a winter in Dawson: there are yoga classes, bring your woolies (no need for ‘fall’ clothes in October), and there should be plenty of ‘community dogs’ for me to take for walks when I’m missing Riker. (Doug says I’m not allowed to adopt any ‘community husbands’, though!)

Claire out for a stroll

And while the weather will be cold and chilly, at least Edmonton is helping to acclimatize me in advance:

View out my front window this morning

A blond on the Yellowhead Trail

I’m taking a break from reno work in Edmonton for the next week and focusing on my ‘real’ work: writing, researching, and promoting myself shamelessly. So yesterday morning I packed up the Mini Cooper -still sporting Wyoming plates – and jumped on Highway 16 out of Edmonton headed for British Columbia.

A few months ago I was invited to go to Vancouver to give talks to the Quarter Century in Aviation Club and the Langley Aero Club. Back then I was so young and naive. I thought I’d have a completed draft of my novel (I’m halfway there) and that all the renos on the new house would be done (I’m a quarter of the way done the interior. The yard/exterior is a whole other story!).
These were some of my thoughts during the first couple of hours on the road yesterday. Once I spotted the Rockies heading into hour three, though, the buzzing in my brain largely stopped as my eyes struggled to take it all in: the mountains, the aquamarine lakes near Jasper, the herd of mountain goats chomping happily on grass at the side of the road.

This was my first time driving the western leg of the Yellowhead Trail (Highway 16’s more colourful name), named after an Iroquois-Metis guide who apparently had blond-streaked hair and was dubbed “Tete Jaune” by French Voyageurs at the turn of the 19th century.
Two centuries later another traveller with blond-streaked hair – me – was taking the same route, gazing at the same peaks towering over the forest. In the above photo is Mount Robson and below is what you see when you turn around. You are literally surrounded by snow-capped mountains.
Signs of spring were everywhere, even though on the west slopes of the Rockies there was still a foot of snow on the ground. When I took a break at midday it had warmed up to about 15 degrees and you could smell the warm ground and pine needles. There were butterflies and bees and looking close up at the trees, the first tentative bits of green were pushing through.
After my Mount Robson break I didn’t stop again until I reached my day’s destination of Kamloops, B.C. The scenery in the Thompson-Nicola valley is also beautiful but during the last half of my 9-hour solo drive I admit I was mostly concentrating on staying awake and wondering if I’d find a Tim Horton’s (I was seriously jonesing for an iced cap!).

At 4 p.m. I arrived in Kamloops and realized I’d forgotten the power cable for my GPS. How to find my B&B; or the rest of my stops on my week-long journey? Luckily I was given directions to the local London Drugs and found the necessary hardware (and a Tim Horton’s!) and made it to the Wedgewood B&B;, although in a bit of a daze.

I had very good intentions of working during the evening but after a walk, dinner at nearby Hoodoos Restaurant, and a cocktail (for medicinal reasons) it was lights out at 8 p.m. Pacific Time.
© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.