A kinder, gentler red square

Friday at 4:30 p.m.

It is a time that belongs to the working man and the working woman.

It is a time when the boss — “the man” — has no influence and the workers can freely enjoy good company, good beer and good talk.

In Whitehorse, the workers have a place, too. It is The Red Square.

As in, “Meet you at The Square.”

Or, “Come on down to The Square.”

Workers of a certain world view, a certain tolerance of politics left and right (more of the former and less of the latter), know what this means.

It’s in the Yukon Mining Company Saloon at the High Country Inn.

“On the left side of the room,” says Del Young, knowing this irony would be appreciated.

Young is the keeper of The Red Square, which is, really, a red square painted onto the pleasantly distressed planks that make up the floor.

On Fridays, between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m., and maybe a little later, workers gather to talk about …

“… hockey, kids,” says Max Fraser, a Red Square regular for the past three or four years.

Politics, too, he says. Sarah Palin is always good for at least one joke a night.

“I can see her house from the deck,” says Young, earning him a grin from Fraser.

John McCain had announced the former governor of Alaska as his running mate on a Friday morning and, by the time the left-leaning gang met at The Red Square, it was already decided that she would sink his chances.

George Bush?

“We’re glad he’s gone,” says Young.

Barack Obama?

“He’s not left wing,” says Fraser. “He’s just not as far right as the Republicans.”

With a conservative government territorially and federally, do they cry in their beers?

“You could,” says Young, with a shrug.

This group has seen good days and bad.

The good days were in the very beginning with Piers McDonald’s NDP in power. At that time, they met at the Taku. The mostly NDPers and Labour earned the nickname, Red Square. It’s a name they took ownership of and a certain pride. Despite its faults, the Communist Party is, after all, dedicated to the worker.

But the owner of the bar (not Ed Isaak, but they won’t offer a name beyond that) didn’t like having a bunch of left wingers hanging around. So, he made it uncomfortable for them and they moved to the High Country Inn.

They felt at home in the new bar and painted a red square in the far corner. This is where they gather around.

“We have our regular bartender here – Josh,” says Fraser. “He’ll see us at the door and by the time we get over to our side of the bar .. in, what?

“Thirty seconds,” fills in Young.

“Thirty seconds,” agrees Fraser. “He’ll have our beer waiting.”

“And he’ll shake your hand,” says Young.

“Very welcoming,” says Fraser.

“Why wouldn’t you want to drink in a place like that?” asks Young.

Paul Martin almost joined them when he was prime minister, but his handlers wouldn’t allow him to get near the red square.

Sven Robinson was there, once.

Rick Mercer, of CBC’s Rick Mercer Report, signed the red square. But it has since been scraped off.

Is Rick Mercer a good left winger like the rest of you? After all, he works for the CBC.

“Don’t go using stereotypes,” Fraser admonishes me. “He goes after everybody.”

At about the same time that Fraser joined the group, he was developing his film-making skills and was looking for an idea. He had decided on telling the story of The Red Square, but would it be an interview? just hanging around?

When Young told him the square was looking “scruffy” and needed to be repainted, Fraser knew he had his visual. It would be of Young meticulously and lovingly preparing the floor and then repainting the square while he explained its history and significance.

Painting Red Square is a short film that resulted from this project, one that was originally intended as a learning exercise for longer-form films.

It was finished last year — “We had it for Grey Cup,” Young reminds him. “That’s right,” says Fraser – and had its world premiere at the Dawson City International Short Film Festival.

From there, it travelled to the Worldwide Short Film Festival in Toronto, then the International Film Festival in Ireland and then the International Polar Year Film Festival in Ottawa.

Just last week, it was an Official Selection of the Canadian International Labour Film Festival in Toronto and appeared at 100 other venues across Canada, including Whitehorse, which marks the world premiere of the DVD.

Besides the five-minute, 10-second documentary, there are seven other chapters in the DVD.

What’s the appeal?

“Ultimately, it’s a story of friendship,” says Fraser. “It’s about people like Del who make people feel welcome.”

Even conservatives?

“Even conservatives,” says Young. “They can even buy a round.”

Fraser adds, “They’ll get a ribbing, but it’s all good-natured.

“Unless they’re cranky. Then we’ll ask them to leave.”

“We don’t talk politics all of the time,” Fraser adds.

“We laugh at foibles,” says Young. “Everybody has foibles.”

The only criteria to join this Friday beer klatch is to show up, says Young.

“You don’t even need a card,” says Fraser.

“But maybe an acerbic wit.”

“Quick! Spell ‘acerbic’!” Fraser shoots back at Young.

Young just laughs.

And it was an easy laugh.

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