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Bookends: Murder and Intrigue in the Deep South February 7, 2016

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Bookends: Murder and Intrigue in the Deep South

By Dan Davidson

September 23, 2015

– 923 words-


Natchez BurningNatchez Burning

By Greg Iles


865 pages



When he’s not hanging out with Stephen King and playing garage band rock and roll as part of the Rock Bottom Remainders (they’re all writers) Greg Iles is busy turning his home town of Natchez, a small city of about 16,000 souls, into a place with as much mystery and intrigue as King’s beloved state of Maine.

Iles doesn’t play the supernatural card very often, though he did earlier in his career, but he does believe in the power of evil and is well aware of the ambivalence with which even good men sometimes find their way through the world.

Penn Cage, former prosecuting attorney, best-selling novelist, and currently (in the 2005 world of this book) the mayor of Natchez, is one of those men. He means well, but sometimes choses to let the end justify the means, and that doesn’t always work out for him.

While much of this book does take place in 2005, just after Hurricane Katrina savaged New Orleans, its roots are in 1963, when racial bigotry caused the death of a fine old man who only wanted to run his music store and help some down and out young men find a career fixing and playing instruments.

One of those young men had the temerity to have an affair with the white girl, the daughter of a powerful white man connected to the Double Eagles, one of the more violent offshoots of the Ku Klux Klan. Albert Norris tried to hide that boy from Brody Royal’s vengeance and died a fiery death in payment.

That death, and a number of other race related murders, sit at the back of much of what goes on in this novel, and we’re never allowed to forget it for very long.

Cage’s immediate problem, however, is that his father, Dr. Tom, is being accused of having murdered the woman who was his faithful nurse for many years back in the 1960s, around the time of Norris’ murder. Viola, dying of cancer, had come back to Natchez from Chicago to ask her former boss (and we knew almost immediately that they must once have been lovers) to help her come to a more peaceful end.

Penn Cage has no qualms about euthanasia, He’s quite sure that his father eased his own wife’s passage to peace when the cancer was killing her, and he’s always been grateful for that, even if it left him a single parent for some years. Since then he has found a new love in Caitlin, the wealthy publisher of a local newspaper, and they are planning marriage, much to the delight of his pre-teen daughter.

But Viola did not go gentle into that good night. She died hard, and her final moments were caught on video tape. It’s 2005 and assisted suicide is still a crime in Natchez, Mississippi, but this is worse. It looks like murder, and Viola’s son, who might just also be Tom’s son, has come down from Chicago breathing fire and looking for several varieties of revenge. He says Tom murdered Viola.

To one side of all of this is Henry Sexton, a reporter at a smaller town’s paper. He was a young man mesmerized by Norris’ daughter in the 1960s, and he has always wanted to solve the spate of murders and disappearances that took place around that same time and bring the villains to justice.

Penn Cage is at the centre of this story, and his chapters are given to us in the first person and present tense. Iles uses a limited third person past tense narrative style to take us into the minds of his other central characters: Henry, Caitlin, Tom Cage, and various of the villains. It’s an effective strategy for broadening the reach of the storyteller, and Iles uses it well.

When I’m flying I need something to take my mind of the fact that I’m 30,000 odd feet in the air and that those bumps are not the wheels of my truck on a Yukon Highway. Sometimes the in-flight video system will do it for me. Sometimes writing a story on my iPad works the magic. But there’s nothing quite like a good book. With a really good book I can go to a place where a bit of turbulence is an annoyance because it keeps me from focusing on the page rather than causing me to get the chills.

Natchez Burning was one of those books. Over the course of half a dozen takeoffs and landings during my month away from home, Greg Iles deviously plotted legal thriller kept me company and helped to pass the time. I’d finished all but about 150 pages of its 865 by the time we got back home.

There have been several novels featuring Penn Cage, and others in which he is a peripheral character, since Iles stopped sight-seeing around the world and the nation and focussed his sights on his home town. This book has a lot of loose plot threads and is the beginning of a trilogy. Book two, The Bone Tree, is already out in hardcover. His website reports the third book nearly finished and that this book has been optioned for a cable TV series. While the 2005 portions of the book take place in less than a week, it would take a dozen or so episodes to do it justice.






