Bob Van Dijken is a man of deep convictions and strong opinions, but what’s odd is the way he expresses them.
Amid the barrage of aggressive sound bites and amped-up election campaigns that we usually suffer through, Van Dijken’s thoughtfully expressed sentiments are an anomaly – but a refreshing anomaly.
Van Dijken came to the Yukon in the early 1980s with a plan to spend six months here. However, he found the Yukon to be a land that perfectly suited his temperament, so he stayed.
“[Whitehorse] was an urban centre, but if you went half an hour outside of town you could find a place where you wouldn’t see anyone for three days,” he says.
It is clear that Van Dijken values wild spaces and has spent much of his time pursuing a vision of the Yukon that places wilderness at its core.
“I’m quite concerned about the environment and the need for protection, the balance of economic needs and the environment.”
One of his favourite ways to experience the natural world is from between the gunnels of a canoe. As Van Dijken explains, “You get caught up in the minutia of everyday life on a treadmill with no chance to experience what’s around you.
“Canoeing gives you the chance to unwind.”
Still, Van Dijken doesn’t fit easily into the tree-hugger stereotype. He enjoys many of the opportunities that living in a city offers, and he is politically astute.
Van Dijken is particularly excited about the current devolution of responsibilities from the federal government to our territorial government.
“Yukon is still in the process of growing and finding itself; it’s still being formed,” he says of our growing political independence. It’s an opportunity that he intends to make the most of.
Van Dijken works alongside International Polar Year, an organization that researches issues that are important in polar regions. “I am one of the liaisons set up in the three territories.
“I work between Outside researchers and local community groups,” he says. Given the ease with which Van Dijken traverses between the urban settings and the world outside cities, he seems suited for his job.
Among the topics being studied by International Polar Year is climate change. Van Dijken believes we are rapidly reaching a fork in the road on this subject.
“Either we will change our lifestyles through a logical planning process or by kicking and screaming,” he says.
It certainly will be a challenge, but Van Dijken is guardedly optimistic about the Yukon’s future.
“I’m optimistic because we have some wonderful opportunities to steer things in the right direction; I’m guarded because of our tendency to rely on the status quo.”
By “status quo”, Van Diken is referring to an economy driven largely by mineral extraction.
There is no doubt that many Yukoners disagree with Van Dijken’s vision for the future, but he hopes we can build a consensus by sitting at the table as thoughtful and well-balanced individuals.