Travels in the Borderlands

I left Whitehorse for Watson Lake on Sunday, October 3rd – a perfect fall day by any standard. Driving down the Alaska Highway with the sun on my face, rocking out to my mixed CDs (not many radio stations along this stretch of road), life was good.

I was headed to WL for a few days of northern aviation research. I had a list of names, a B&B; booked, and a vague idea of visiting the airport. Beyond that, this usually over-prepared author was playing it fast and loose. Oh god, I’m starting to go northern!

I wasn’t prepared for how lovely the Laffing Loon Bed and Breakfast would be: right on the lake with lots of room to spread out and make myself at home. Deb, the owner, and her little Bichon Frise were so welcoming, and I feasted each morning on her magnificent creations (and even one evening when she shared her batch of clam chowder with me!).

After the 4 1/2 hour drive from Whitehorse it was nice to walk around the property and stretch my legs. Then I went further afield, heading up the road where I just happend to spot a sign for a floatplane base. I would soon discover that WL is just like that: you trip over the aviation history there constantly!

The next day was beautiful as well and I crammed in as many interviews and visits as I could, finally finishing at sunset. Then I folded myself onto a lazy boy in the B&B;’s media room and watched a thriller about a writer who goes to a retreat and ends up being terrorized by ghosts… hmmm…. maybe not the best choice of movie for a writer headed up to a lonely retreat?

The time flew by in WL and before I knew it I was driving back northwest through wet snow with a notebook full of scratched-down interviews, leads for the rest of my time in the Yukon, and a couple of muffins from Deb’s oven. After a rainy-snowy drive to Teslin and a long coffee stop in the Yukon Motel with a local aviation enthusiast, I dropped on my cousin’s couch in Whitehorse.

Music of the Northland

Since coming to the Yukon I’ve been lucky to meet and hear some fantastic musicians. It may be a small territory population-wise, but it’s big on talent in this writer’s humble opinion.

I met Gerald Edzerdza (on right) in Watson Lake when I interviewed him for my book on northern aviation. It turns out another of his loves is making music and this spry 80-year-old regularly travels for fiddling competitions and concerts. He gave me a copy of a CD – The Tahltan Fiddler, Vol. 2 – and it is toe-tapping fun! To order your copy you can write to him: Box 333, Watson Lake, YT Y0A 1C0.

My next musical encounter was in the Whitehorse Airport one chilly morning. I was on my way to Dawson, and this fellow was on his way to Old Crow as part of a series of house concerts (these are quite popular in the Yukon, apparently). We made half-caffeinated small talk and went on our way.

The next time we met was in the airport at Old Crow as I was arriving and he was waiting to board the plane back to Whitehorse. Turns out he is Charlie d’Acourt, who won top entertainer at last year’s Music Nova Scotia Awards (and with good reason). His latest album, Bring on the Storm (2006), is an amazing collection of bluesy tunes (with a Maritime twist) that remind me of Jonny Lang in their emotional intensity.

This weekend, back in Dawson and under a full moon, I headed to the Klondike Institute for Arts and Culture (KIAC) to listen to Whitehorse rockabilly band, Sasquatch Prom Date.

It quickly became apparent that sitting still was not an option. Their infectious energy, fun original tracks (I Lost My Gal in the Yukon, Hillbilly Highway…), and great covers of classic tracks, got me up and boogie woogie-ing with my new friends from Dawson and beyond.
There were all manner of get-ups, a photographer on hand to take ‘prom photos,’ and a king and queen crowned (above). My favourite costume, I think, was one woman who had curlers in her hair, a face mask, and slippers on her feet. And then there were all the guys in pastel ruffled-front shirts!
Unfortunately I’d left my prom dress at home, but I did my best, trying to channel Olivia Newton-John in the later scenes from Grease: blue jeans, black shirt, big hair, and lots of makeup. Oh, and a touch of animal print (which coordinated great with the band’s guitar straps!).
Last night, though, while listening to DJ Whitebread Soundwave at the Billy Goat Pub during the “Denim Dance Party” I donned my denim mustache with pride. I felt like I was channeling my inner Hercule Poirot (Now, where is my bowler hat??).

Like I said, it’s a small place, but it’s mighty grand!
© 2011 Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail. All Rights Reserved.