Bookends: A young woman is forced to deal with a hairy situation February 7, 2016

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Bookends: A young woman is forced to deal with a hairy situation

By Dan Davidson

September 16, 2015

– 858 words –


Not Your Ordinary Wolf Girl

by Emily Pohl-WearyWolfgirl

Published by Razorbill Canada

304 pages


eBook version, various platforms – $6.99


Sam Lee isn’t your normal 18 year old. She’s bi-racial and was raised by her feminist mom after her Chinese dad decamped. She’s really smart in a lot of ways, and is a talented lyricist and musician. She is the heart and soul of her wildly successful all-girl trio, the Cream Puffs. Jules may be the singer and front girl, and Malika may be a talented drummer, but the songs and the drive are Sam’s, worked out on Janis, her beloved bass guitar.

But, while she loves the music, the band and the performing, Sam doesn’t like the fame. She’s more of a loner by nature. She has what she calls a Clark Kent life that she tries to keep from being smothered by the fact of being a wealthy rock star. She has her own place, part of which she rents out to some folks that we don’t really meet, but we hear a lot about, and when she’s not on stage, she tends to avoid all the nonsense that could overwhelm her.

One of her joys is riding her bicycle on the paths in New York and it is on one of these night rides through the park that she is attacked by a couple of large dogs, one of which bites her.

If a lot of Young Adult fiction is about coping with bodily changes, Sam is soon in for a doozy of an adaptation. The title of the book had to tell you that she’s been bitten by a werewolf, so I’m not spoiling anything here.

Sam’s changes begin that night, as the vegetarian quickly develops an intense craving for meat, and when she actually has a chance to score with a guy she’s been crushing on for ages, she finds herself tempted to actually eat him up – and not in any good way.

There are dreams, odd things with canine overtones. There’s Marlon, who seems to know just what’s happening to her, but won’t come right out and tell her, until she actually sprouts hair and claws and makes part of the transition. There’s Owen, his brother, who seems to be something of a fan stalker, until it turns out that there’s more of a problem than that.

Marlon’s parents are wealthy and respected academics, and both of them are lycans. The curse, as they call it, began with Pierre Lebrun, and he gave it to his first son and his wife in the usual manner, during times when his inner wolf took control. Owen was born after Francoise had turned, so his case is a bit different, and he has a lot more control issues.

Owen has been looking for a mate for some time, and the only way he could get one was to turn a number of girls and hope one of them didn’t end up dead or deformed. Most females apparently don’t make the change well, something Pohl-Weary’s lycans share with those in Kelly Armstrong’s version of this mythology.

While there are more than a few tense moments in this book and no lack of physical tension, a good deal of it is about Sam trying to cope. The changes are triggered by emotion, particularly fear and anxiety, and she is full of that, not really wanting to have to deal with this new reality at all. At first, there are none of her old peers she can share her problems with, and that makes everything worse.

Her new senses and abilities alter her musical abilities to a degree as her reflexes amp up. There are issues with her bandmates at first. There are inquisitive fans, one of whom snaps pix of her gobbling down some chicken under a tree. There’s a video shoot that goes sideways and a torturous television interview.

But mostly there’s a battle for her attention between the Lebrun boys and the need, once she is aware of it, to do something about the mess that Owen has left in his furry wake all over the city.

For all the serious issues that come up, the book is very funny, with scenes like Sam scarfing down garlic ribs in the a stall in the women’s washroom at a restaurant, or the sophisticated Lebrun parents diving for the meat during a meal at their mansion.

Emily Pohl-Weary is the granddaughter of science fiction icons Frederik Pohl and Judith Merrill and won a Hugo Award herself for her biography of Merrill. Like her grandparents, she has been an editor, a novelist, with a bent towards the fantastic. She has also worked in writing groups with troubled youth in Toronto and at a First Nations, Metis and Inuit transition home there. She has written several YA novels, graphic novels and, most recently, Ghost Sick, a book of poetry inspired by tales of inner city violence.

She has just ended a summer residency at Berton House.





