I had the great pleasure of attending Cor Guimond’s party this past weekend in Dawson City. I don’t recall how long ago or what time, exactly, that I met Cor, but the moment I met him I knew he was going to be a lifelong friend. So, when his wife, Rosa-Lee, sent me a message saying Cor’s health was not good and that they were going to throw a party for him, I knew I had to be there.
I didn’t have the cash to buy a plane ticket from Lethbridge, where we live, to Whitehorse, but I had a fifteen-horse kicker stored in Johnson’s Crossing that Lena Moon wanted. So we made a trade; she bought me a ticket in exchange for the kicker. A real Yukon deal.
The party was held at Cor’s place in Sunnydale. I hitched a ride with Jimmy Roberts, who had his fiddle and guitar in the back. It was a match made in heaven, cause I had my guitar too. The party was already in full swing at two o’clock in the afternoon.
I found Cor among the hundred and fifty or so guests already there, talking with Stan Njootli about the time they ran the Yukon Quest. He was “halfway up Rosebud Summit” when I got there. I gave Cor a big bear hug and was grateful to see my good friend in fine form. After a quick bite and a few visits, it was time to pull out the guitars and get this thing going. Barnacle Bob was the first out of the post, with Kevin Barr hot on his heels. Then me and Jimmy banged out a few fiddle tunes, which made the birch sap run a little smoother.
One thing I miss about the Yukon is all the characters there, especially in Dawson City. I grew up hunting and trapping with my dad in the Mackenzie Delta. In them days, there was no shortage of old-timers who still lived the old way of life. All my life I’ve been yearning for those people, and I found them in Dawson. And they were crawling out of the woodwork. Anyone worth their salt was there.
I was hoping to see another Yukon legend, Cowboy Smith. Cowboy and Cor are two of my favourite Yukoners. Sure enough, he moseyed in just before Duncan hit the “ozone.” I’ve met Cowboy a few times, and he always talks about the guys from the Delta with much respect. He mushed and trapped with the best of them, including champion dog musher Peter Norberg and fearless polar bear hunter Henry Nasagluak. So it was good to catch up with him and talk about them old-timers again.
In practical terms, I haven’t known Cor that long but, like I said, the moment we met, we clicked, and it’s as if we’ve known one another our whole lives. And I can honestly say that Cor is only one of a handful that I’ve ever had that feeling with. So I didn’t know a lot of people at the party, but, as time passed, I got to know more and more people. And everyone had something good to say about Cor. He’d either saved their cheechako asses out on the trail, or they shared some hair-raising experience out on the river. I revelled in their stories and ate them up like a starving hippie.
Once we got playing, it was hard to take a break. My throat was drying up like the gold under The Pit, and we needed new recruits. The whiskey had loosened Reggie Audette up like a rusty nut, and he went up and did his signature tune, “Riders in the Sky,” with Jimmy doing the guitar breaks. The girls were squealing like snared rabbits, and Reggie’s new girlfriend had to drag him off the stage before he got mauled by a mob of man-hungry women.
The night turned cold and flushed out the greenhorns, leaving a small tribe of Cor’s closest associates to mop up the last of the whiskey—yours truly included. We laughed and cried, drank and sang, till sheer exhaustion drove us out. I give the last words to the great Texas troubadour Billy Joe Shaver, who sang these lines: “I’m gonna live forever, I’m gonna cross that river. I’m gonna catch tomorrow night. You’re gonna wanna hold me, just like I always told you. You’re gonna miss me when I’m gone.”