Where Do You Go After The Yukon? A pillar of Yukon’s art community finds green grass in the Arctic

Twelve months ago, Harreson Tanner thought he was leaving the Yukon for good.

Like many seniors, Tanner wanted to be closer to his children and grandchildren. So he and his wife sold their Riverdale home and moved to Ontario.

“We quickly learned that we saw more of our family when we lived in Yukon,” says Tanner, 69. “We would block off time, go east and visit. With the fact that we were there, we didn’t see them as much.”

They also found the community was much less than desired. St. Thomas, Ontario, is in the middle of Ontario’s growing rust-belt.

“There were 24 different automobile plant closings in our area in the last few years,” he says. “The main street had to be 70 per cent boarded-up.”

Tanner, who networked, lobbied and hustled to build Yukon’s art community for a decade, found the cultural scene in small-town Ontario nearly non-existent. So when his wife found that early retirement wasn’t to her liking, they began to look around for options. It didn’t take long for the Yukon to beckon.

“I saw a posting that was good for Patricia (Fortier, Tanner’s wife) with the Vuntut Gwitchin government in Old Crow,” he says.

She applied and got the job.

So at a time when many seniors are looking for a comfortable retirement home, Tanner finds himself above the Arctic Circle, in a community with no road access and little industry. He has no job, is living in a doublewide trailer and finds himself cooking and cleaning, and keeping home for his busy partner.

And he couldn’t be happier.

“People are lovely, asking if we need anything,” he says. “Right off the bat they’re open and welcoming. It makes you feel you belong.”

Tanner spends his days walking his dogs (who aren’t so thrilled about doing their business in howling Arctic wind), meeting people, and building connections.

It’s quite a change from Ontario.

“We were in a community that is probably 70 per cent senior, and the seniors there are 20 years older than the seniors in the Yukon,” Tanner says. “There’s nothing to stimulate them. Here, you just look out your window in wonder.”

Tanner and his wife have met elders, taken part in community feasts, walked, hiked and driven to local landmarks. There’s been little time to get bored.

“People are more active here, and because of the nature of the circumpolar environment, people look out for each other,” he says.

It’s hard to keep an active senior contained — or isolated — even in a remote sub-Arctic settlement. Tanner is already drawing up plans to bring Whitehorse artists North to work in the community doing sculpture, painting and photography. And he’s getting involved in the wider territorial arts community, working with members of Ted Harrison Artist’s Retreat Society and Yukon Artists at Work, where he’s a founding member.

Tanner’s wife has a contract for a year in Old Crow. After that they’ll play it by ear, but leaving the Yukon again is not in the cards.

“It feels so good to be back in the arms of friends and community,” says Tanner. “It feels vibrant and alive.

“I felt like I was 90 in Ontario,” he says. “Here, I feel like I’m 50 again.”

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