A Klondike Korner: The Double Bob is a Dawson Tradition June 4, 2013

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A Klondike Korner: The Double Bob is a Dawson Tradition

By Dan Davidson

January 15, 2013Chris carving

John Tyrrell, a former Dawsonite now living in Cyprus, where he is Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in Nicosia, writes to say that the Anglophiles in his city are organizing a Burns Night for January 25, and that they are following the Dawson tradition of calling it a Double Bob. This is a reference to the fact that both Roberts, Burns and Service, share the month of January as their birth months, though they are, of course, some 146 years and 9 days apart.

Both men are known as “The Bard” in their respective regions of fame, Burns being the Bard of Scotland and Service the Bard of the Yukon. Both men are Scots, though Service was born to a Scottish family living at the time in Lancashire, England.

Service believed himself to be distantly related to Burns, though his verses certainly owe more to the style of Rudyard Kipling than to the Ploughman Poet. Indeed, Service is often referred to as “the Canadian Kipling”.

The notion of the Double Bob began in Dawson close to 20 years ago now. There had been Burns Dinners, an annual tradition around the world, but members of the Dawson Community Library Board wondered if it wouldn’t be possible to inject a bit more of the Klondike into the affair. Noting that both poets were born in January (the 25th and 16th respectively), they decided to have a combined celebration and call it the Double Bob Bash.

It’s not a big gathering. Somewhere between a dozen and two dozen folk get together – some in full Scottish regalia – to celebrate good verse, good food, and good company.

The site has moved around a few times, but recent years have seen folks gathering at the Legion Hall for a potluck meal, which always includes a Haggis of some description, and Celtic music, either live or canned.

Following the meal comes the meat of the evening, recitations of poems by Burns and Service, as well as some original works by members of the feast. Some will have prepared their choices beforehand, even to reciting from memory; others will choose from a selection of volumes provided for the evening.

It is safe to say that Service, being easier to read, tends to get more space in the evening than Burns, whose faux-Gaelic renderings can be a bit hard on the tongue, but both poets get a good airing.

It’s nice to see some of our Dawson innovations migrating to other places. I am aware of one or two Outhouse Races held at points south and east of here after visitors saw our annual Labour Day Weekend event, and now the Double Bob has gone to Nicosia. This is quite fitting as the Tyrrells, John and Carol, were among those who arrived at the evening in full regalia during their time here. Avid supporters of the event, it is no wonder that they would help to export it to their current home.

The Double Bob will be held at the Legion Hall on the evening of January 26 this year.

– 30 –


* Chris carves Haggis – Chris Collin carves the Haggis with his  Sgian Gubh (ceremonial knife) after reciting Burns’ “Address to a Haggis” in 2012.



A Klondike Korner: Building the Klondike Music Puzzle June 4, 2013

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A Klondike Korner: Building the Klondike Music Puzzle

By Dan Davidson

January 7, 2013

Peter Menzies, though his involvement in both the Dawson City Arts Society and the North Klondike Highway Music Society, likes to see all the music going on in Dawson City these days as pieces of a puzzle, or perhaps something like the giant puzzle mural in the ballroom at the Oddfellows Hall, where many musical events take place in the run of a year.

Menzies acts as emcee for most of the Open Mic/Coffee House events at the hall and also for the various Home Routes House Concerts that take place during the year, and nary an event goes by without his patented mid-concert community notes.

The latest update occurred on January 5, in the middle of the monthly open mic “KiAC Saturday Night” (there’s’ actually a song to celebrate our coffee houses) but since it concerned a batch of things that are either ongoing or will be happening here during the next several weeks, it seems appropriate to highlight his comments here.
Menzies is a lead player in this as well, taking online lessons via Skype and passing on what he has learned to the others. One of his instructors has been Zavallennahh Huscroft, better known as Zav RT, who hails from Victoria.Coming right up is a fiddle workshop with Amelia Rose Slobogean, who will have visited Dawson for the second of three winter weekends on January 13. The fiddle group gets together every Sunday afternoon in the music room at the Robert Service School and some of them are regular performers at the open mic evenings.

You can read a detailed account of her work in our April 12, 2012 online archive.

