Oscar at the Fish ladder in August. Photo by Christa Galloway.
When our family first arrived in Whitehorse in January 2014, we took a look at the neighbourhoods in a town guide. There was Porter Creek, Copper Ridge, Hillcrest, Hidden Valley and Riverdale, amongst others.
“I want to live here,” I announced, pointing at Riverdale.
The main reason for this declaration was that I am a huge geek and the name Riverdale was close enough to Middle Earth’s Rivendell to make me want to live there. If I could live anywhere, real or imagined, Rivendell would be the place.
Another reason was that I saw that Riverdale had it’s own place, community centre and grocery store, making it like it’s own little small town away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
We didn’t move there that January, but here we are a year later, living in Riverdale. Plus I now work for the company that makes those very same guides. Who'd a thunk it.
There are no elves gracefully patrolling the woods with bows and arrows, but it’s pretty darn magical here. Sometimes we get a great winter ice fog coming off the river, glinting in the low sun. Our protected little valley gets very little wind, so the trees tend to stay adorned with snow much of the time.
Our street is Pelly Road. It’s a quiet street with very little traffic. Looking out my front window I can imagine Oscar playing in the yard and visiting the neighbour’s trampoline with few worries. Our back yard opens onto the green belt, forest, trails and mountains.
Riverdale does have it’s dark side. Connected to Whitehorse by one bridge, the weekday commuter traffic in Riverdale can be a pain, by which I mean my commute can take 30min instead of 15min. This is why I start work at 8am, I pretty much miss the traffic completely. I know, city life eh.
A Tangent about my street, Pelly Road: The name Pelly also graces a crossing, a formation, lakes, mountains and a river, all of which were named in honour of Sir John Henry Pelly who was governor of Hudson’s Bay Company almost two centuries ago. It’s also a nickname for a pelican in Roald Dahl’s “The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me,” a thoughtful housewarming present for Oscar from family in the UK.
We took a little hike on boxing day. This spot on Grey Mountain Road is not far from where we live is about a 15 min drive and a 30 min walk from where we live in Riverdale. If we were a little more ballsy we could have actually driven to this spot but there was a few inches of fresh snow on the road and we were warned by hikers that the road gets narrow and difficult the higher up you go. We ended up parking and doing the rest of the road on foot. As we were walking, a station wagon careened up the hill. Where the snow got deep we could see where the undercarriage of the car had left tracks in the snow and we came across it later, almost at the top where the road ends at the cell tower. The next time do this hike we will see if Fi can make it all the way up, then we'll take the trail across the top of the mountain.
It may be getting darker but the sun is still setting at midnight.
We made a deal.
The deal was that any day Rich wasn't substitute teaching we would pick one activity to do as a family. It could be skating at the LMCA (that's what we locals call the Lorne Mountain Community Centre), visiting the Wildlife Preserve, taking a road trip or snowshoeing. Well, today it was -27C so we decided against all those and opted instead for a family swim at the Canada Games Centre.
Here's the thing. I'm one of those people who feel out of place in a lot of situations. I've made my peace with it. I feel most comfortable when I'm camping at McCrae lake back in Ontario or hiking the Bruce trail, but take me out of my comfort zone and it's a different story.
One of the areas I feel most like a fish out of water, ironically, is in the water, specifically the water contained in a community swimming pool.
I still remember my dreaded swimming classes in school. Eye glasses were not allowed and voices echoed and bounced off the walls in the tiny pool room. This meant I was essentially blind and deaf and the majority of time I had no idea what was going on.
It hasn't improved much now that I'm older and supposedly wiser.
There's the whole secret and varied system for getting in the pool. My first time at the Wasaga Rec Plex I stood outside the change room doors for 15 minutes once until someone used a key card to open it. Then there's the little things I never seem to know, like you need 50 cents to get a locker. And then there is the litany of rules everyone else knows but me until someone tells me off or I read it on the wall after it's too late. You get the idea.
The Canada Games Centre in Whitehorse is a huge imposing building with three ice rinks, several pools, a fieldhouse, a flexihall, and two restaurants among other features. The first time I went in to check it out, I grabbed a brochure and went straight out again. Here's what happened this time...
I walk in the change room area with Rich and Oscar. I've got my peeps with me this time. I now know to bring a towel because of a previous experience. And I have bags for the wet swimsuits (also learned from a previous experience.) Rich goes into the men's change room. I stand there with Oscar and stare at my two options, the women's change room or the family change room. I open the door to the women's, I see a bum, I close the door. I wish I was more evolved, I'm just not there yet.
