November, 1972. California-born musician Mike Stockstill and two friends packed their instruments into the car and headed for Alaska.
The car was a 1942 Dodge truck that had six months earlier been a chicken coop. Mike, a mechanic, and his friends turned it back into a truck.
“It broke down every 300 miles so we had to keep fixing it,” Stockstill recalls. “We were crazy, travelling on the original nylon tires with no heater.” It was -40ºC every day.
In Dawson Creek the local newspaper ran an article about them re-enacting an original Alaska Highway drive. Stockstill laughs. “I still have the article.”
Near Pink Mountain the truck went off the road and down an embankment. “People stopped to help, but it was so steep we couldn’t be pulled out. We kept a fire going for three days until a truck hauling a Caterpillar with a winch came by.”
In Whitehorse they found an empty cabin with no roof. “We made a makeshift roof and lived in that, dirt floor and all, over the winter.”
Finances were low and food was scarce, prompting one of Stockstill’s friends to try his hand at hunting. When he shot down a seagull, it brought the game warden, Jo Lutchin, to their front door.
“Jo saw our instruments and we played together a little. He let us off with a warning about the seagull. That’s how we met.”
That spring they learned they were squatting on Whitehorse Copper property. Their house was bulldozed. They found a new place during Sourdough Rendezvous, built a green cabin and were squatters again. Until the authorities burned down their second home.
“We’d been here eight months and our cabin was bulldozed and burnt down. It was pretty tough.”
The next spring the RCMP sent the troupe to Skagway with a mission: sort out their immigration.
“Skagway was closed when we arrived and the ferry only ran once a week then, but I applied, proved I had $3,000 to look after myself for a year, got my papers and returned as landed immigrants. That was 1974.
“Just before I came to Canada I got my aircraft mechanic license and it got me in easily. There was no licensed mechanic up here and I didn’t want to move to Toronto or Vancouver.”
Stockstill has lived here continuously since. “I didn’t go anywhere for the first six years because we had no money.” The trio jobbed around until they ended up at Clinton Creek.
“I’d never worked at a mine before and I thought these rough miners would kill us hippies. Well, we got there and they were all hippies.”
In 1978, Air North hired Stockstill where he met flight attendant Juanita Barr, sister of Kevin Barr, local musician and former member of the legislature. “Juanita was a singer in our first band,” says Stockstill. “We used to play the KK (The Kopper King tavern).”
Since then, Stockstill has been in numerous bands and recently released a CD. And he’s applied four or five times for citizenship. “Each time they’d want some detailed family information that even my family can’t remember.” If it took over a year for an answer, he had to reapply.
In 2016, he finally received an invitation to be sworn in – 10 days too late for the ceremony.
“This year I wrote a letter explaining the situation and asking if I could be sworn in. After all, I’d like to be a Canadian before I die.”
So this Canada Day, 45 years after driving that bumpy road north, Mike Stockstill became one of our newest citizens.