In addition to lessons, the fiddlers are honing their chops by providing some of the music for the contra-dancing group that will be meeting during the winter.

As noted here last December, Nathan Tinkham recently completed recording sessions with a number of local performers and the CD sampler that came out of those sessions should appear in Dawson before spring. There is a previous sampler disc that was produced a year or so back, and it is always available at the open mics.


The music program at the Robert Service School includes a junior and senior rock band, two choirs and classes working with both recorders and ukuleles. All of these groups have made stage appearances over the last month, either at the open mics, the school’s Christmas concert or the Christmas Music Extravaganza in the hall just before the holidays.

Some of the students in the school’s junior choir are also working with former RSS choir leader (now retired) Betty Davidson in a new kid’s choir that meets at the Richard Martin Chapel weekly.

January will see an emphasis on ukulele in the Klondike, including both school kids and others within the community who are interested. Hélène Beaulieu visits from Whitehorse to help with this program.

On top of all that there is the Calypso Rose Concert, which will have occurred by the time you read this, and the remainder of the house concerts that I profiled in the fall, at least one of which (Qristina & Quinn Bachand) will feature a workshop for local musicians interested in Celtic music.

“It promises to be a busy winter,” Menzies concluded, “and these monthly coffee houses are very much a part of it all.”





* Peter Menzies.jpg – Peter Menzies takes his lessons with Zavallennahh Huscroft via Skype and then passes on what he has learned to a local group.

Peter Menzies









* Uke time – Hélène Beaulieu met with a small group of interested ukulele students in December and will be returning in January.

Uke time


A Klondike Korner: A Close Look at the Klondike’s Frozen Gold July 5, 2012

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A Klondike Korner: A Close Look at the Klondike’s Frozen Gold
By Dan Davidson
April 29, 2012   Whats Up Yukon May 10/12
– 625 words –

While we are on the cusp of a new gold rush in the Klondike, an era of exploration that is seeing a gradual shift from placer mining to hard rock mining, we do well to remember that this is just another phase of a history that has been in the making since even before the discovery on what was then called Rabbit Creek in1896.
It was placer mining that scratched the surface of this gold bearing land, and it was the clues provided by generations of placer miners that pointed the way to the discoveries that are being made today.
This little essay takes its title from a book written by my much missed next door neighbour, John Gould, who left this life to join his wife, Madeleine, on Boxing Day, 2011. John’s life was very much bound up in the history of Dawson City and the industry that shaped it.
John was the son of a Nova Scotia farmer who came west to join the annual harvest on the Prairies, as did Percy DeWolfe and some of my own relatives in those days. Mine went back home after the harvest. Robert Gould had the intention of financing his way to the Yukon. After a detour, during which he gained some mining experience, he finally got here in 1901, and eventually staked a claim in Nugget Hill.
John would grow up to work that claim, would take his bride there after his World War II military service in the RCAF, and would work that claim on and off, first with his father, and then with his son, Peter, until 1998.
It was a rugged claim with a gorgeous view, as I learned when I spent an afternoon there with John and Pierre Berton during the filming of a television special about Berton’s life.
Along the way, John also spent 13 years working for Klondike National Historic Sites, developing a passion for history that found a bit of an outlet in articles he wrote for the Klondike Sun, and a bigger outlet in his first book, Frozen Gold (Pictorial Histories Publishing Co., Inc., 106 pages, 2001). The book is a slender, well-illustrated treatise on early Klondike mining technology, as Gould experienced it during his 92 years.
John and Madeleine also ran the Goldrush Campground in the center of Dawson for some years, so you can say they were involved in all three of our town’s economic pillars.
That Frozen Gold was considered significant can be judged from publisher Stan Cohen’s decision to publish it. Cohen’s usual fare was picture books, aimed at the tourist trade, thin on text and priced just under $20. Stan has told me that he considered this book important enough to vary his formula. Sadly, the book is currently out of print, but there are still copies available in various Yukon outlets.
Used copies are available through various online resellers, at prices ranging from $50 to $220.
Gould’s book has lots of photos, drawings and diagrams (108 photos in 112 pages) but it also has a lot of text. There are three major sections, subdivided into from three to six chapter headings. These cover the setting, the methods and the types of gold extraction techniques.
In a sense, you could say that Frozen Gold tells about the early days, skips right over the corporate era of the dredges, and continues on with methods which, though modified by time and more advanced equipment, are directly descended from those used by Gould and his family over three generations.
It’s a story that will probably continue, even as the next rush overtakes us.


