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Bookends – The Yukon and the Art of the Memoir December 29, 2013

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Bookends – The Yukon and the Art of the Memoir

Lotz - Gold of the Yukon

 

By Dan Davidson

May 1, 2013

 

The Gold of the Yukon

By Jim Lotz

Pottersfield Press

224 pages

$21.95

 

There’s something about the Yukon that makes people write memoirs about their stay here after they’ve spent time in the territory and have moved on. I have two of them for you this week.

Back in 1961 Jim Lotz was working for what was then called the Department of Northern Affairs, and he got sent to Dawson City to find out how the locals were reacting to the Federal government’s BIG IDEA to drop a Stratford style theatre festival into their midst. He found out that most people were pretty skeptical about the whole thing, but that everyone realized they would simply have to roll with it and do the best they could.

The plan failed, of course, but it did give us the rebuilt Palace Grand, where the Klondike Visitors Association managed to put on the Gaslight Follies for over 30 years before the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers in 2001 caused Holland America to reduce its tour prices by taking the show off the package and removing the audience.

What Lotz realized as he returned to the territory many times over the years, was that Tom Patterson’s crazy dream created a pivotal event in the history of Dawson. The Introduction  (The City That Would Not Die) and chapter 1 (The Rise and Fall and Rise of Dawson City) comprise the largest single portion of the book and trace the history of the town, as Lotz understands it. One may quibble with some of his ideas, but it’s an engaging summary.

I can’t accept the notion that my town is, in Lotz’s terms, a Potemkin Village (i.e.: like a Soviet Era show town), but I can understand why he might think it.

The remainder of the book talks about the gold industry, and gives us side trips to some of the other places that were created by the initial Gold Rush.

Lotz has fond memories of the territory and a number of its people. He dedicated the book to Flo Whyard. He spends quite a bit of ink on the Bertons, both Pierre and his mother, Laura. He spends part of a chapter travelling the Klondike Gold Fields with my late neighbour, John Gould, and picking John’s brains about all the old settlements and operations. He visits Miller Creek and Atlin and compares their experiences to Dawson. He travels up the Dempster Highway to as far as it went in those days (Mile 73). He recalls going over the Chilkoot Pass in 1963.

His final chapter reflects on some of the changes he is aware have happened here since the 1960 to 1965 period when he knew it best. He’s been drawn back a number of times since, most recently in 2002, but at 84 he doubts he’ll be there again. I don’t think I’d agree with all of his projections and conclusions, but he was writing before the price of gold began to drop again, and some things change very quickly here.

The book has extensive footnoting and a good bibliography. The only thing it’s missing that I would have appreciated is an index. As memoirs go, it’s an engaging and interesting read that shines a light on a particular era and does so with a great deal of affection.

 

 

Four Years in the YukonFour Years

By Robert Damm

Self-published

Printed by St Peter’s Press

158 pages

 

The second type of memoir is the self-published type. Bob Damm’s is about the four years he spent as principal of the school in Elsa; a place I was never able to visit while the mine was still running and the town was active. We drove through the gated community last summer on our way home from Keno City, and were pulled up short by some Alexco employees wondering if we were lost. No. Just curious.

There are 30 short chapters in this book, with simple titles such as “The Move”, “My Students”, “Our Band”, “The Mine”, “The Bears”, and so on.

Damm worked in the school building that you can still see on the road outside the town site, and lived in a trailer next to the school. His school bell was a twin to the one I used in Beaver Creek five years later, but the school was much larger.

Among his students are a few names of people I know, including Peter Grundmanis, Bill Bennett and Mike Mancini, who is still there, running the café. Gord Yakimow was on his staff for a time.

I don’t see that this little book has a great deal to say about teaching in the Yukon, but it does paint an effective picture of life in rural Yukon in the early 1970s.

I ended up with this book because Bob sent it along to our publisher and she passed it on to me. There’s no price on it, and no indication where you could buy it, but Bob can be contacted at bobdamm@sasktel.net if you’re interested in a copy.  Anyone who lived in Elsa, Keno or Mayo between 1971 and 1975 should find this interesting.

 

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