Library Views

My first exposure to the Yukon came last December, when I arrived in Dawson City for a stint as writer-in-residence at Berton House.

Like many previous visitors, I fell in love with the place, so when I was invited to return to take part in Live Words, the 2012 Yukon Writers’ Festival, I jumped at the chance.

Again, the Yukon and its people surprised and impressed me.

The writers’ festival is a joint venture, co-produced annually by Yukon Public Libraries, Yukon Education, and the Yukon Science Institute. It kicked off with a public reception and readings at the Old Fire Hall in Whitehorse.

In addition to myself, the other guest writers attending the event were Susan Juby, Sharon Shorty, Norah McClintock and Lawrence Millman.

Dan Dowhal gives teens a digital media seminar in Pelly Crossing during the Yukon Writer’s Festival Spring Tour, April 18 to 23

We each took to the lectern to read an excerpt from our work, and I was impressed by the variety and quality of this year’s crop of authors.

The festival also dovetails with the Young Authors’ Conference, which took place at F.H. Collins Secondary School in Whitehorse, and featured more public readings, as well as workshops for aspiring young writers.

All the other authors then joined local musicians the next day for an event in Haines Junction.

In my own case, I was extremely fortunate to be the writer selected to do the Community Library Tour through the territory, which saw me visit five other Yukon communities in five days.

After a scenic drive down the Alaska Highway, I gave my first reading at the Watson Lake library. Known as the Gateway to the Yukon, and home of the famous Sign Post Forest, the community also has a beautiful library overlooking Wye Lake.

This new building was constructed to replace the previous library, which was destroyed in a fire in 1996. The reading saw an audience that included both young and old, but all sharing a passion for books.

Next we travelled to Teslin to do a Friday evening reading at the community library there. That village is located at historical Mile 804 on the Alaska Highway along Teslin Lake.

Among its facilities, it boasts two museums, including one dedicated to George Johnston, a member of the inland Tlingit First Nation.

Johnston was a photography pioneer who captured the life of his people between 1910 and 1940. Some of Johnston’s photos also adorned the wall of the library, where our host librarian had prepared a delicious dinner of soup, bannock and desserts.

During the discussions following my reading, it became clear how important the library was to the community at large.

For Saturday’s reading we headed up into the interior, to Faro. The town has a longstanding mining tradition, but is also making a name for itself as an ecotourism destination and a retirement community.

Among its attractions are viewing platforms where visitors can watch and learn more about the mountain sheep endemic to the region.

Again, I was moved by the generosity and enthusiasm of the people I met, including the local library board chair, who baked a cake for the occasion with my name on it—a first in my literary career.

My Sunday afternoon event at Pelly Crossing was something different. Instead of doing the usual author reading, I had worked with the local board to produce a custom instructional seminar targeting the teens of the community.

As a former teacher and someone with a professional background in digital media, it was felt by my hosts that I could lend some of my expertise and perspective to an emerging generation of new content creators.

Many of those in attendance were members of the Selkirk First Nation, and one of the messages I tried to stress was how traditional storytelling techniques and their unique cultural heritage are just as important as the technology that is rapidly linking them to the rest of the global audience.

The last stop of my tour was in Dawson City, and it felt like a homecoming to me, although everything looked a bit strange, since I had only known a snow-covered landscape during my tenure there from December through February.

My presentation at the library was well-attended, and we had again chosen to forgo a reading and instead do a talk about trends and issues in digital media. Given the town’s large artistic constituency, the audience was engaged and enthusiastic.

The ability to see so many different views of the Yukon and its people, including a perspective that many visitors might not typically encounter, was a rewarding and memorable experience for me, and I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity.

I also leave with a newfound respect for the important cultural and educational role that libraries play in local communities.

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