The Yukon is the land of the midnight sun — but not during winter. In the winter the Yukon is dark almost all the time. So why on God’s (mostly) green Earth is Saskatoon’s pop guru, Colin Skrapek (Maybe Smith), leaving for Dawson City, Yukon, in one of the coldest, darkest months of the year?
“I’m not entirely sure why,” Skrapek said. “I don’t know if there is a rational reason for that because the timing wasn’t my choice. It’s a (musician) residency sponsored by the Dawson City Music Festival, which happens in the summer. I have never been to Dawson before. I have never been north of Prince George in all of Canada — never even northern Saskatchewan, which is kind of embarrassing.”
Dawson City is famous for a number of reasons. Located at the confluence of the Klondike and Yukon Rivers, Dawson was home to the infamous Klondike gold rush, immortalized in Pierre Burton’s classic historical work Klondike among others. It is also where the cartoon curmudgeon Scrooge McDuck is said to have made his fortune. Jack London lived there and wrote extensively about the area, and Robert Service told the world just a few of “the strange things done” there. Okay, there are ample reasons to go to Dawson, but it’s still oppressively dark and cold.
“I am concerned about the lack of daily sunshine, being that it’s in February,” said Skrapek. “I mean, I was told I should bring snowshoes but I don’t have any.”
Jenna Roebuck, program coordinator at the Klondike Institute of Art and Culture, helped illuminate the unusual timing of Skrapek’s residency and what it means to be an artist in residence in Dawson.
“It’s because (February) is quiet. It’s the month when we need people and we need to be entertained the most. You need something to help recover from January here,” said Roebuck.
“It’s a creation residency. The purpose is to have an artist develop an album or a body of work. We have an ongoing visual artist residency program; this is the same thing, except with music. The goal is to engage with the community and create something.”
Skrapek is excited by the prospect of living and working with the community in Dawson. He will be living in a shared house with another artist and playing at least one concert in Dawson at the Odd Fellow’s Hall on Feb 26.
“They want it to be an opportunity for musicians from across Canada to experience life in the North and northern culture. They want to educate me because musicians are ignorant. You can quote me on that,” said Skrapek. “I’m sure I’ll get to know the town. It’s only so big — like 1,500 people.”
The education will ideally go both ways, and the town will get the opportunity to pick Skrapek’s brain for the month of February.
“An example might be working with kids and recording a song with kids. That would be something I would be interested in doing, or song writing workshops with non-kids. Rather, kids of all ages,” said Skrapek.
Skrapek was approached to do the residency for a number of reasons.
Aside from being a talented musician and inspired songwriter, coming from the prairies was actually a benefit. A geographical area sometimes ignored by the media at the national level, the prairies have untapped musical talent.
“We are very interested in supporting artists in Western Canada,” said Roebuck. “Partially for economic reasons: it is expensive to bring people up here for the festival and in the winter, so the closer the good music comes from, the better for us. But we also do it for better reasons than that — it’s anything we can do to support Canadian music.”
Though Skrapek doesn’t really know what to expect from the Yukon, he knows that he wants to make the most out of his time there. He hopes to play the Frostbite Music Festival in Whitehorse and thinks he may be able to catch the Dawson stop of the world’s toughest sled dog race, the Yukon Quest.
As for Dawson City, Skrapek has yet to receive the full extent of his northern education.
“It’s a city full of gold miners and Pierre Burton wannabes — and they’re big music supporters,” said Skrapek, shrugging his shoulders.
“I know a guy who runs his own birch syrup business in Dawson. He harvests syrup from birch trees and he lives in the woods. I haven’t talked to him in 15 years. It’s quite possible that Into the Wild is written about him.”
Still, Roebuck has faith that Skrapek will easily fit into the community and that the residency will be mutually beneficial.
She explained that “It doesn’t take long to get to know people in a tiny town in the middle of February.”
photo: Gord MacRae