Diamond Tooth Gertie

Everyone who goes to Dawson City eventually goes to Diamond Tooth Gertie to see the can can girls.

Diamond Tooth Gertie (aka Gertie Lovejoy) was a dance hall queen in the 1898. She distinguished herself from all the other dance hall queens and kings by wedging a diamond between her two front teeth. She further distinguished herself by marrying C.W. Tabor – one of the town’s leading lawyers – who happened to be friends with the Commissioner, George Black.

In those days, the Commissioner used to hold dinner parties for the local society.  Diamond Tooth Gertie, with her shady past, would normally be excluded from these town functions, suddenly gained access through her marriage. This inflamed the town with outrageous indignation.

It was in support of her, that the Commissioner and George Black ultimately managed to change the ‘exclusivity’  tradition of “Society Dinners” to a more inclusive one that permitted the great unwashed to participate as well.

I saw a different version of the same show about 20 years ago.

Although the current show is OK, it isn’t comparable. The current cast spends only about half of the time doing can-can dances.

The rest of the time is occupied by a solo (very good soprano) singer singing songs from the 30’s and 40’s interwoven with an ongoing fairly lame skit. I assume that this is because they are catering to the average era of the tour buses of elderly Americans.

However, the songs are not contemporary with the Klondike era.

A good chunk of the show is also taken up with “audience interaction”. Meaning that the can can girls get the old guys on stage to dance with them. Or they perch in the old guys laps for some photo ops.

What IS in keeping with the times is that women are excluded from the audience the participation.

Or maybe they just don’t tip as well.

Here are some shots from the show:

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Checking out Whitehorse

Whitehorse city sign

Whitehorse city sign

Whitehorse has grown!

It is no longer the quaint little outpost with dirt roads and a single flashing red street light at the center of town.

It is a four lane paved highway on the approach to Whitehorse. It has Canadian Superstore, Wal-Mart and McDonald’s.

So much for all the dried food supplies that I crammed into the Westfalia with the idea that I could cut our food costs with the less expensive stuff from down south. Not needed.

The stores are FULL of fresh produce. And not just on the one day a week that the store receives it’s produce by truck from down south. Every day. The prices are awesome too!

Fresh cherries are only $1.50 @ lb! Less than what I’d pay in Vancouver.

Michel & I stuff ourselves.

We stay at Wolf Creek Campground, which is just a few miles outside of Whitehorse. The campsites which are well treed and spaced are very popular, and we are lucky to get in. For $12 you get outhouses, free firewood, and a central water pump. It is perfect for us.

View from Wolf Creek ridge

View from Wolf Creek ridge taken at 10:00 PM

There is a hiking trail right beside our campsite, so we grab our folding lawn chairs along with some tasty hors d’oeuvres and climb up a hill to a magnificent grassy ridge where we have an outlook for miles over the valley.

It is the perfect spot. Despite the fact that the mosquitoes are overjoyed to see some juicy tourists sporting enough naked skin to land on in their territory, there is a brisk wind blowing up the ridge which keeps them working for their meal.

So we get a fairly even trade. One great sunset for a few bug bites. Sunset is about 11:30, and it lasts a long time. Sunset takes forever compared to the insta-sunset down south.

We have lots of exploring to do in Whitehorse.

Delicious Yukon Birch syrup for breakfast

ha! ha! Merridith just woke up!

We start by treating ourselves to a local delicacy – birch syrup on pancakes. Birch syrup is more labour intensive than making maple syrup, mostly because of the location of the trees and the industry isn’t as commercially developed. The syrup tastes wonderful, with an interesting complex flavour.

There are tons of great biking paths in Whitehorse. The city has made a real effort to go green. The biking paths are completely separate from the roadway. I suspect that people use them as cross-country ski trails in the winter. They would be perfect for that.