A Klondike Korner: The Origins of Berton House, Part 2 June 2, 2012

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A Klondike Korner: The Origins of Berton House, Part 2

By Dan Davidson

April 2, 2012

What’s Up Yukon, April 12, 2012

When I left this history, Pierre Berton had bought back his childhood home for $50,000 in 1989 and had donated it to the Yukon Arts Council, which collaborated with the Klondike Visitors Association in setting up the Berton House Writer-in-Residence Committee to make decisions about how to handle the property.

In 1991, about a year after those early discussions, I was asked to join the group. The other local names that appear most often in my files are Helen Winton, Joann Vriend and Leslie Piercy. Our meetings were held via conference telephone at Yukon College, in a room that is currently one of the studio classrooms at the Yukon School of Visual Arts.

On the other end of the line, sitting in Whitehorse, were Jack Wenaus, Sharon Sweeny and Richard Lawrence, to name a few names that turned up regularly.

We researched residency programs from all over the country and nevertheless came up with a project proposal which is quite unique as such things go. Most of them involve teaching some classes or having regular office hours to be available for public consultation as a part of each day. Most are connected to colleges and universities.

This one had none of those features.

The program was to be managed by the Berton House Writers Retreat (BHWR) committee, with on-site financial and maintenance assistance from the Klondike Visitors Association (it funded the building’s $97,000 restoration) and local scheduling by the Dawson Community Library. Regular contacts on its board have been Suzanne Saito (now retired), Betty Davidson, Kathy Webster and Bonnie Barber, plus a succession of public librarians.

We were ready to launch in 1996, with Pierre and Janet Berton and sister Lucy Berton Woodward in attendance. Russell Smith, of Globe and Mail fame, was the first writer and he just about finished a book while he was here.

Writers residing at Berton House really have only two obligations. The first is to give public readings in both Dawson and Whitehorse. The second is to experience the Yukon and allow it to influence their work. They may be writing about the North, or not. They may be writing history, essays, poetry, fiction or children’s books.

Then there are optional activities, which occur at the authors’ discretion.

Most writers also interact with the Robert Service School at whatever grade level is most appropriate during the months that school is in session. The way the schedule is set up means that there is at least one month in each residency when this might happen.

Some offer writing classes through the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture. Recently, some have given a reading or lecture at Yukon SOVA. Some meet with the sporadically functioning local writers’ group or participate in oral readings at the Library. Some will look at manuscripts or comment on the work of aspiring writers.

Some will be on deadlines and will be almost hermits at the residence, but there aren’t many that do this.

Some bring their spouses and even their children with them, though these are the exception, and the house has only one bedroom since the makeover by the Designer Guys in 2006.

It was two years before the residency dared to go year round, and we found it was better for the building itself to be occupied once we had done that. So what began as a seasonal program evolved into one with four three-month seasons and has attempted to be so ever since, always managing at least three.

Most of the residents have been from Outside, though there have been a few last minute cancellations that opened the program up to Whitehorse writers. When I had the pleasure of looking through the applications, there were about 70 of them annually, and that seems to have remained constant since then.

When the Yukon Arts Council withered away, the Berton House Writers’ Retreat committee remained, headed by Yukon News publisher Steve Robertson, who also assisted with his credit card at times when cash flow was a problem.

When it appeared that the Canada Council for the Arts was going to withdraw some essential funding, the BHWR chose to shelter under the wing of the Writers’ Council of Canada, which is now the major partner in the project, and selects the writers annually. The selection panel includes former alumni and a Yukon or Dawson writer when that it possible.

As noted here two issues ago, our last writer was Lawrence Hill. Tim Falconer joined us two weeks ago and will be here until the end of June. He happens to be one of our Dawson co-editor’s former professors, so you may hear something more about him from her.



