The Berton House Boomerang Effect

I was enjoying an hour’s quiet reading on our front deck last week when a familiar French-Canadian voice hailed me from the street. I wasn’t entirely surprised to see Mylène Gilbert-Dumas coming through my front gate.

She is a Facebook friend and my minimal high school French does allow me to pick through some of the postings she leaves there.

I had managed to understand that she was coming to the Yukon again, but my lack of skill with tenses had not allowed me to realize she was already here.

Mylène has been in the Klondike several times, including a trip to Dawson prior to her Berton House residency in 2010.

Before she even got here for her three-month residency she had written and published her Lili Klondike trilogy, a tale of three brave Gold Rush women that I hope will eventually be available in English.

She and her partner even returned a year later, and house-sat for one of the members of the Dawson Community Library Board (one of the three-partner organizations that manages Berton House) while working on her next project, which became the novel Yukonnaise (vlb éditeur), just out a few months ago.

In this novel a modern-day woman finds her independence in the Klondike.

During this trip she interviewed a whole group of capable Yukon women, whose lifestyles inspired the character for her novel, and planned a non-fiction book about them.

But while she was here she also got the notion that a book dedicated to women mushers would be a great idea. So she’s been back for a quick summer trip to set up some interviews and find some places to stay, both here and in Whitehorse, when she returns for her next visit, which should be around the time of the Yukon Quest in 2013.

All of that, however, is sort of a preamble to the main reason why I decided to tell this particular story.

Berton House writers often do make a return trip or they inspire someone else to. They may not all be as obsessive as our current resident, Winnipeg’s Joan Thomas, who tells me that she actually decided to begin writing books back in 1996, after visiting here the year the residence opened and realizing that if she did so she could possibly apply to be a guest.

Now she’s here working on her third book.

Even those writers who may have been a bit snippy in the Writer to Writer journal that each leaves an entry in before they go have been uniformly positive about the program when they talk about it to anyone outside the circle of alumni, and any negative memories seem to fade rapidly.

Some go even further and become champions of the program and the town, which brings me back to Mylène, who is a serious Dawson booster.

As I write this column there are several large trucks sitting down along Front Street, loaded with military equipment for an exercise that is to take place in the NWT. They’ve been stranded here due to a ferry problem on the Dempster Highway—because it made more sense to be here than to wait in Eagle Plains.

Mylène happened upon her fellow Québecois at Riverwest Bistro on Front Street and asked them if they were seeing the sights.

Dismayed that the sheer size of their trucks had left them on foot and unable to visit the Midnight Dome for the view (“because you haven’t seen the Yukon if you haven’t seen that view”), she borrowed a car from a friend and trundled them up to the Dome.

There they not only saw the view, but hovered at the edge of the wedding of a former student of mine, and got to watch a paraglider take off at what seemed to be a particularly apt moment during the exchange of vows.

They were enchanted and expressed the view that they had never been so glad to be delayed before during their trucking careers. I think the credit goes to Mylène.

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