Since I can’t bike because of my broken arm, we walk a sample of the walkways. There is an easy one along the Whitehorse River. It is also functions as part of the Millennium Trail also known as the Trans Canada Trail that goes right across Canada.

The trail along the Whitehorse River is accessed from the parking lot beside the signature paddle wheel boat in the center of Whitehorse.

Along the river we get to see a salmon fish ladder, the hydro electrical plant for the city and several types of birds and ground squirrels. We also pass through the Robert Service tenting area where you can see both the backpackers and some of the colorful locals have set up camp.

The trail crosses a bridge on the Yukon River, so you can do this trail as a loop and not have to see the same thing twice. The route we took was about 28 km long.

Footbridge over the Whitehorse River

Footbridge over the Whitehorse River

Under the bridge there is an stationary eddy where we watched some locals  practicing extreme white water kayaking in their little specialized kayaks. You can take a look at them here.

Here are some of the shots from along the path:

Yukon hydro electric plant

Yukon hydro electric plant

Because of its isolation, Yukon is not part of the North American power grid so must generate its own power.

Fish ladder

Salmon going up the fish ladder

Trail near Robert Service Campground

Trail near Robert Service Campground

Northern grass

Northern grass

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Wildlife Photography

The Barefoot Travelers blog has been on a bit of a hiatus……… not because we’ve quit traveling………but because we’ve been having so much FUN traveling! It’s tough to squeeze in the blogging time!

Just to catch you up in real time – we went across Canada as far as Quebec (ran out of time when hurricane Earl washed out our East Coast plans).  Made a run back across Canada to Vancouver (our home town) and then hopped on the plane to the Caribbean. What would a trip-of-a-lifetime be without some R&R in the Caribbean?

So after a couple of weeks of tanning on the palm tree studded beaches and sipping mysterious frosty drinks, we felt refreshed enough to continue blogging.

Plus we felt inspired after reviewing our awesome photos!

One of the great things about traveling slowly is that you have the time it takes to pause and get those candid wildlife shots. Canada is especially fortunate in as much as there is enough wildlife density that you can get great shots right from the road. There are very few places in the world left where you can do this. Human habitation and roads have crowded the habitable space for everything else out.

The great Canadian Wilderness!

The vast stretches of untouched forest in the North of Canada have been likened to the Serengeti of Africa.

It was seeing these unspeakably huge forests tracts; unmarred by a single fence post or dot of human light, that redefined the word ‘wilderness’ for me.

Most people who live on a farm, or live in a smaller village would say that they live “in the country” or “in the wilderness”.

Not so.

As we exited the true arboreal wilderness of the North driving our little Westfalia back into civilization, it was kinda shocking to see first the little isolated houses surrounded by nice grassy yards that had been hacked into virgin forest; then further on, the little family farms that were struggling to make a living with their brand new haying fields newly cut from the surrounding forest.

Alberta farmland

Alberta farmland

Then we entered farming country, Alberta.

As far as the eye could see, there were cylindrical hay bales on endless acres of farmland. Mono-crops, neatly laid out in square patches over undulating landscape.

What would this land have been like before the farms arrived?  It is clear that these grain farms would have been undulating forests.

The giant forests were reduced to thin strips of wind breaks between fields. Or survivor remnants surrounding the boggy patches in the fields that farmers found too difficult to plow under.

Along the fence lines you could see the mandatory Monsanto signs that delineated grain fields that are seeded with  genetically engineered seeds.

These ‘suicide seeds‘ are designed so that they can never naturally reproduce past the first generation to ensure farmers are forced to buy each succeeding generation of seed grain from Monsanto.  But along with their superior production capabilities and herbicide resistance, Monsanto products come with the dangerous limited ability to accidentally cross-breed with their normal brethren adjacent fields.  If this happens (and it does)  Monsanto will scream “genetic copyright infringement” and cause them to launch a lawsuit which is designed to break the farmer.