* Berton House 2 – While the signs clearly identify that the building is a residence and is occupied, and a interpretive stand with plaques at the bottom of the lane explains everything about it, summer tourists have been known to hold cameras and video recorders right up to the windows and, on several occasions, to walk right in with cameras running.

A Klondike Korner: The Origins of Berton House, Part 1 June 2, 2012

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A Klondike Korner: The Origins of Berton House, Part 1

By Dan Davidson

March 19, 2012

What’s Up Yukon, March 29, 2012

“Like all famous sons, Pierre Berton sometimes gets a mixed reception in his home town, but you’d never have known it to hear the spontaneous applause that broke out from the crowd of some 200 people as the tall man in the dark blue blazer strode out onto the balcony of his boyhood home on the evening of August 14. As KVA manager Denny Kobayashi, put it, the crowd welcomed the Bertons, Pierre, his wife, Janet, and his sister Lucy Woodward, home.” 

Such was the opening paragraph of the story I wrote in August of 1996 when Berton House opened as a Writers’ Retreat for the first time. The story of how this successful program, now having seen 58 writers pass through its doors, seems to have gotten lost during a number of management transitions over the last few years.

This is partly because the current website, a lovely thing maintained by the Writers’ Trust of Canada, which now owns the program, did not retain any of the historical filings from the original website, which can still be found on the web if you know what to look for. Contact me if you want to know.

The development of the program actually began decades ago when Pierre Berton’s boyhood chum, John Gould (who passed from us on last Boxing Day) and the Klondike Visitors Association’s Giovanni (Joe) Castellarin (also no longer with us) first approached Dawson’s most famous writer and television personality about doing something to recapture the house in which he had spent most of the first 12 years of his life.

They thought ii would make a great tourist attraction for, in those days, as current writer-in-residence Lawrence Hill noted at his recent public reading, there was still hardly a home in the country that didn’t have at least one of Berton’s several dozen books on its bookshelves.

Frank Berton had bought the house in 1920 for $500, and the original nine metre by 12 metre structure was home to the Berton family until 1932. During that time, as Pierre noted, it was one of the few clapboard sided homes on Eighth Avenue, and it had no running water or bathroom facilities.

“The only convenience was a single holer in the basement which was reached, not by a stairwell, which didn’t exist, but by a ladder leading down from a trap door in the kitchen,” he wrote. “I remember it well because the trapdoor was left open one day and I tumbled down it, without any perceptible injury.”

When the kids got too old for their cribs, Frank added the north end of the building, consisting of a second bedroom and a new kitchen. Then Frank’s job as the mining recorder was eliminated in one of those cost cutting exercises with which we are about to become familiar again, and the Bertons relocated to Victoria, B.C.

Frank was later rehired to a post in Dawson, but the Berton family remained in Victoria, and Pierre didn’t see much of the place until he returned to work in the gold fields for the Yukon Consolidated Gold Corp. while he was putting himself through university.

It took John and Joe a number of years to convince Pierre to invest in the house, which he had seen declining under a series of different owners during the numerous visits he made to the town (including a river trip recorded in the book Drifting Home).

When he did decide to invest the $50,000 dollars it cost to buy the house and property in 1989, he did so through the agency of the Yukon Arts Council, with the proviso that the building not be turned into some sort of museum, because Dawson had “too many damn museums already”.

Shortly thereafter the YAC established a Berton House Committee, which had its first meetings in Whitehorse in 1990. Within a year the committee members realized that there needed to be some Dawsonites involved in the design process. That’s where I came in.

To be continued …



* Berton House – The south end (right) or Berton House is the original building. This angle of photograph has fooled some applicants into thinking that the house is out in the woods, but it’s actually surrounded by homes, with Robert Service’s Cabin directly behind it across Eighth Avenue.

A Klondike Corner: Driving Depends on Icy Conditions March 19, 2012

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A Klondike Corner: Driving Depends on Icy Conditions

By Dan Davidson

March 5, 2012

March 15/12

– 625 words, including caption –

It’s hard to think of an icy road as being anything but dangerous, but that’s not always the case. In Dawson it can go both ways.