I try the family door. Several waiting mothers heads swivel towards me, eyes shooting daggers. "Wait your turn," I imagine the eye daggers say. Ten minutes of the one hour family swim time tick by slowly. A bead of sweat rolls down my neck and I peel off our winter jackets and hold them awkwardly.
I see Rich in the pool looking for us. I catch his eye and shrug. He smiles and says, "Just change Oscar in the hall, then he can come in the pool at least."
I love Rich. He is the opposite of me in so many ways. He is not daunted by the huge Canada Games Centre in the slightest. It could be because he's spent a lot of time in pools as a swimmer and a coach or maybe because of his glorious disregard for the rules, he looks totally comfortable.
I change Oscar in the hall so he can join his already wrinkling father. One mother looks at me sympathetically. "You can change in here," she says, pointing to the bathroom her son has vacated. I do the quickest change ever, I'm talking Clark Kent in a phone booth quick, and scoot out into the pool, worrying that I'm breaking a rule.
Just as I'm wondering if this is all really worth it, I see Oscar's ecstatic face. He's found a ball with lightning McQueen on it and he's playing catch with Richard, laughing with delight. As we play, my worries begin to fade. As we are carried around the lazy river, one of the most fun pool features ever, I'm hard pressed to remember what my worries are. Now Oscar is floating around by himself in his water wings and braving the water slide and I'm having a great time. Instead of the anticipated scolding for some unknown rule, the lifeguard laughs at Oscar's shenanigans and turns on the big water slide for us to try.
After a hot shower and a nice sandwich for lunch we let Ozzie loose in the children's play room. He makes a new friend and a fort, does a few Lightning McQueen impersonations and climbs everything climbable.
It was a good day. Once again the combination of family support, and our new home have helped me grow.
I am proud to say that as of today we are officially members of the Lorne Mountain Community Centre! Rich was even a volunteer at the 2014 Carbon Hill Sled Dog & Skijor Race. He was the man with the stick doing the timing for the 10 mile dog sled race. He had the power to launch a team of energetic huskies with the wave of his wand.
I was on Oscar duty. Keeping him close by I was able to take some shots near the start. It was great to see the frenzy the dogs were in, raring to go. One dog in particular seemed to effortlessly levitate himself.
I could have photographed these dogs all day, but Oscar spotted some other kids playing and wanted to join in. Since he hadn't had much chance to play with other kids since we moved out to the boonies, motherly love won out over the love of photography and we joined the fun. Some of the kids Oscar was playing with were francophone, and although they were speaking different languages, they all seemed to understand each other just fine. I got to practise ma francais un peu.
In between mountain climbing and playing, Ozzie took snack breaks. His snack of choice, snow of course.
All in all it was a great day. We came back in the afternoon for the Arctic char supper and awards. We met lots of friendly locals and we're really starting to feel part of the community. As we keep hearing, "You either love it here, or you hate it." And we love it.
My writing career has not taken off but my writing skills seem to have paid off. The cover letter and resume I dropped of at Air North for the position of flight attendant at least got me an interview. The big day is Jan 24. If I get this job, the road north will take to the sky. Air North flies from Whitehorse to Dawson City, Inuvik, Fairbanks, and a place called Old Crow among other destinations. I would love to have an opportunity to visit these places.
There are many many upsides to living in the boonies. Ozzie and I saw a moose wander across a field through my window just this morning. But there are downsides as well. Namely, not having a car and the fact there are no neighbours, so no other kids around. If I had a good job I would be able to buy a car and put Oscar in daycare. I do love living here but I would love it a lot more if I could leave at will and if Oscar could play with other kids.
Here's the hitch. I suck at interviews. Ian Johnson of Princess Cruises once told me he almost didn't hire me based on my interview, and I was an awesome employee. I ended up working on cruise ships seven years, being assistant manager and many of the templates I designed are still in use.
If I could write the answers to the interview questions I might be okay although I looked it up and I'm pretty sure it's bad form to do so at the actual interview. A few beers might help but again, beer breath is bad form, and possibly slurring my words wouldn't help my cause.
To be fair, my last interview was 13 years ago, so I might be much better at interviews. Equally I could be much worse at it. I guess I will find out in four days.
At long last we found the Mile 9 Dump, a.k.a. The Robinson Dump, a.k.a. The Mt. Lorne Dump, and also the location of the fabled Free Store. Rich had spotted it earlier on his commute and we went on a family visit to plunder it's treasure, visions of sofas bouncing in my head. I almost grabbed some cash on the the way out, and then I remembered, it's free.
It's also not as fantastic as I envisioned it.
You may not be surprised by this.
I guess I had a vision of a used but nice living room set, staged kind of like you might see at ikea, with a friendly free store manager to help us make our selections and hold our choices until we could get back with the trailer. Then he would kindly help us load it and make some suggestions for colourful accents.
