If you’ve ever been to Lizards Lounge in the Town and Mountain Hotel on a Friday or Saturday night, you’ve seen Claire Mechan.
She’s been behind the bar making your drinks for the last fiveand-a-half years. “It’s my identifier in Whitehorse,” Mechan says. “I go into Walmart and people say, ‘It’s Claire the bartender!’”
But Mechan’s half-decade reign at Whitehorse’s only dance bar has come to an end. More than that, her career as a bartender — something she’s been doing more or less since she entered the working world — has come to an end. “I’m hanging up my bottle opener,” she says.
She’s hanging up her bottle opener and moving to Edmonton to teach at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT), where she was recently hired after completing her Master’s degree in disaster and emergency management.
More than teaching, she’s also been hired to help NAIT transform its emergency management course from a diploma program into a Bachelor degree.
Claire the bartender turned Master Mechan. “I came up here with delusions of grandeur,” says Mechan of her move to the Yukon.
Armed with a Bachelor of Arts in criminology, she assumed the job market would be wide open to her. It didn’t work out that way. “I didn’t want to bartend anymore,” she says. “But I needed to eat.”
She also needed to feed her daughter.
When Mechan became pregnant at 20, it was a surprise in more than the usual way. Doctors had told her she would never be able to conceive. “I thought, she’s here now. I’m not going to take the chance it won’t happen again,” Mechan says “Of all the things I’ve done, that’s the big accomplishment for me.”
So Gabriel entered her life. Mechan waited until Gabriel was school age, then went back to school herself, beginning her first year of university at 26. She kept bartending to support herself, all while raising her daughter on her own and getting her degree.
“Sleep wasn’t really on my agenda in those days,” she says.
Working at Lizards was a natural role to fall back on in the Yukon. After a few months she also began working at the Northwestel call centre. From there she moved to the Human Resources department, and eventually ended up working for the Deputy Minister of Justice doing special projects. Soon she added more education to the mix, and began working on a Masters degree online. After late Saturdays at Lizards, Mechan would wake up Sunday mornings and spend her one day off each week doing homework.
Gabriel is now 19 and “ready to spread her wings,” so Mechan will be moving to Edmonton without her daughter. “This will literally be my first time living on my own,” says Mechan, who had roommates before she became a mother. “It’s always just been the two of us. Even when I moved here and had no friends, she was my friend.”
Which is why Mechan liked bartending. She says it’s one of the best ways to get comfortable in a new city. “I’ve made some of my closest friends from working at Lizards. Everyone comes there, no matter what they say about it.”
But Edmonton will be different. “It will be my first time not getting to know a city through a bar,” she says.
Mechan spent her last weekend in the Yukon at the same place she spent many of her first weekends here – behind the bar, serving drinks and smiles. “Lizards been a huge part of my life here,” she says. “And a good part.”