For those wanting to drive from downtown to the Dome subdivisions, Mary McLeod Road is often the preferred route, especially for those who live along that road on the stretch past the graveyards.

There is another route, up the Dome Road out by the ball field, and I’m told that if your destination is the three subdivisions in what I call Literary Heights (‘cause all the streets are named for writers) that the distance is about the same. Still I prefer that tree lined drive up Mary McLeod when I can use it.

The thing is, it’s a seasonal road, and it was closed to prudent vehicular traffic about a month ago. Why? Because of the ice.

The groundwater on the hill doesn’t freeze as long as it stays underground, which is what it does most of the year. The evidence of flowing water can be seen in the steam rising off the tailings piles along the Klondike Highway at -25 or lower. The hill is about the same except that there always comes a point during the winter when the water is forced to the surface and flows across the road.

And then it freezes, forming something we refer to as the glacier.

Eventually it gets too thick and persistent for the city’s ploughs to clear away and then they close the road. People still walk it, and it’s a route for snowmobiles and ATVs, but it can get nasty enough to

damage the undercarriage of a vehicle, or cause total loss of traction, especially coming down, so it’s best to take the other route until the glacier melts in the spring.

At the other end of the spectrum, we have the ice bridge across the Yukon River, which provides an easy route between the town and the settlements of West Dawson and Sunnydale for four or five months of the year, depending on how fast the river freezes after the ferry is pulled in October and how quickly the ice rots in April.

The ice bridge starts out as a foot trail and is expanded by users over a period of weeks until dogsleds, snowmobiles, ATVs and lighter trucks with blades have pounded and smoothed it into something that regular trucks and cars can travel on. Then the Dept. of Highways takes over, flooding and scraping it into a massive boulevard causeway that even I don’t mind driving on.

At that point the ice is about two metres thick for most of its width.

This year, however, the west bank approach took a long time to fill in and just today I saw a two person Highways crew out there flooding it to freeze harder and thicker. In spite of warmer days these last few weeks, it’s still well into the -20s at night here and that lets the fresh water (pumped up from a hole drilled down through the ice) set nicely before the next dawn.

They’re thickening it now so that heavy equipment will be able to move across and be read to open up the Top of the World Highway a couple of months from now.

I may be hard to believe that extra flooding on the ice bridge could be a sign of spring, but that’s pretty much the truth.



* RCMP and Flooding: An SUV from the local RCMP detachment cruises the ice bridge on a March afternoon while the Highway’s crew works at flooding the other half of the bridge off to the left.

* The Glacier – There wasn’t room for this image in What’s Up Yukon, but there’s lots of room here.

A Klondike Korner: Sunshine and Shadow in the Winter March 19, 2012

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A Klondike Korner: Sunshine and Shadow in the Winter

By Dan Davidson

February 6, 2012

Feb. 16/12

– 706 words, including photo caption –

Our dog, Shadow, is outside this afternoon, has been for about half an hour. The sun has reached the point where it actually shines directly on 7th Avenue for an hour or so and she wants to take in as much of it as she can.

In the darkest part of the winter she mopes around the house until the sun finally shines again. Before we lose direct sunlight entirely in the late fall she eagerly awaits the time of morning when it shines through the back window onto the kitchen floor, and then flops down in the sunbeam, inching with it as it moves across the floor.

Unlike the actors in that silly laundry detergent commercial we’ve been seeing lately. Shadow does not “laugh at winter” and jump at chances to go outside and do things no matter how cold it gets.

She’s fine today, when it’s crept up to -18 in town and the sun was shining so brightly that I actually decided to wear sunglasses when I drove out to the airport, where, for a change, it was four degrees warmer than it was in town. But let the temperature drop below -25 and she starts to take ever-shorter excursions out onto our snow-covered lawn.

At -40 she’s even reluctant to answer the call of nature, but so far that just means that she has become more efficient at lower temperatures. None of this questing around to find just the right place, the way she does in the summer. In deepest winter she’s out quickly and back in just as soon as she can manage it.

The difficult thing about winter for her is that she loves her daily walk and she loves to run. She doesn’t like booties, but she needs them when it gets really cold. She doesn’t like her gentle leader (or halti) either, but she’s part sled dog and part Border collie and without it she’s a puller who can wrench your arm when she decides to investigate an interesting scent or movement.