It wasn't quite like that. There were no sofas. There were two pieces of furniture, a broken down desk of the plastic variety and a heavily chipped veneer drawer unit. Not the weathered solid wood gem that a little elbow grease could restore to it's former glory. Not the living room set that house guests would crow over and marvel at our cleverness for getting for free. Alas, I think it might take more than one trip to the free store, some kijiji trolling and hopefully some furniture clearance sales to make our place more comfortable.
It was a big day today. Rich’s application to be a substitute teacher was accepted, I applied for a job as a flight attendant at Air North and we signed a rental agreement.
We decided to go for it and rent a place out in the country. It’s the top floor of a log home with gorgeous views out of every window and an active community centre nearby. By nearby I mean 7 kilometres so I might have to invest in a snowmobile or get really good at cross-country skiing to get there and back during the limited daylight hours.
In case you are wondering, this is the same place we fell in love with from the photos while we were back in Ontario and the same place the boot salesman at the outdoor store recommended to us. It’s even better in person.
Also, it was the only place we could afford. Rental prices here are insane! Apartment rentals cost more than Edmonton and to buy a condo downtown Whitehorse will run you about the same as a condo downtown Toronto. Plus three quarters of the listing say no pets. No pets, no parties, no smoking is the general tag line at the end of listings. Even our landlord today told us no parties. He’s one of those unexpressive blokes whose serious voice is almost identical to his deadpan joking voice so I’m not entirely sure if he was joking. He and Rich should get along well though, they can be inscrutable with each other.
We are splurging on dinner at the b&b tonight and we move into our new home tomorrow. I guess we will see if we really are country people!
Since my photos from today and yesterday stubbornly refuse to upload, I will attempt to describe my first impressions of Whitehorse.
At first it was not great. The first time we drove in to town was after 3pm, therefore it was pitch black. Also it was snowing. A lot.
Today was a different story. Whitehorse is a flat area on the bank of the Yukon river, but surrounded by mountains. For me, this feels safe and comfortable, cradled and protected by the foothills. There is, however, the promise of adventure with sharp peaks showing in the background.
Downtown brings to mind more of a small town or village than a city of 30,000 people with the odd quaint log-style or post and beam building. The main street is mostly small independent shops without too many big box stores, they have been relegated to an area closer to the highway. The neighbourhoods are mostly in the hills around the main city and dotted with snow-covered forested area and trails. Each of these neighbourhoods have their own elementary school and some have a small plaza.
It may seem perfect (to us anyway) but one snag is the rental rates. Therefore I am now tasked with a different type of writing as I tweak my resume to convince To Whom It May Concern that I am someone perfectly suited to be a flight attendant, just in case my writing career does not take off.
I was rudely awakened this morning by Maggie’s passive aggressive “I want to go out” behaviour. Generally this involves pacing, loud yawning and scratching followed by meaningful stares. Did I mention this was at 5 am? Snapping on a lamp I blearily located my coat, hat, gloves, leash and boots while trying to convince Oscar to go back to sleep. Maggie did her business, I curled back into bed and ten minutes later… scratch, scratch, yawn, pace and stare. So I did the whole routine again and she did her other business. By this time Oscar is well and truly awake and I am well and truly sleepy and Richard continues to snore away merrily.
So you can imagine my surprise and horror when a couple of hours later while we are enjoying coffee and conversation with our hosts and a fellow guest after a wonderful breakfast, Maggie takes it upon her self to stroll into the middle of our circle of chairs, hunker down, and start laying and enormous crap on the floor.
If you know me, you know how mortified I would be at this. If you don’t know me, let me say, I was mortified. Very. I grabbed Maggie’s collar and forcefully propelled her towards the door while barking at Richard to “deal with this.” Maybe it was the upheaval or being around new dogs, maybe she was staking her territory, or maybe it was the frozen horse manure she was merrily chomping down on yesterday. Suffice to say Maggie has spent most of the day outside or locked in the bathroom. The owners of the B&B and our hosts, Emile and Eva, were incredibly relaxed and reassuring about the whole incident. I am still slowing recovering from the horror.
I do have to say, if you are ever in Whitehorse and need a place to stay, I heartily recommend Hidden Valley B&B. Not only are they exceptionally cool about the follies of dogs and children (and husbands who lose their key, and then find it in a secret pocket of their jacket) but the rooms are lovely, you have the use of the kitchen, the towels are big and fluffy, there are robes in the room and the food is amazing. We are in the Cappuccino room which is a spacious suite with an ensuite bathroom, a couch and table, stunning views of forest and mountains, a television and a huge comfy bed. Until my rude awakening this morning I was having the best sleep I’d had in ten days.
