Life 40-seconds at a time

Yukon storyteller Ivan Coyote (above) and songwriter Sarah MacDougall are excited to premier their latest collaboration in Whitehorse.

“That really feels special, for both of us, to unwrap it for the first time in the place that made it,” Coyote said. “There are a couple of family stories, and a tale about graveyards and graveyard drama. Some humour, some tears. Some grandmother wisdom.”

Coyote, who wrote the piece, is a third-generation Yukoner. Coyote’s family came to the Yukon in February 1949, when their grandmother, “pregnant and clutching the hand of her two-year-old son”, arrived by train at the Whitehorse White Pass station at First Avenue (now Front Street) and Main Street.

Coyote grew up loving the call-in buy and sell show Trader Time on CKRW. “I loved that little 30- or 40-second window into the caller’s life, through the frame of what they were looking for, or looking to get rid of, or lost or found or what have you.”

Coyote said they were playing with the idea of using the Trader Time concept, “as a springboard or an inspiration for a series of interconnected stories,” and the show is the result.

Coyote thought MacDougall was the perfect fit for the musical counterpoint.

“I love Sarah’s songwriting… her lyrics are full of longing, and loss and searching,” Coyote said. “We both talked a lot about the possible storylines, then we did a bunch of archival research, and then I came up and did some more, and some interviews, and then Sarah started to compose the score, and right now we’re in the process of… welding it together. Mostly welding. There’s a little wire and duct tape too, metaphorically.”

Coyote described MacDougall’s musical sensibilities as “essentially northern.”

“She’s from Sweden, originally, and then found her way to the Yukon, and that makes sense to my ears, musically, for her. She is a song poet, and that seemed to be a natural fit for a collaboration with a storyteller. Her words fit,” Coyote said.

Coyote got permission from CKRW to use the name Trader Time, and the show was on.

There’s no dress code at the event, however Coyote does have a suggestion: “I, for one, would like to humbly request that everybody come wearing clothes of some sort. Mostly just because it’s been cold lately. My grandmother would say, ‘Bring your mitts and scarf.’”

MacDougall is excited about the collaborative project.

“Ivan’s stories touch me deep in my soul,” MacDougall said. “The stories are fiercely bold and personal, but also universal. And to me, that is the best kind of storyteller. Ivan is also very musical, and so we connect on both a musical and word level.

“We met a few summers ago when we did a show together for the Premiers of Canada, and we quickly started the idea of building a show together.”

The artists mix storytelling with lyrical elements for an effect that is described in the Nakai Theatre event listing as “a haunting, and at times funny, examination of life.”

The description on the Nakai Theatre website says it’s about “small-town big-family politics, growing up queer in a cold cold place, the life and deaths of two very different matriarchs, and some of the secrets buried in all that permafrost.”

The show kicks off in Whitehorse on Friday, January 26 at 7 p.m. at the Old Fire Hall. For more information go to

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