We had developed a new perspective of the world. I’d always thought of ‘country’ as living in the bush surrounded by nature. Now I know better. ‘Country’ is actually the part of our country that is devoted to human food production. ‘Country’ is the food production factories for our cities. And this production takes up a stunning amount of room. Nearly three whole provinces in Canada are almost exclusively (by land area) devoted to it.

It makes it feel like more of a privilege that we are able to take photos of our fellow denizens.

I love the farms. They are beautiful. I love the rolling hills and magnificent swaths of color in each field. I just have a new perspective of them.

But isn’t that what traveling does? Open your eyes?

Since our our high-performance Westfalia only meanders  at 90 km per hour it gives us plenty of opportunity to spot the roadside wildlife. A stream of better equipped vehicles roar impatiently past our Westfalia at every passing lane. But we are noticing that we are the tourists that inevitably spot the wildlife at the edge of the road. Others might take advantage of our eagle eyes and stop behind us, but we are the ones that stop first.

We ride with both our cameras locked and loaded between us, so that we can fire with efficiency through either window; telephoto ready to slap on in an instant.

We have sifted through our giant stash of photos to show you our best wildlife ones from our trip so far. Here is the beauty of Canada.

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Blog issues

There seems to be an issue with uploading photos into wordpress right now.

But I have a number of posts in draft form ready to go when this issue resolves.

Just an FYI. Haven’t stopped blogging!

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The story of Teslin

Crossing the Yukon border

Crossing the Yukon border

They say that once you’ve lived in the Yukon, you never get the Yukon out of you.

I believe that this is true.

I lived in the Yukon about 20 years ago, and although I only lived there one season, I have missed it ever since. I never felt that I got a ‘proper summer’ without the continuous midnight sun that only comes with a far north summer. It felt like a homecoming.

But my, how things had changed! The roads were paved – all the way to Whitehorse. The axle-destroying sized potholes were conveniently filled in — not marked with orange flagging and florescent paint so that you could spot them in time to careen around them.  There were street lights. The prices in the stores were the normal prices that I would pay down south in Vancouver.  And most surprising of all – even the gas was a normal price. Something that we really weren’t expecting – especially at the outpost gas stations where the next fuel station would be a whole fuel tank down the road.

Just over the border is the Village of Teslin. Teslin is a native village of about 450 people. The local language, Tlingit is considered one of the most endangered languages in Canada. You can hear a small sample of it here.

We nearly whipped through the tiny village without a backward glance, but decided to stop and take a break from the road by looking at the little local museum. Am I glad that I did – for that tiny museum made a huge impression on me.

The George Johnston Museum chronicles the life of a Tlingit native. What was unique about him was that he had a camera in an age when few natives did, and he was a master photographer, taking innumerable candid shots of the vanishing native life between the years 1910 and 1940 as a native when no one else was doing it.

The museum forbids photography and the images are copy-righed, but you can see a small sample here.

George Johnston was the first local to buy a car. It was a 1928 Chevrolet. He shipped it in by barge to Teslin where you can see the admiring locals thronging around the new device. It landed in a town where there were no roads in existence to drive it on. George Johnston hired his fellow locals to chop a 3 mile road through the virgin woods, and thus George Johnston’s taxi service was born.

In the winter when the Teslin Lake was frozen, his highway increased to 75 miles as he drove it around on the frozen lake. George Johnston was a fantastic trapper and hunter and he used his ’28 Chevrolet to hunt for game from the lake. He soon discovered that the black car was easily visible to the animals, so each winter he would camouflage it by covering it with white paint. And each spring after the lake melted, he would repaint it black again for the taxi season. When George Johnston eventually traded in his ’28 Chevrolet for a truck many years later, the Chevrolet company bought it and then donated it back to the museum.  It had many, many layers of paint on it – but not a single scratch or dent!

What really impressed me was the video interview in one of the museum displays of a native woman giving a first-hand account of the construction of the Alaska Highway from her memory as it went through their village.