I will get around to taking some pictures once I get my head around the narrow window of daylight for such things. I did not realize that having breakfast at 9am would mean it was still pitch black outside. Apparently, 10am is a civilized time for breakfast in the north.
After the “incident” we spent the day touring Whitehorse and the neighbourhoods. We met several friendly people, most are imported, like us. I found some boots (finally!) at Coast Mountain Sports in downtown Whitehorse. While perusing the large selection of winter boots at the store we discovered that the salesperson, Brandon, had came from Ontario in October with his girlfriend and dog He also thinks its mad that they are out of winter boots this time of year in some northern states. I suppose it’s possible he was agreeing with me to sell me the boots but I suspect not. So far I’ve found people here very genuine with few pretences.
After my boot success we toured the neighbourhoods of Porter Creek, Granger, Copper Ridge, Arkell and Riverdale. We were hard pressed to find a neighbourhood we did not like. All were surrounded with trees and views of mountains. Even Arkell which is a community of mobile homes was quaint and pretty. I fancied Riverdale just because I am a huge fan of Lord of the Rings and it sounds like Rivendell, but it’s a little more expensive because its closer to downtown. And it’s silly to chose a neighbourhood based on the resemblance of the name to a fictional place. I guess.
While we were back in Ontario we had almost rented a log house outside Whitehorse without even seeing it in person and by strange coincidence, Brandon, from Coast Mountain Sports had visited the place yesterday. He described it in detail and I am even more excited to see it now. It almost seems like a sign that out of the handful of locals we’ve met, one has been to that cabin.
Tomorrow, we visit the Yukon Education office in Whitehorse and Richard begins his re-emergence into the field of education. If you want to know more about the process of getting back into teaching, Rich has a fantastic blog, www.oncemoreintotheclassroom.ca
Watson Lake, Yukon to Whitehorse, Yukon
438 kms, 6 hours
We have arrived safe and sound at our destination, Hidden Valley B&B in Whitehorse. It’s been a bit of a gruelling experience these last nine days. Tomorrow we can sleep in, we don’t have to pack, and we’re having breakfast at 9am, which, in Ontario time, is fabulously late.
We were up bright and early this morning and on the road before 8am. I say “bright” and early but in reality it was pitch black. Ten minutes into our journey the Garmin, who we’d left in the car overnight, tried to direct us down some random unpaved road. Fortunately there is one highway all the way from Watson Lake to Whitehorse so we ignored her and she eventually gave us trying to sabotage us and re-routed us the right way. By 9am the sun had still not risen and the dim light made the frost-encrusted covered steel bridges seem unreal.
There was very little traffic, and the few trucks on the road were headed the same way we were. We followed one of the truck’s lead when we hit some very rough road by driving on the other side of the road. Since we were following a massive truck we figured any oncoming traffic would hit him first and it was much better than the bone-jarring 50 km/h drive it would have been otherwise.
We stopped for gas in Ranchero where we encountered two locals in the restaurant. These were the kind of men you would expect to find in a place like the Yukon; bearded, weathered and tough-looking. But very friendly. Well, one was. The older gentleman never said a word but just looked wise and weathered. From the conversation with the younger man (by younger I mean he was maybe in his late sixties or early seventies) we gleaned he was the owner of the place, he often rescues truck drivers who have gone off the road, he loves it here and one year it was -60 C and his pipes froze while he was on a rescue mission and he had them all replaced with plastic.
He kindly gave Ozzie a free juice. Ozzie, in the less than gracious way of three-year-old boys replied by saying “I’m hungry.” This did not phase them in the slightest although Richard’s subsequent request for a “bacon butty” brought on some confused looks.
A “bacon butty” is a British delicacy, a sandwich with just bread, butter and bacon. Kind of like an egg McMuffin without the egg or cheese. Why you ask? I have no idea. Almost every Brit I’ve ever met who discovers I am not a fan of the bacon butty looks at me like I’ve got three heads. Anyway, we ended up with egg, bacon and cheese on a bun. Now that I do like and in the cold mountain air it tasted like the best thing I’ve eaten in long time.
Past Ranchero we saw two moose, standing on a frozen river, curious small snow white birds that look like they are straight out of a fairy tale and more curious tiny birds that look like pebbles on the road but fly off as you approach. Now and then one of these birds waits on the road for so long, you start to think it really is a pebble but it flies off at the last possible second and makes you flinch.
The closer we came to Whitehorse, the better the roads became. I even drove the last few hundred kilometres towards Whitehorse, and then past it as we made our way to the B&B in Hidden Valley. We are here now, having wound down a bit and toasted our arrival at long last.
Tomorrow, we explore!