"The riverboat crews and their families come alive on these pages, bringing happy memories
to those who remember them and delightful reading for newer generations. It's a great
collection of first-hand recollections and interviews, which are a treasured part of Yukon
legend. Thank goodness someone has put them all together! Those ghosts along the
lonesome old river should be pleased."
Flo Whyard, C.M. LL.D. journalist, biographer, historian and former editor of "The Whitehorse Star"
A Book Report
Imagine a 21 year old bride, in 1928...having lived all her life in a city, leaving her parents,
three brothers and a sister; all the comforts of what was then considered to be a modern home,
and arriving (in the early part of November) at the small isolated town of Whitehorse, Yukon;
population 300. And imagine reading the story in her own words.
Wanting above all to please and impress her rugged husband, who was a woodcutter,
her wardrobe consisted of light stylish clothes, including a lightweight navy coat, that reached
just below her knees, and two pairs of high-heeled slippers.
"I had no idea where we were going," she said, "Or what to expect."
Her husband, anxious to get back to his wood camp before the ice in the river froze, rushed her
out of town as soon as he could, probably figuring she had warm clothes in her baggage. They had
roughly 150 miles to go, he told her. Luckily, some kind friend along the way loaned her a parka
for last part of the trip. They traveled at first by "Stage Coach," which happened to be a Model T
Ford truck at that time, over a frozen winter trail (that followed the Yukon River in many places)
in the direction of Dawson City. Then they transferred their load to a small home made boat, and
went the rest of the way to 'Rink Rapids' by river.
"It seemed as though we'd never stop going--into that bush country," Pauline said. She was icy cold.
When they finally arrived at her new home, her husband carried her across the threshold of a tiny log cabin.
"I thought I'd dropped from heaven to hell," she said, "I had never been as lonely in my whole life
as I was then."
````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````` The above is an excerpt from one of the many captivating true stories in the book,
Yukon River Boat Days, by Joyce Yardley. All of the information for these historical
anecdotes came from tape recordings collected over the years from the actual characters
themselves, making it a collection of unique experiences of early pioneers, who lived and
worked along the Yukon River in the days of the paddlewheelers. Many of these true-life
chronicles are excerpts from personal interviews with old-timers, taped in the mid-1970's.
In fact, one gentleman, Mr. Frank Goulter, was 102 years old at the time, with a memory
that would put a lot of much younger people to shame. I am proud to have this opportunity
of passing these fascinating memoirs on to you. They should not be allowed to die unheard.
Together, they form a colorful mosaic of the early history of the riverboat days in the Yukon.
Included here are woodcutters, riverboat men, RCMP, and trading post operators,
and the wives and families of these men.
This is a warm and intimate human-interest story. Entertaining and educational,
this book imparts a true flavor of that unique north country; providing an insight
into the resourcefulness of the people who call it "home."
This book will also give young people an awareness of the momentous changes
that have taken place in the lifestyles, methods
of transportation, forms of communication, and technology during the lives of their
grandparents. It certainly communicates a sense of time that is thought provoking.
In 1942, during the turbulent World War Two era, the electrifying news reached
the sleepy little town of Whitehorse, Yukon
(population around 300) that official orders had been issued by the U.S. War
Department for the immediate construction of a highway, from Dawson Creek, B.C.
to Fairbanks, Alaska. A road that - at long last - would connect that portion of the
north country to the rest of the world. Within days, the troops began to arrive
by the thousands, and the stunned citizens of Whitehorse began to realize, for
the first time, that their town, and their lives, would never be the same again.
In the midst of all this confusion and turmoil, two young people quietly went
ahead with their wedding plans; blissfully unaware of what lay ahead of them
in the future. In Crazy Cooks and Gold Miners we share many adventures with
them, over a period of fifty years in the Yukon. Preferring self-employment to the
usual "nine-to-five" type of existence, and with no previous experience, they
plunged headlong into business ventures that looked promising. They learned as
they went along, turning to more profitable enterprises when the opportunity
arose - including cattle ranching, operating a Tourist Lodge, trapping,
construction contracting; and last but not least placer gold mining -
and that's just for a start!
Roy Minter (former vice-president of White Pass and Yukon Route) said
in his Foreword to this book:
Crazy Cooks and Gold Miners reveals to us again and again that life is
not really composed of great events, but rather is a gathering of thousands
of moments. Joyce Yardley reveals hers in a most entertaining way.
Her love of this land is obvious, and her ability to pluck the details
of her crowded life there makes her a notable northern scribe.
" Yukon Tears and Laughter"
(Memories are Forever)
I was delighted when Joyce Yardley called in December 2004 to invite me
to read the manuscript of her new book, Yukon Tears and Laughter. Joyce
and I met when she was working on her second book, Yukon Riverboat Days (1996),
in a creative writing course that I was facilitating at the local college. Soon after the
course, I had the pleasure of attending Joyce’s very successful book launch, which
was hosted by Thora Howell at her nationally famous Bookstore on Bastion Street.
