“There’s gold in them thar hills” is how Sharon Hickey, president of the Lorne Mountain Community Association (LMCA), introduced the special edition newsletter released last spring to celebrate the latest community project: documenting the area’s history.
The gold she is referring to is in the memories of all those who do, and have, called Mount Lorne home. The volunteers eager to learn about what made the community what it is today are also worth their weight in gold – they are driving the community project, called Stories and Voices from the Valley.
It all started when Christel Percival, an active member of the LMCA board of directors, and other seniors in the hamlet were feeling a lack of funded programming for seniors within the community. The group decided to undertake a history project, recognizing the treasure trove of stories that lay within the collective experience of Mount Lorne’s seniors.
Enter Agnes Seitz, executive director of LMCA, who secured funding for the project from the Government of Canada’s New Horizons for Senior’s project and the Yukon Government’s Community Development Fund.
Recording equipment was purchased and a heritage consultant provided training for volunteers in interview techniques and equipment operation.
Though initiated by seniors, the “skills day” drew in old and young alike.
The project began by focusing on the history of volunteer organisations within the community, such as the Mount Lorne Volunteer Fire Department, Lorne Mountain Community Centre, Mile 9 Dump cum Transformation Station and Hamlet of Mount Lorne Advisory Council. Then it took on a life of its own – turns out people love to tell, and hear, stories.
Percival’s favourite is the story of Cowley Station, a section house that lodged the crew who maintained the train tracks between Carcross and Whitehorse.
“Not many people know that Cowley Station existed, that that’s what the lake was named after,” she says,
It was torn down in the 1970s, but was a prominent feature when Percival, newly arrived from Fairbanks, and her new husband moved into a small cabin across from the station in 1968.
That summer was notable for the birth of her daughter, and a month-long mail strike. Luckily, she still had stamps from Alaska, and would give her American-destined letters to the crew on the train to send from Skagway.
Some of the most active interviewers have been those with long histories in the community themselves, like Diane Parenti and Claire Desmarais.
A lot of work is involved in collecting stories, from introducing the idea and convincing people that they have something worth sharing, to post-production editing and transcription. But it’s important, they say.
“I believe that in order to know where we are going, we need to know where we are coming from,” Desmarais says. “I would love to go even further back, before the mines that put in the roads, before there were white people in the valley. I will definitely stay involved.”
“By finding out what came before us we’re discovering the foundation of this community, what gave it a chance to grow into what it is today,” she says. “In the course of doing interviews I’m finding out stories I have never heard before from friends I’ve known for years. There are many more interviews to do; I would love for us to gather enough material to put together a book. At any rate, I don’t see us quitting anytime soon!”
Ian Campbell is one of the community members who has been on the other end of Desmarais and Parenti’s microphone. He enjoyed how many forgotten memories were stirred up during the interview, which involved his whole family. He says his kids remembered more than he did about their days of growing up in the Annie Lake Road area.
“Our lifestyle wasn’t unusual in the Yukon, living off-grid, with no phone, keeping animals, but it was a choice, a preference,” Campbell says. “We did things as a family, our kids would ride their horses to visit their friends. These days, communication has changed so much, so even people that live kind of like that still have Internet, phones. It would surprise me if there were many people today who wanted to give up those things.”
Perhaps Campbell’s interview will prompt some to reconsider such a lifestyle.
There is something special about hearing the voices of the people like Campbell who have lived these stories. If you can’t make it into the community centre to listen to the recordings, check them out on the community website, www.MountLorne.yk.net/stories_voices.html.
There, you’ll find a copy of the newsletter sent out to the community last April marking a year of story collecting, which includes excerpts from interviews conducted and stories community members have penned themselves, as well as PDF transcripts of the interviews in their entirety. The full audio and all related material will eventually be available through the Yukon Archives.
“It’s amazing how much people want to tell their stories,” Desmarais says. “You think they’ll be shy, but once you start recording, they just get on a roll.”
Taking the time to listen can be a great gift. Although the funding period is complete and no more has been found, Percival is optimistic that the project will continue.
A group of a dozen or so volunteers continues to meet once every couple of months to share newly gathered stories, and decide where they want to go next. They’re a loosely organised bunch, and welcome newcomers to the project and the community alike.
There are many more stories to be unearthed in this valley, and hopefully as they come to light creative ways will be found to share them both within the community, and beyond.