Perhaps Whitehorse’s most stately landmark is the S.S. Klondike, perched on the shore of the Yukon River. But for sheer bizarreness you can’t beat my favourite capital city attraction — on the corner of 4th and Strickland, in front of the blue and yellow Workers Compensation Board (WCB) building.
I am speaking of the large digital screen that keeps a running tally of injured Yukon workers.
As I write, the count is 786. As you read, I bet it’s notched 800.
Now, along with the migration of the birds and the colour of the leaves, Yukoners can measure the progression of a year by the ever-increasing number of workplace accidents.
I like to picture a well-intentioned focus group latching onto the notion of an injury-o-rama scoreboard. Someone must have taken the talking stick and said something like this:
“By using a large digital board to constantly update the citizens of Whitehorse re: the quantity of their injured compatriots, we will provide them with a constant reminder to remain vigilant at work.”
I’m sure the idea looked great on paper. Hell, it might even work. But my confession is that I get a twinge of excitement every time I notice that the number on the big board has changed. Despite my humanist education, I can’t help rooting for the number to get bigger.
To quickly clarify — though I have never been on workers compensation I did once break my arm on the way to work. With the exception of the gifted casseroles and the prescription opiates — which were kind of fun — the whole thing was awful.
So I know the misery of being laid up and unable to work.
More recently, a certain Notre Dame fan that I call a friend was a passenger in a head-on collision as he made his way to work at a tungsten mine in the western Northwest Territories. This time I was a first-hand witness to the pain and soul-searching befuddlement of a man on workers comp. It wasn’t pretty.
I’m aware the vast majority of the 786 people represented on the board have had an experience that correlates closely to the miserable ones I’ve noted above, and yet I still enjoy watching big numbers get even bigger on the old WCB injury-meter.
I could blame society for my condition (desensitized by digital culture) or I could conclude that I’m a despicable person (as some of you might), but hopefully the truth lies elsewhere.
Despite its sheer oddness, the WCB board has worked its way into my life; it has become part of my Whitehorse. And in the same way that I take comfort in the consistency of the changing seasons, there is something reassuring about watching the digits rise throughout the year and re-set each January.
For me, the predictable tide of workplace injuries is a sign that life is progressing as it should.