Helene Dobrowolsky found her vocation as an author and historian by happenstance.
“After a few years of camp cooking, a friend told me about a job researching and writing points of interest signs along the Yukon River,” says Dobrowolsky. “I got the job partly because I was the only applicant who had actually paddled down the Yukon River. This led to other jobs with the (heritage) branch, studies in cultural resource management at the University of Victoria, and lots of learning by doing.”
In 1989, Dobrowolsky co-founded Midnight Arts Heritage Resource Consultants with her husband, visual artist, Rob Ingram.
“After several years of both working for the Yukon Government’s heritage branch, we decided to pursue the flexibility, variety and financial uncertainty of contract work,” says Dobrowolsky.
Most recently Dobrowolsky’s less secure, more flexible lifestyle has allowed her to produce a revised edition of her book, Law of the Yukon: A History of the Mounted Police in the Yukon.
This 248-page book is illustrated with fascinating photos that bring insight and humour to the riveting tales of the Yukon’s first Mounties. Evenly researched, the book includes chapters titled, “First Nations People and the Police,” and “Women in the Force,” as Dobrowolsky illuminates the complexity of early Yukon law enforcement.
She underlines the fact that strapping, courageous Mounties did not work alone, but relied on First Nations communities, and women for crucial advice, work, and support. First hand stories from elders such as Crow Flats’ Charlie Peter Charlie Sr. (1918 – 2008), and Andrew Tizya from Old Crow (1921 – 2005) are included.
This attention paid to the complexity of Yukon history has generated long-term reader interest. Originally published in 1995 in a 10,000 hard and soft cover run by Lost Moose Publishing, the book sold out and eventually went out of print.
“Harbour Publishing, who took over Lost Moose Publishing, approached me about a revised edition,” says Dobrowolsky, “The original book was a very intense year of research, writing and layout with much missed sleep. The second book was mainly a matter of updating some of the material and reviewing the new layout, on and off over a few months.”
Dobrowolsky was born in Holland, grew up mostly in rural Quebec, and attended university in Halifax before moving North in 1973.
“But now I just think of myself as a Yukoner,” she says.
And like many Yukoners, Dobrowolsky is captivated by both our natural and cultural heritage.
“(I’m moved by) how the dramatic landscape and climate has influenced the lives of everyone who’s lived and traveled here,” she says. “(I’m inspired by the) combination of the very, very old First Nations history and the relatively new history of our territory, and how it is still being shaped with major events such as Land Claims settlements.”
Given the historical nature of the book, Law of the Yukon was launched with a celebration in early August at the MacBride Museum in Whitehorse. This summer, Dobrowolsky also participated in Jessica Simon’s Parking Lot Readings series. However, readers will have another chance to meet the author at a celebratory event, as Dobrowolsky will soon release a brand new book. Her next is called Whitehorse: An Illustrated History, which is a collaboration with another local author, archivist and historian.
“Linda Johnson and I are the lead writers for this exciting and ambitious project,” says Dobrowolsky, “We worked with many other contributors including Bob Cameron, John Firth, Ty Hefner, Michele Genest, Rob Ingram, Marilyn Jensen, and Ingrid Johnson – all of whom shared expertise on a variety of themes and stories.”
The release party for Whitehorse: An Illustrated History take splace on Friday, November 29, at the Old Fire Hall. Time to be announced.