Sam McGee Connects The Yukon to B.C.

Poetry reciter Andre Sutherland Begin
Andre Sutherland Begin will be reciting poems by famed Yukoner Robert Service, during the 2023 Rendezvous festival. Photo: Courtesy of Andre Sutherland Begin

“Memorizing poetry is my daily training and therapy,” B.C. storyteller Andre Sutherland Begin said, adding that he will be coming to the Yukon for performances during Yukon Rendezvous. It will be his fifth Rendezvous performance as “The Man From Eldorado,” reciting Robert Service’s two most famous poems: “The Cremation of Sam McGee” and “The Shooting of Dan McGrew.”

Not only does he perform during festivals and events, Sutherland Begin said it’s very important to show his work in senior homes. “One of my storyteller partners, her mother lived in a retirement residence … so I went there to give them a show.” The performance was followed by many more and he found a home reading to Alzheimer’s patients. Sutherland Begin said Alzheimer’s is his charity (he is dedicated to it). His late father, aunt and uncle all suffered from the disease. Sutherland Begin was first diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in 2018, after answering an article concerning memory loss. “I had noticed at college that I was having problems with short-term memory. After an interview, I was flown to Burnaby for a scan, which showed [the] amyloid plaque in my brain that causes blockage of receptors.”

Sutherland Begin started immediate tests and treatment, as a volunteer, with monthly infusions of Aducanumab (a medication that targets the aggregated forms of plaque of amyloid beta found in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease to reduce its buildup). Sutherland Begin is now in his fifth year of treatment and has had 45 infusions, so far, plus an MRI every second month. Along with the treatments, he said he is using his daily recitation of poems as mental exercise.

Sutherland Begin is a member of Moose Cree First Nation and is originally from Ontario. He also happens to be a member of the Storytellers of Canada. He currently lives in Pennington, B.C., with his wife. Sutherland Begin said he has been performing for the last 22 years. Beginning his journey in 2000 when he went back to school, attending college in Nanaimo, B.C., where he took conservation officer training. When he was asked to memorize a poem for an assignment, as part of his school work, he thought of Robert Service. “I recalled hearing the ‘Cremation of Sam McGee’ in grade school. So I downloaded and memorized the poem.”

Along with the two famous poems of Robert Service, Sutherland Begin is able to recite many more of the Yukon poet’s works.

There is a strong connection that links Sutherland Begin with the character in the Robert Service poem “The Cremation of Sam McGee”: “The Okanagan has a connection with Sam McGee because Summerland is where the real Sam McGee lived after he left the Yukon. Sam McGee came to the Yukon, during the Gold Rush, and Robert Service came across the name of Sam McGee while working at a bank in Whitehorse. The real Sam McGee left the Yukon in 1909 and moved to what is now Summerland, in B.C.”

Sutherland Begin is quite busy with his performances these days. He recently lectured at the Penticton OC (Okanagan College) Speakers Series, with coverage by Shaw Cable Spotlight Features.

But heading to the territory is always high on the list of Sutherland Begin’s priorities and he is always happy to perform during the festival.

“I will ‘Rendezvous’ as long as my health allows,” Sutherland Begin said. During Rendezvous, Andre Sutherland Begin will perform on Feb. 24 and 25, at 1:15 p.m., at the Kwanlin Dun Center reciting poems by Robert Service. He will also visit Whistle Bend Place, Copper Ridge Place and the Thomson Centre on Feb. 24 and 26 at 2:30 p.m. His final performance will be in The Railwork Lounge at the Raven Inn on Feb. 26 at 6 p.m.

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