Pearl Harbour had just been bombed and the Japanese had actually landed troops on US soil in 1942 for a brief battle. There was no highway between the continental US and Alaska. The US army decided to go ahead and build a supply route. And so they did. Without the permission of the Canadian government.

The Tlingit natives were definitely too insignificant to notify.

History is always written by the dominating culture. It is very interesting to hear the story of the Alaska Highway described by the other side.

The first sign that something was afoot were the unusual planes flying overhead, when usually the only thing that came by was the mail delivery plane which had already arrived that month. It turned out that these were US army planes surveying for the Alaska Highway.

The US Army arrived in Teslin with thousands of troops, trucks & tractors. They set up camp and began bulldozing down trees and moving earth in a wide swath through the forest for the road. If your home happened to be in the way – too bad.

The Canadian Government was torn. It liked the road idea but didn’t want to pay for it. The Americans had made a good start at building it without Canada’s permission and Canada’s sovereignty was in jeopardy. Canada eventually, in a face-saving maneuver,  posthumously granted permission for the Americans to build the road, with the stipulation that the road and facilities be turned over to the Canadians after the war was over.

But nothing is free. The Americans demanded and received sovereignty over the roadway and the Alaska Highway and surrounding environment became American soil .

The American Army then decided that since the native Tlingit looked Japanese to them, they ordered all Tlingit to carry Army issued passport papers and show them wherever they went. Failure to do so would put them in jail. The Tlingit were now foreigners in their own town.

The American Army next decided to grant special recreation privileges to their thousands of recruits living on base to make up for the fact that they were living in the miserable far North of Canada. They permitted and encouraged them to shoot live animals for target practice and recreational hunting. Immediately, thousands of men took up rifles in a small area with a predictable outcome.

They shot out all the animals and collapsed the indigenous food supply.

Since racial discrimination was a standard feature of the day, the local natives were unable to procure work in the road construction or the army base as an alternative living.

Then common European diseases introduced via the army swept through the natives. They lost a significant portion of their numbers.

What I found particularly interesting is that this took place in the 1940’s, when both governments and the army admittedly knew that the natives would have no resistance and that this was a predictable outcome.

Apparently the Canadian Government at the time was well aware that the natives would have no resistance to the newly introduced common European diseases. And although vaccines were available and in fact mandatory for army recruits, NONE were made available to the local inhabitants. In fact the army actually passed an edict stating that no medical professional was to aid or to have contact with a native on threat of court marshal.

When fall came, and the geese were migrating overhead, only a couple of men were able to rise from their sickbeds to try and shoot some geese down for the entire community. A significant number of the community were so sick that they actually died. (I can’t remember actual numbers from the video.)

Winter came. The natives starved.

The army which had gratuitously depleted their natural larder, now refused to allow them to join the road working teams to earn money or access to medication.

It was at this time Canadian government initiated mandatory schooling in centralized boarding schools that enforced an English immersion curriculum, culture & religion for all the native children, even the very young ones.

Every person in the entire town had lost family members to the onslaught of disease. Now every child had been legally confiscated. The parents were devastated.

Parents now only got to see their children a couple times a year – and when they returned to the village for holidays, their children were strangers who no longer spoke the Tlingit and had been trained to believe their customs inferior.  The video states that the peoples’ spirit was broken and depression was rampant. The very next year, the government rescinded a prohibition against selling alcohol to natives, and they were allowed into the pubs. Alcohol addiction went wild.

George Johnston pretty well stopped taking photography. It is said that he was he didn’t want to record the degradation of his people.

I found it very interesting to try and do fact checking and produce Google links out for this particular blog. It is basically impossible to get links that corroborate the native view of this tale. Even the detail that the US Army essentially bullied the Canadian Government into permitting them to create the Alaska highway is recorded in carefully crafted, non-inflammatory language that makes it difficult to even discern that Canada’s sovereignty was trampled on. You have to read between the lines to figure it out.

