Tag Archive > canada

Klondike Mike and the Unfortunate Piano

In February, 1898 Mike Mahoney aka “Klondike Mike” made a deal with Hal Henry. He would escort the Sunny Samson Sister Sextette and their luggage over the Chilkoot Pass and down to Dawson city for $3000 plus a share of the musical group’s proceeds once they started performing in the Dawson Saloons. The six blonde and virtuous sisters were sure to be a huge smash in the rough Klondike frontier, where feminine charms were worth their weight in gold.

There was just one problem – the sisters insisted on bringing their accompaniment piano. Klondike Mike, a strapping Canadian farm boy and champion boxer turned stampeder, duly hoisted the entire piano onto his back and went step-by step up the Golden Stairs and into Klondike fame. Fortune eluded him, however, because the Canadian customs officer at the top of the pass, seeing the piano, asked what he was about. When he heard that 6 delicate, ill-equipt showgirls were coming his way, he was aghast (this was only his second day on duty – he had yet to see the sort of folks trying to get to Dawson). Certain they would die on the trail! He refused to let the party continue any further.

Fuming, Mike stormed back to Skagway and left the piano atop the pass, where eventually someone hauled it back down and sold it for a tidy profit.

Animation: Corrie Francis Parks
Banjo Pickin’ : Ranger Kyle Kaiser
“Saloon Piano Gem No. 1” by Black Keys Bob Stevenson
References: The Hougen Group – Yukon Nuggets and Klondike Mike: An Alaskan Odyssey By Merrill Denison

Interviews recorded at the top of Chilkoot Pass.

This is part of a series of animated postcards from Chilkoot Pass. Read more about the project here.  These mini-documentaries are rooted in reality, with live interviews and photos from the Chilkoot Trail providing a catalyst for my personal memories and playful reinterpretations of history. As an artist, this is about as fun as it gets!

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Canada on Canada Day

I remember my sore feet, catching up with my brothers, sisters, nephew and nieces and missing my wife. The scenery was grey and misty, the wind pushed us up over the summit. We arrived back in Canada on Canada Day. Being herded the whole way.

I remember my sore feet, catching up with my brothers, sisters, nephew and nieces and missing my wife. The scenery was grey and misty, the wind pushed us up over the summit. We arrived back in Canada on Canada Day. Being herded the whole way.

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Soupe du chocalat chaud

Les escaliers d'or sont très cocheux mais quand on est arrivé au sommet on a mangé de la soupe du chocalat chaud.

Les escaliers d’or sont très cocheux mais quand on est arrivé au sommet on a mangé de la soupe du chocalat chaud.

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Zombies on the Radio

I’ll be on CBC radio with Dave White talking about the residency and the first animated postcard! Reposting the Postcard below for the benefit of radio listeners. You can listen to the interview on the CBC website here.

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Back in 1898, thousands of men and women arrived in Skagway with gold fever. They were headed for the Klondike goldfields over the Chilkoot Pass. Around their necks, they carried packets of fermented dough to make bread on their long, cold journey. If they made it through their first year in the bitter North, they were dubbed “sourdoughs”, after the bread that kept them alive during the endless night of winter.

Animation: Corrie Francis Parks
Banjo Pickin’ : Ranger Kyle Kaiser
Interviews recorded at the top of Chilkoot Pass.

This is the first in a series of animated postcards from Chilkoot Pass. Read more about the project here.  These mini-documentaries are rooted in reality, with live interviews and photos from the Chilkoot Trail providing a catalyst for my personal memories and playful reinterpretations of history. As an artist, this is about as fun as it gets!

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Photo Essay!

The winter edition of Mountain Outlaw Magazine just hit the stands here in Montana. If you manage to get your hands on a copy, turn to page 52. You might see someone you recognize – me! I’ve contributed a photo essay about my 2 weeks as Artist-in Residence on the Chilkoot Trail. It’s full of interesting historical facts and some of the artwork I created on the trail.

If you aren’t passing through Montana anytime soon, you can read the full article online here: Postcard from Chilkoot Pass  And you can flip through the entire magazine, an excellent read, at  explorebigsky.com

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Day 7 – Canada Day!

