It’s time for one of our favourite features! We haven’t had an interviewee for awhile since we decided to cut back on the content frenzy, but today’s is a friend I met last year on Twitter and is so busy kicking back in the Yukon, she hasn’t even had time to draft up an email. (And you know, it’s so far north, it takes awile for the Interwebz to deliver it. Just kidding.)
Anyway, I was surprised to learned that our Canadian pal Erica Ward moved to the Yukon from Japan! Why the heck would you move to the Yukon, and even better question, what is there to see for a traveller? Read on and find out….
Can you introduce yourself?
I’m the Administrative Assistant for the Town of Faro, Yukon. I live with two cats who followed me from Japan, and have forced a local blogger and her family to act as my surrogate family and feed me 5 nights a week. I have a blog called Here Right Now which updates sporadically, depending on how busy I am.
I spent four years in Tokyo working in a kindergarten, teaching English a few days a week and chasing the kids around the rest of the time. When I came back to Canada, I had no idea what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. My background in Classical Studies and Theatre Arts didn’t help when the recession hit, so I went back to school to study Administration. I started looking at employment opportunities in the north (by which I meant Timmins or Sudbury), and in late October of 2009 I did a Google search for “Yukon jobs.” Two weeks later, I had interviewed for this job, and I came up here on December 3. The rest is history.
You’ve based in Faro, which is pretty far out there. Any local secrets or favourite experiences?
If you’re coming to Faro from Whitehorse, traveling up the Klondike Highway, there’s a stop along the way you have to make – Braeburn Lodge. As a self-proclaimed pastry connoisseur, I consider it important to know where I can get my hands on a cinnamon roll the size of a dinner plate, and Braeburn Lodge delivers. (In terms of size, that is – I don’t think they actually deliver anywhere.)
A couple of years ago, the Entrepreneurship Class at our local school opened a coffee shop as its project for the year. The Faro Kettle Café is open three days during the week (morning, lunch, and after school), Sunday morning and some evenings if they are having events. They whip up a mean Hazelnut Hot Chocolate, and are a nice change from the bad coffee I brew myself.
Last year, a local artist opened a store showcasing both her own stained glass and items created by other local artists. Castle Glass & Co. acts as a combination of gallery and store, displaying photography, paintings, beadwork and a wide assortment of mukluks, moccasins and mittens. It’s always nice to stop by and see what people in the community are creating.
While I’m sure it seems hard to believe that, in a town of 415 people, a person could ever feel the need to get away from the “hustle and bustle,” it does happen. When it does, I like to take a drive out to the Sheep Viewing Cabin. The cabin is about 15 minutes out of town – it was built to facilitate observation of our herd of Fannin Sheep. Sometimes, we slip out there for a winter picnic of hotdogs and marshmallows cooked on the woodstove. It’s a great place to go to recharge one’s batteries and contemplate important questions like, “Do I have enough gas to get back into town?”
Andy: You had me at pastry.
Why do travelers head for the Yukon?
That’s a tough one – I think everyone who comes to visit the Yukon is looking for something different. For me, I wanted to be in a place where there was space to breathe. There are more people in my home town in Ontario than there are in this entire territory.
Some of the main attractions are outdoor recreation, wildlife viewing, and a large number of historic and cultural attractions. The Yukon is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream – in the winter, you have skiing, snowmobiling, snowshoeing, ice fishing…almost anything you can think of. In the summer, when we have almost 24-hour daylight, you can hike, fish, swim, go quadding, camp – or, if you’re lazy like me, lounge on the porch with a drink and a fantastic view.
The wildlife viewing is fantastic – moose, elk, caribou, bears. This summer, I saw my first grizzly bear up close – he was just on the side of the highway, less than 10 feet away from me. Right after I snapped a photo, he reared up and I drove away fast. In Faro, we have an annual Crane and Sheep Viewing Festival in the spring, to celebrate the migration of the Sandhill Cranes to their breeding ground in Alaska, and to view the small herd of Fannin Sheep who make their home on our mountains. There are guided hikes, talks by people from Yukon Environment, and keynote presentations by artists, photographers, and environmentalists.