Along with her first book, Crazy Cooks and Gold Miners (1993), Mrs. Yardley has created
an impressive body of work that is important not only to historians, but also to anyone
who is concerned with Canadian culture, and with the communication of our distinct
Canadian identity through literature. Yukon Tears and Laughter is an autobiographical
novel written in a strange medley of genres and voices, through which the writer
emerges as a uniquely Canadian chronicler of Canadian history. Three things in
this book particularly impress me. First, Mrs. Yardley feels noneed to define or
defend her Canadian identity. She is a comfortable Canadian, referring to “our country”
only when she is comparing elements and aspects of other countries to Canada.
Second, Mrs. Yardley is an innate feminist, who works all her life for women’s rights;
apparently without consciousness of this fact. She does not ask for permission, nor does
she need it, when it comes to the act of writing; and she is fiercely independent and
self-reliant. Third, Joyce does not depend on any organized religion for her spirituality.
For her, the world is a church in which she praises the creator and the creation by
loving her life.
Mrs. Yardley shows her love of life in part by serving as a chronicler, writer of
Yukon: Tears and Laughter.
It is apparent in all of the poems she loves, and in the poems she writes, that she respects
the voice of the land and its history as much as she respects the voices of the people
who live there.
Yardley’s poem, “WHEN,” describes the birth of the writer. She addresses the poem to her
lifelong partner, who is terminally ill.
“I started writing when...you stopped talking.... / I had relied on you for too long,”
she laments. “I had no one else to turn to / Except me.”
The poet resourcefully turns inward, and finds therein a wealth of history, experience, and
stories of the people and the places she has loved. The “you” in the poem becomes the
reader, so that “…the words are not lost…/ As long as we remember.”
“We” expands to become the human community, and the writer is no longer alone,
because she is “heard” by her readers.
In a synopsis of Yukon Riverboat Days, Yardley writes:
“I am proud to have this opportunity of passing these fascinating memoirs
on to you. They should not be allowed to die, unheard.”
And the voices of these Yukon pioneers will continue to be heard , thanks to Joyce 's
carefully written chronicles.
Joyce Yardley arrives at Whitehorse safe in her mother’s womb, with a family dressed
differently from the Indian couple and their three grandchildren, who occupy the train
station where they disembark, and also from the boy on the dog sled who is sent
to collect them.
The topography of this place—harsh, austere, and overwhelming in its vastness—insists
that its people respect each other’s differences. Survival in this place is only possible
by forming and maintaining a cohesive community. In the microcosm of Whitehorse,
Yukon, the girl grows to become a woman, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, and
finally a caregiver for her ailing husband. When her partner is leaving this earth,
she becomes incomplete. However, this is a daughter of the Yukon; of pioneers -- and
she immediately begins the task of recreating her past and its history, and successfully
recreates herself in the process.
The girl thus becomes an elder, a chronicler, a teller of tales from the edge of her world,
from a “time warp.” The ego that would have
edited out personal dramas, mishaps, and blunders is not present. It is only by boldly
chronicling all of her experience that Yardley is successful in recreating herself, whole.
The book begins with a tale of a little girl living in a world of wonder. She is intelligent
and quick-witted, sorrowful and joyous, serious and filled with laughter; a fresh intellect
exploring her world with the true pioneer spirit of a child:
“Some of my greatest pleasures, though, were the canoe rides
on Ice Lake. My dad would let me help paddle around the lake,
and sometimes we took the “wind-up” gramophone along, so the
others could hear the sound of music coming over the water.
Other times it was so quiet all we could hear was the dipping
sound of the paddles in the water, and the loons calling—
with their many different voices. One day I climbed into the
canoe to go for a ride with Charlie, when, to my surprise, he
handed me a paddle, shoved the canoe out and said, “Lassie,
you’re old enough now to take it out alone. Away ye go now….”
As she communicates her place, people, and experiences to the world, the microcosm of her
life becomes a macrocosm; the particular the general; and Joyce Yardley reveals an ethos
of the Yukon with which all Canadians may identify. She weaves her materials in several
genres with an interesting organization that at first appears random like the strange order
of her dreams.
As a chronicler, she records it faithfully and without artifice. I applaud Mrs. Yardley’s
courage, caring, and persistence in continuing to explore new ways of seeing and
understanding ourselves and our world.
Canadians are eager to explore their culture, and Tears and Laughter spices up our
Canadian brew of fact, fiction, legend, tall tales, and history that comprise our mythos.
Yukon Tears and Laughter is witty, thought provoking, and engaging.
It is definitely worth a second read.
Foreword by Arlene Sæun, M.A. (English)
Mail: 113-619 Comox Rd., Nanaimo, BC V9R 5V8)