Walks are pretty short in the deepest, darkest winter.

Running is harder to accommodate, but without some substitute she’ll go tearing around inside the house almost the way cats do sometimes, so there has to be an alternative.

There’s a trick we used to do with our first dog that we haven’t been able to use with Shadow until this year. It’s taken this long to get her to respond to calling her name or whistling for her when she’s outside. It’s not that she’s dumb, but she’s really independent when she’s not indoors.

This winter we tried out the perimeter run again when it hit -40, and it worked just fine.

The trick is to put her out the front door, ignore her when she scrapes at the door or front window, go to the back door and call or whistle for her. The first time it took her a few minutes to catch on, then she ran around the house to the back door and came in.

Repeat as needed.

By the third or fourth time she’d caught on, came in the back door and raced to the front door, ready to do it again. We did it several more times, and she got faster every time, until finally she was already at the back door by the time we got there to call her.

When she’d had enough, she stopped going to the front door, curled up on her rug in front of the television, and we knew we knew we were done for the day.



* Shadow 1.2 – You’re back! Shadow waits eagerly at the fence for our return after a trip to the grocery store.

A Klondike Korner: A Fortnight in the Freezer March 6, 2012

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A Klondike Korner: A Fortnight in the Freezer

By Dan Davidson

January 30, 2012

What’s Up Yukon, Feb. 9/12

– 598 words –

Today was one of those overcast days when the sun didn’t manage to break through and all we got as indirect lighting. When this happens I can’t help but feel a bit cheated.

The sun has been back for a couple of weeks now, and while it isn’t quite hitting the streets much yet (a bit on Front Street) it does turn the hills across the river golden by noon and lights up the Moosehide Slide a little bit more each day.

So when there’s cloud cover and all we get is the diffuse reflected light so beloved of interior designers, it’s a little disappointing.

I’d seen the sun gilding the tops of the trees from my living room window a week or so before it decided to get really dramatic, but then we had a few days of very cold weather, complete with ice fog, and it didn’t show.

The next time I really noticed it was on January 23, while driving down Queen Street to the post office. The street ahead to me was shadowy, with a few patches of pallid brightness reflecting off buildings, but the hill just past Front Street was brilliant by contrast.

It made the day seem warmer, though it really wasn’t.

It’s been hovering between -35 and -45 in town here until just recently, and it’s been colder down the valley. It crept above -30 and into the mid-20s a couple of times, just long enough for our latest Berton House writer-in-residence, Dan Dowhal, to make the observation that the minus 20s really are warmer than the minus 30s and 40s. He’s been trying to explain it to some folks back in Toronto, where they moan about -8, but he says they just don’t get it.

(Dan, by the way, will be giving a reading at the Dawson Community Library on February 16, a couple of weeks before his term at the house comes to an end.)

At lower temperatures that fluffy snow I mentioned a few weeks ago tends to settle and harden, and you have to chip at it to get it to move off your steps and walkways. Someone who was in desperate need of doing this stole both our aluminum shovel and our ice chopper near the beginning of the cold snap, They were leaning up near the gate on the inside of our fence and they vanished.

The newer plastic shovels, though light and easy to handle, are of little use in the really cold weather. They don’t bite into the snow well, and have a tendency to crack under the kind of impact you need to use to get the job done. Once the snow has compacted you need a metal blade to move it.

With the sun up by 10 a.m. and not setting until nearly 5 today you can imagine that it’s a good deal cheerier here than it was during the deepest dark weeks. Still, it’s never as totally dark as some people think. Just last weekend I heard a friend say that she’s finding a need to wear sunglasses in the afternoon, even on those overcast days, and it’s true that the reflection off the snow, from both the ground and the nearby roofs, can be quite bright, even when you can’t see the sun.


– 30 –


* Sunshine 1 – Queen Street between the Robert Service School and Diamond Tooth Gerties was in the shade, but there was light at the end of that tunnel.

This is the photo I actually wanted to run with this column, but the magazine wanted a different one due to the low resolution of the iPod image. It works just fine here.