It’s September, and as the leaves start to turn and the streets become empty of tourists, transient workers who have lived in Dawson City for the summer are hitting the road out of town.
Being a seasonal community, Dawson has seen its fair share of young people coming up for summer work. Some are old hands, with several seasons under their belts, while others are here for the first time.
Clay Regas is a cook from New Zealand. While living in a hippy house in Australia one year, he met several Canadians, including one who lived in Dawson City.
“I quit my job and decided to come to Dawson for the summer to stay with my friend. I didn’t even know what Dawson was,” he said.
After a 13-hour flight to Vancouver, feeling jetlagged and “freaking out at being in Canada,” Regas arrived in Dawson and had his first Canadian dish – a poutine.
“I’m used to different, but this is definitely different,” he said of Dawson. “I’ve never heard of using casino chips as payment.”
Regas worked as a line cook in a couple of restaurants before getting a job at the Red Mammoth Bistro. He feels he was lucky to have known someone here in Dawson, rather than arriving cold turkey, as many transients do.
“Knowing someone helps,” he said.” “I was super lucky [that she could] help me find housing, a job, etc.”
Regas planned to leave Dawson September 15 and go to Montreal for the winter.
“It’s been a blast and I’ve made some lovely friends here – connections are more bonding and intense when you know you’re going to leave at one point and it’s easier to click,” he said. “But I’m eager to get on the road.”
Michael Maclean has been coming to Dawson for four summers now. He started off with a student position with Parks Canada his first summer, worked at various businesses the following summers, and finally back to Parks as a Visitor Services Attendant this year.
Maclean didn’t know what to expect when he first arrived four years ago from Ontario.
“I expected disconnection and isolation, but in the end, I felt part of the community,” he said. “The flourishing art scene was a surprise. It’s an embracing community for summer workers.”
Maclean said he feels lucky to have come into a permanent work environment during his last summer rather than transient service work. As a result, he feels he’s seen both sides of the community.
“I spent my first two summers more with transients, but now I feel more local,” he said.
Maclean plans to stay until January for his first winter, then leave to look for work in his chosen field of design.
Sierra Megas is originally from Vancouver. She did things backwards, in that she first arrived in the winter of 2015/16 as a student in the Yukon School of Visual Arts (SOVA) program. After she graduated in the spring, she stayed that summer for work.
“Going from winter to summer, I saw all the transients arriving, the population booming – it was a bit unsettling,” she said of the sudden influx of people in the spring.
“It was crazy busy and the energy of the town shifted. I felt like holding on to winter, the peace and quiet; I felt shy and wanted to stay in the bubble,” she said.
Megas went to Toronto last winter, then came back this summer as a transient worker.
“This summer was the first time I experienced coming just for the summer. I thought about now being part of that cohort of invaders,” she said with a smile.
She is planning to leave at the end of September and may go on a road trip for the winter.
Dawson’s seasonal businesses are putting up their shutters for the winter, but next year there will be a new influx of both tourists and summer workers. No doubt, some familiar faces will be back.