I’m in Dawson City, Yukon. It is 10:30 pm on a Sunday night and I find myself walking the icy boardwalks as a few brave and hearty ravens fly overhead.
I am with a handful of Dawsonites who call this place 500-plus kilometres north of Whitehorse home year ’round. We are headed to a local watering hole for a nightcap when we stumble upon Steve.
He is by himself, but not for long. Before you know it we are clinking drinks together, sharing laughs and debating how many more bodies they will unearth while excavating the new sewage treatment plant and just how long it will take before the river freezes and the communities of Dawson and West Dawson can be reunited with one another.
This is classic Klondike living. Like a fisherman trolling in a large school of salmon, it’s not long before somebody will bump into somebody else. It is the epitome of a tight-knit community.
Friends looking out for one another.
Whitehorse is similar in many ways, but not quite like it is here.
Like many from Whitehorse, it is usually summer when I decide to venture to the Klondike, to bask in the festivities of either the Music Festival or Discovery Days.
Therefore, it is a place that triggers memories of endless sunlight, sour toe cocktails and blackjack at Gerties.
However, getting the opportunity to work in Dawson for two weeks this fall gave me new insight into the town that once boasted the sobriquet Paris of the North.
The stereotypes say Dawson is a rough town where people drink hard, play hard and work hard. What I learned is it is also a community full of creative, artistic people who care about the place they live in and the people they share their community with.
One example was an improv theatre show I helped put on through the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture (KIAC) to help raise funds for the local performing arts.
Asked only to pay by donation, the community came out in full.
Not only was it a packed house, but there were also home-made corn dogs available, courtesy of Rachel and Steve (yes that same Steve).
They donated the goods and their time, along with the other staff and the performers. The end result was an impressive $900 raised.
The Ninth Avenue Trail is another example of this community coming together.
For those unfamiliar, the roughly five-kilometre trail horseshoes behind the town, offering views of crooked homes and the Yukon River, all the while giving you a sense that you are out in the wilderness away from it all.
Over the past few years the trail was constructed by the community for the community.
Once again, dozens of Dawsonites donating their time.
Living in the North already comes with its challenges, but imagine having to decide if you want to hunker down across the river for a minimum six weeks or bunk in with a friend in town.
It is all part of waiting for the freeze-up – that time in the fall when West Dawson residents (those living across the river) have to either stock up on the necessities – booze, food and firewood – and stay on the west side, or couch-flop on the city side with a willing friend.
Sometimes it even means having to be apart from a loved one; no easy task, especially come winter or fall.
And all the while hoping for the thermometer to drop and the ice road to be put in.
It’s an odd thing to hear people complain about the weather being too warm, but it makes sense when the pathway to your abode relies on Old Man Winter.
Perhaps it was a games night at a local friend’s that summed up what Dawson is really about.
There, playing Taboo in a cozy trailer, were 20 or so close friends. Drinks and laughs being shared as more friends came and went through the night.
Almost like ravens, braving the elements together, looking out for one another and making sure each gets by.