The Streets Of Dawson City

Camera and notepad in hand, Fish and friends have become honorary citizens of Dawson City.

We came to know an elder great beyond, the living essence of Canadian life we never knew we needed so badly — until we pulled away: Dawson City, Yukon. Up here for various credits in two films in Dawson’s impressively curated shorts fest, Nick Johnson, Norm Omar, Sean Borchert and I drove north for three days, smashing through a forbidden, wildlife-speckled beauty which slowly reveals a nearly planetary sense of scale. I can and will go on about this for years, so why not turn the mic over to my emotionally exhausted friends? Let’s start with Johnson, then: “Heart and body broken, I’m sitting with a shitty meal in me, 12 hours south of the best place I’ve ever been. Just previous to this hate-fuck calorie infusion, I’d been marvelling over the combination sadness of leaving Dawson City after four glorious days: a kind of summercamp-first love breakup feeling without any of the regret.

“Now, granted, I’m excited to see the human love of my life, but to think of following that frontier fantasy world with the familiar, mind-torturing billboards and fratboy shittiness of our ignoble hometown had me downright emotional as we rolled out of town past the lone white eyed dog roaming happily thru the sleepy morning dirt streets.”

Cleverly, the festival handed out cameras and film to its participants, enuring the creation of more local culture. Omar talks about this. “We made a Super 8 film on Sunday, very fast and dirty. We wrote it in the Downtown Saloon, gathered the few props we needed from our weird baggage and shot the film right outside the batwing doors. It gave me a good sense of how we might work together as a collective. We are a bitchy, needlessly contentious group that gets down to the practical work of things fairly quickly, considering the personalities involved. I like the idea of birthing an art group at the Dawson Film Festival ... and hopefully returning there next year with some work to show.”

Borchert, meanwhile, was moved by a wider human element as much as the frontier architecture we all drooled over. “I immediately noticed that the folks here, upon first meeting, will assume the best of you. We were four fucking loud, uppity city boys  invading their quiet northern home, but in a very short time had met some brilliant characters and made some good friends. Dry wit and playful jabs will do more to earn your place in the town than polite timidity. Everything makes sense. The distractions and needless complexities of the city I had frozen inside of melted away. For the first time in over a year I felt my brain ticking and creative juices dripping. It’s given me a lot to think about. I hope to retain some of this pace when I return home or I just might have to turn right back North.”

We certainly all agreed with this spark and draw, immediate schemes to summer here — and the locals in the relatively huge art community joke about it immediately with, “So when are you moving up?” It’s truly an unencumbered place, lawless in some ways, which reading old books tells us is as much a matter of time as place, probably best experienced in spring and fall. We saw domestic violence pour out into the street, and slower-moving, tragic drunkenness — let’s not sugar coat it. But I’ve never experienced a small community so dedicated to its arts, down to the architectural ethos which values where it came from above all, no “new” buildings allowed. Without exception.

Don’t get me wrong. Edmonton’s amenities are precious, our potential endless. But Dawson, old Dawson, peacefully appreciates what it already has and I envy it.


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