Day 71 July – Happy Canada Day!
Deep Lake

42 people, mostly Canadians spending their national holiday with family and friends, pass through the warming shelter. Finally, the last family group filters through. 7-year-old Lucas’ favorite part was scrambling up the Golden Stair though the older girls in the group “almost died, but not really!” I find the hubbub of people moving in and out of the shelters confusing. The elements are against me this time – people arrive tired and chilled, not inclined to think deep thoughts or talk to strangers with fuzzy microphones named Donald. They only want to get something hot inside them and hurry down out of the cloud. If only we had cake to offer them, it might differ… but rumor is, in Canada it is sunny…

bestofchilkoot044

…and rumors are true! After a lunch of candied salmon and Havarti (yum!) we glissade down the snow. Snow, snow and more snow! Snow canyons 15 feet deep, carved by the river; cracks and fissures of glacial blue opening up. When the rangers came up at the end of May to open the trail they had to probe to find the warden’s hut and had 5 people digging for over an hour to reach the door! We walk on snow for most of the 4 miles to Happy Camp, where finally the sun comes out. Tired hikers are basking on the tent platforms, despite a chilly breeze. They revel in the first warm rays of the entire trail and moods rise with the barometer.
bestofchilkoot048Not tired, we decide to carry on to Deep Lake. The canyon trail is covered with dangerous collapsing ice blocks, which means we are rerouted over the top of the bluffs. A 10min walk becomes an hour of scrambling and bush bashing up 1,000ft of brush and snow, following little orange ribbons tied to trees. But at the top we are rewarded with an expansive view that few Chilkoot travelers get to see – a string of deep blue lakes shimmering in the afternoon sun, mist clinging to the upper peaks surrounding us. Well worth the extra effort (though we are glad we didn’t start the day at Sheep Camp like everyone else!). We pass another energetic group of Canadians and their dogs and glissade down some snowfields towards Long Lake. The trail picks up again, finally clear of snow, and it ambles along above the lake to an old wooden bridge. We have arrived at Deep Lake. Camp is full of hungry, happy hikers, thrilled to have made it this far. Dinner is a very social affair.

More pictures and drawings on Flikr: The Chilkoot Trail – an artist’s journey

Read More: Trail Journal Day 8

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Yet another difference…

As one hiker observed on her postcard, “Americans provide toilet paper. Canadians don’t.”

trailart007

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Another difference between Canadians and Americans

Nearly every Canadian at some time in his life has felt a shiver of awe and loneliness which comes to a man when he stands alone in the face of untamed nature; and that is why we are a sober and essentially religious people.

Arthur Irwin

I think some Alaskans might take issue with this one…

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Research, Research

Soapy Smith's gang waiting to fleece the unsuspecting cheechako with the shell game.

I’ve been doing some reading. I got my hands on a fat, old book called Klondike! The Last Great Gold Rush 1896-1899, penned by Canadian historian Pierre Berton. It’s clear from the book that Berton has an almost fanatical fascination with the gold rush, perhaps because he grew up in Dawson City and worked in the Klondike mines as a youth. Berton found his own nuggets among the old-timers he met, and the book is bursting with entertaining incidents, accidents and characters from what was probably the shortests yet most lucrative gold rush in the history of the world!

I’m usually not one to wallow through 472 pages of dense non-fiction, but the book is more like sitting by the fire listening to grandpa spin some yarns of the good ol’ days. Soapy Smith, the self-proclaimed boss of Skagway, fleecing the naive argonauts with  shell game; the dollar-a-dance girls in Dawson City and their broken hearted suitors; the sourdoughs and cheechakos arguing over a few inches of adjoining claims; the Mounties (the way Berton reveres them you would think they were the demi-gods of the Klondike) camped out on top of Chilkoot Pass collecting customs fees for every ton of supplies each prospector had to haul into Canada. It’s amazing what people hauled over that pass! – crates of fresh eggs (maybe not so fresh by the time they reached Dawson, but they sold for a dollar an egg), pianos and bicycles, an entire steamboat dissasembled and packed over the pass to be reassembled on Lake Lindeman.

There were avalanches and fires, riverboats frozen mid-stream as winter pounced on unlucky travelers, starvation and scurvy. What is it about gold that causes men and women to voluntarily suffer so much? Over 100,000 people set out for the Klondike and only a handful found enough gold to be considered rich (and most of those lost it all soon after).  I don’t expect to find any gold on the far side of Chilkoot Pass but I will be adding my footsteps to the well trodden-path hoping to find some of the more undefined treasures of the Klondike. In the meantime, if you’re looking for a good book, pick up something by Berton.

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The difference between Canadians and Americans

In all the Americas ours is the only country that did not separate violently from its European parents… If this lack of revolutionary passion has given us a reasonably tranquil history, it has also, no doubt, contributed to our well-know lack of daring. It is almost a Canadian axiom that we would rather be safe than sorry; alas, we are sometimes sorry that we are so safe.

Pierre Burton
Preface to Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush

Opinions?  Let’s hear from some Canadians.

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