‘On a Retreat’, but Not Retreating

Florian Lemphers sits on the back porch of his Lake Laberge home. This vantage point offers a glorious view of the lake and the fall colours, which are in full bloom.

Lemphers rests his feet on a bench and casually sips a cup of coffee (he’s wearing a pair of Carhartts and a broad smile).

“This is an absolutely amazing place to live,” he says. Lemphers is living proof that there is “life after bureaucracy”.

The story of Florian Lemphers starts half a world away from Lake Laberge: “I was born in Sri Lanka, but our family was forced out after Sri Lankan independence because we had Dutch-German heritage. They were doing nasty things to people like us,” he says.

So the Lemphers family moved to Canada in 1956. For young Florian, it was the beginning of a brand-new adventure: “My parents had a difficult time adjusting, but I was a kid and I got to see a lot of new stuff – like snow.”

Lemphers soon became well-acquainted with snow. He and his wife, Andrea, first moved to Fort Smith, NWT, in the 1970s, and eventually settled in the Yukon in 1983.

One might expect Lemphers to have had a difficult time adjusting to life in the North, but that was not the case. “Wherever you are, you just make that your home,” he says with a matter-of-fact stoicism that accompanies him everywhere he goes.

It was a job with the government that brought Lemphers to Whitehorse, and here he began a lengthy and successful career as a Yukon civil servant – clocking out just short of the quarter-century mark.

Lemphers strains a little bit trying to remember all the different positions he has held: “I first worked for Health and Human Resources, which is now called Health and Social Services, then I was in the Department of Finance for five years and then the Department of Economic Development.”

Eventually, Lemphers became the assistant deputy minister of the Department of Education.

Generally, people lose such a job when there is a change of government. This was not the case with Lemphers; he needed to make a change of his own accord. “I was the first person to actually retire from cabinet offices,” he says.

From there, Lemphers acted as a “hired gun” for YTG. “I started doing special projects, like when the Old Crow school burned down, I was sent up to co-ordinate the response.”

Why Lemphers?

“I was sent because we needed to do things quickly and I knew which rules I could bend,” he says mischievously.

Those days are behind him now. “I don’t even pay attention to what’s happening in government anymore,” he says. But Lemphers hasn’t slowed down, and these might just be the best years of his life.

Currently, Lemphers is employed as a handyman at the Sundog Retreat, just a few kilometres from his home. It is a conference facility, a weekend getaway and a haven for local wood carvers, all in one.

“I’m the oldest person there,” he says, “but I don’t mind; it gives me lots of energy and keeps me young.”

What is remarkable is that before Lemphers retired, in 2006, he was “all thumbs” around construction equipment. “I was absolutely useless when I moved north. I had no knowledge of power tools. It’s just been in the last few years that I’ve learned by using the stuff. It’s proof that you’re never too old to learn.”

This is just the latest re-invention in a life that has been filled with many chameleon-like transformations. Lemphers seems to be confident and comfortable in almost any environment.

More such changes are on the way. “[Andrea and I] plan on volunteering in northern China, teaching English,” he says.

One suspects he’ll be good at that, too.

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