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Bookends: All of Yukon Sport in one big package October 12, 2015

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Bookends: All of Yukon Sport in one big package

By Dan DavidsonYukon Sport

January 7, 2015

– 766 words –

 

Yukon Sport: An Illustrated Encyclopedia

By John Firth

Figure 1 Publishing

Distributed by Raincoast Books

352 pages

$60.00

I’m kidding John Firth when I tell him that I’m getting my exercise in December by lifting and reading his new book, but he agrees with me immediately. It does, in fact, weigh in at about 2 ½ pounds on my bathroom scale. It’s what we call a coffee table book, and if you put legs under it, it could serve as an end table. It’s not the sort of volume that you hold in front of you in the air while reading it. A tabletop, or at least a lap, is required. When it comes to sheer heft, it’s not light reading.

I recall sitting down with John to discuss what little I know about Klondike sports in Riverwest Café on Front Street about a year and a half ago, wondering just how he would tackle this rather massive subject, and feeling a little odd to be on the other side of an interview. He had, of course, previously written a couple of interesting books about the Yukon Quest (Yukon Challenge) and the Yukon River Quest (River Time), as well as a book about Ramish Ferris’ quest to help wipe out polio (Better than a Cure) and the story of the Jamaican Doglsed Team (One Mush) but those were books about individuals or about a single sport. I reasoned that this was a vastly different project, requiring a different approach.

It also required a lot of interviews and research. Firth says he has been collecting stories, interviews and material for some three decades. In his introduction he credits Kathy Jones-Gates, my former co-editor at the Klondike Sun, with doing a lot of research as well.

The book is structured like an encyclopedia, with 97 entries, beginning with “Aboriginal Sport” and running through the alphabet to” Yukon Sport and Recreation”. Rather than being a general history of Yukon sports, it’s like 97 little histories, some of which overlap a bit. Each one offers up some of the bald facts of the activity, but many also contain little anecdotes, snippets from interviews and extracts from newspaper articles that were written at the time.

Most of them come with pictures but some, like the one pager on arm wrestling, are just text. The very next entry, “Athletics”, runs to seven pages and has seven photographs, one of which is in colour. The book doesn’t shy away from using colour, but a good number of the photos would have been taken back when colour pictures were less common, or when news photographers only used black and white film in the days before digital cameras, so the majority of them are black and white shots.

This is not a book to be read from beginning to end. It’s a browser, with items selected according to the reader’s interests. I can easily confess to not having read it all, and to bouncing back and forth as things I have some connection with caught my eye. Certainly I read the items that had anything to do with Dawson, and that’s a lot, because so many things start here.

Faro had an entry as well. Reading the memories of the late Tim Twardochleb not long after his passing was a bit of a wrench. I taught with Wes Sullivan in Faro, and one of my classrooms was not far away from where those weights were hitting the plywood in the hallway after school while I was marking papers during the early days of weightlifting in the Yukon.

Except for the mention of the first seasonal pool in Beaver Creek (they have a much better one now), all the entries mentioning our first Yukon home came from either before or after our three years there.

I should confess that I’m quoted three times in the book. The first one is about the revival of the Highland Games here in 2012 (not 2013, as I have since pointed out to John). The second one is how the popularity of slowpitch among high school students in the 1990s was one factor used to determine when the school year in Dawson City should begin and end. The third citation is in regards to the Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race, which I have been writing about annually since 1986.

I enjoyed my time with this book and, coming from someone whose most regular approach to sport is just walking, that’s a glowing recommendation.

-30-

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