As to the Tlingit view- there isn’t even a hint of this story on the web. It is all contained in that little museum, in a single copy-written book, and a single copy-written video. Since the only information is a closely-held and copy-written, this means that it isn’t publicized on the web. If you want to hear the Tlingit view of events you must buy the information.

People certainly won’t pay for this type of information, so the Tlingit version of events  will never be widely distributed. Although I respect copyright and the right of the author to attempt to profit from it; in this case their copyright is only succeeding in obscuring a very important part of history. Since the author’s record of this part of history is the only source and would be very difficult to replicate. As a result this information will never be well distributed into the diaspora of history. The Tlingit story isn’t mentioned anywhere that I could find. And I have spent about 2 hours trying to Google up references for you.

I find this very sad.

I don’t have any photos of the museum or contents to add to this blog because of course, it’s copyrighted.

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North to the Yukon

View from camping spot, Boya Lake

We are heading up the Stewart-Cassier Highway (Route 37). We feel a fantastic sense of adventure and freedom. Our future is a pallet of surprises and adventure.

By now the villages are too scattered and small to be called towns. They are hamlets. We sail past population sign posts that brag “pop: 101” “pop: 52”. When an infant is born, someone proudly updates the community population sign by proudly striking out the old number and increasing the figure with felt pen. Hamlets with populations as small as “7” are still worth noting with a government sign as in “pop: 7 + 1”.

As you enter the town, if it is big enough to have a gas station there is always a giant sign that advertises: “Next gas 150 km” or some insanely far distance down the road. We pay attention.

We are now in big game country. People are so few and far between that the animals reign supreme. We are surrounded by an ocean of trees.

It is along route 37 that you start to get a real sense of how big British Columbia is and the magnitude of the northern forests. They stretch forever, unbroken by man-made structures into the horizon. Not a telephone pole, not a cell tower, not even a visible light.

We are now far enough north to really notice the midnight sun. It is bright out till 11 0’clock at night.

We are also starting to notice that we are really taking advantage of our bountiful daylight hours. We can hike until late into the evening. There is no hurry to get off the trail because of darkness.  None of the southern strictures of night or day order our routine. It doesn’t particularly matter when we choose to do something because it is light nearly all the time. We sleep when we feel like it, and get up when we feel like it. There is always lots of good light for photos, to see the road or to eat dinner with. Organizing your life around ‘morning’ is a thing of the past.

We stayed at a couple of provincial parks on our way to the Yukon border : Kinaskan Lake and Boya Lake.

Here are some shots from our campsites:

Boya Lake

Boya Lake

Boya Lake has tons of inlets and islands.  It would be a fabulous lake to go canoeing on, but with my cast it isn’t possible right now.

At the campsite, there are lots of beautiful blue butterflies that are attracted to the mud along the water. There are dozens of them flitting around like little fairies.

Melissa Blue Butterfly

Melissa Blue Butterfly

Butterfly duo

Butterfly duo - Michel was patient enough to get this one!

On the drive up we also got magnificent wildlife shots. This corridor of British Columbia has has an abundance of wildlife.

The animals are attracted to the good grazing along the highway.  The various government departments have collaborated to try and make the roadways as safe as possible for the animals by creating large view-ways for the drivers, and keeping the grass mowed and the forest margins cut back in such a way as to keep the animals attracted to the margins of the forest and off the highways. In winter, they even plow special  animal paths along the forest away from the road as the animals prefer to use the plowed highways as migratory routes since they are easier to walk along, to their detriment.

The mountain goats in particular really seem attracted to something in the pavement of the highway and you can see them licking the road. I assume that it is the salt that the Department of Highways uses to de-ice the road.

It certainly makes for good photo ops!

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Butterfly Gallery

There are an unbelievable number of butterflies at our campsites. Here is a slide show of Michel’s best shots of these gorgeous critters. Take a look!

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