Yukon legend Dick Stevenson earned his status honestly, which, according to Captain Dick’s Au’toe’biography: One Toe of a Tale, is a rarity for the captain of the Yukon Lou and the creator of the SourToe Cocktail.
The “au’toe’biography” answers frequently asked questions such as this one: What is the history of the wooden-hulled barge commissioned as the Yukon Lou in 1971? And this one: How did the idea of a Toe Cocktail become so popular? And this: What kind of person sells drinks with toes in them?
Invigorated by the effects of medical oxygen administered to him during a recent, mild heart attack, Stevenson spent 12 fourteen-hour days writing the first longhand draft. “My hands shook at the end of the day.”
As if to spite the establishment, Stevenson followed his own rules of grammar in his unique writing style. “I wanted it the way I talk,” he said, which closed avenues to traditional publishing, but “the grammar is me.”
More detailed than his first publication, Saga of a SourToe, Stevenson notes, “There are none of the same characters as in Jim Robb’s Colourful Five Per Cent, and it’s not what’s covered by Pierre Berton or anyone else.”
Long-time Yukoners and pioneers will recognize the last days of the territory’s laissez-faire attitude, an era Stevenson laments is dead and buried under a mountain of bureaucracy.
Like Jack London, oyster pirate turned fish-patroller, in Stevenson’s early days he alternated between poaching and policing wildlife regulations.
His life reached a turning point, he says, “when I caught two peregrine falcons in the 1970s. Without them, I wouldn’t have met Danny Nolan [founder of the Yukon Game Farm], which led to a job as fish warden in Dawson and all of that,” he said, tapping the rose quartz cover of his book.
The raw presentation of a river rat hustling drinks in the Dawson bars might not appeal to everyone, but adult readers will find it refreshingly uncensored.
Lending charm to the stories are accounts of Captain Dick’s dedicated promotion of the SourToe Cocktail, a Yukon icon of 30 years, five toes and three caretakers. Letters about the Toe, from former Governor General Romeo LeBlanc, the Prince of Wales and NASA, pepper Stevenson’s pages.
A key lesson of the 64-page self-published tale is that the Toe is indeed a Yukon institution. In spite of repeated efforts to “take the Toe on the road”, it’s at the Downtown Hotel in Dawson that it’s best received.
For writers who needed to model a character on a no-nonsense rugged riverboat pilot, the $10 au’toe’biography is valuable source material and can be purchased from Mac’s Fireweed Books, Klondike Nugget and Ivory, Well-Read Books or directly from the author.
The au’toe’biography fills the gap between our well-documented Gold Rush past and unwritten literary future. More than a dry history, every page of the au’toe’biography reflects the diversity of Northern life in personal voice, social attitude and political perspective.
And, as Captain Dick Stevenson boasts, “I challenge anyone to prove what I wrote is a lie.”