There are thousands of historic sites throughout the Yukon – in the communities and in the middle of nowhere. Virtually every community has a museum or interpretive/cultural centre, detailing regional history and events. There are artists, artisans, and crafters all over the territory, with their works on display in galleries and stores. There are several annual craft shows in Whitehorse and elsewhere, and there’s a music festival up in Dawson City during the summer that draws people from all over.
Andy: Yikes – that bear looks hungry!
Winter must be pretty bleak. What’s it like to live so remote, besides getting to hang out with polar bears?
There are challenges, definitely. Faro was built as a mining town in the 70s, and when the mine closed for good, the population shrank. The gas station burned down in 2007, and it has taken a lot of work by a lot of people to get another fuel facility in place. That was the same year the grocery store closed down, and since then Faro’s grocery needs have been taken care of by the Hardware Store (which makes my friends down south giggle). People help each other out – if someone is going in to Whitehorse for a big grocery run, they usually ask if anyone else needs anything, and vice versa.
The thing about being so remote, though, is that you become very close to people. I mentioned Kara, the blogger who feeds me, earlier – I contacted her before I moved up here, to prepare myself for the move. She advised me about parkas, boots, and what to expect in a small town, and she and her family made me feel like I’d been here forever on my first day.
I find people in the Yukon very welcoming in general. We had an interim Admin Officer from Whitehorse who was with us for three months – he still calls and emails all the time. When I went back to Ontario for Christmas, he and his wife parked my truck in their driveway so it could be plugged in when the temperature dropped, and they insisted that I stay with them on my way in and out of Whitehorse.
What’s been your most inspirational travel experience?
My last summer in Japan, I climbed Mt. Fuji. Looking back on it now, it’s inspirational, but at the time it was miserable. It was raining, I pulled a muscle in my groin a quarter of the way up, I lost the people I was climbing with, and my iPod and camera drowned. There was one point where I sat in the rain and cried for half an hour because I felt so defeated. I couldn’t see the summit, I didn’t think I could keep going, and I wondered why I had even tried. Then some girls stopped and gave me a hit of oxygen, I started moving again, and discovered that I had been less than 15 minutes from the top the whole time I was crying. I had a bowl of noodles in a shack at the top of the mountain and chatted with strangers. By the time I made it back down the mountain, the sun was shining and I felt empowered. Exhausted and dirty, but empowered.
When I find myself going through rough patches, I remind myself that I made it to the top of the mountain one step at a time. And no matter how bad things seem now, at least I haven’t got a pulled groin muscle.
Any other highlights to suggest while visiting the Yukon, such as your neighbours Alaska and the Northwest Territories?
My work has kept me pretty busy so far, but I would love to take a trip up the Dempster to Inuvik in the Northwest Territories. I’m just waiting to find someone who wants to go with me – my truck is new, but I’d hate to have any trouble with it all by my lonesome.
I did take some time off last summer to visit Alaska with my parents. We took the White Pass & Yukon Route (pic above) from Carcross to Skagway, which was a real treat. It definitely gave me a better appreciation for people’s experience during the Gold Rush, before the railway was built. From Skagway, we took the Fjord Express to Juneau – it’s a daily cruise that includes whale watching, beautiful vistas, and a tour of the Mendenhall Glacier.
The most exciting part of the trip for me, however, was visiting two quilting shops within 24 hours – my mother was appalled at my priorities.
Well I’d love to come with you! Though I’ll be in the bar while you quilt shop 🙂 Thanks so much Erica for giving us a glimpse into the northern lifestyle – I love your sense of humor, and can’t wait to get up that way and come say hello. For now, we’ll all keep in touch via your cool blog, Here Right Now!