Lesson: The road less travelled is full of opportunity.
I intentionally ended up in Canada’s Yukon in the mid-1980s as a newly minted graduate with an economics degree from Queen’s University. As mentioned before – to pay off my student loan. To gain some perspective, the Yukon is about the size of California and at the time had about 27,000 people. I checked out the place in advance with phone calls to anyone I knew who had been there or lived there and it seemed like a good idea. My mother, with visions of me on Bay Street was not happy, my Grandmother on the other hand bought me a plane ticket and wished me a great adventure.
I have to admit my arrival in Faro didn’t go well and the culture shock of a quick move from Kingston, Ontario to Faro, Yukon left me in tears and questioning my decision. The housing was in bad shape as the first shift of the mine, after years of closure, brought in a transient crowd. The town was built in the 60’s and a fire destroyed it 6 months later. Although completely rebuilt much of the immediate area showed many signs of the fire. But I found a job.
I ended up working for the Yukon Government as an Economic Development Officer in Faro (population 1500) and Ross River (population 400) having 1. never lived in a mining town and 2. never worked in a First Nation community. These two communities gave me more than my first exposure to the North; they showed me why the mining (or as I prefer to say ‘the extraction’) industry plays a central role in the social and economic well-being of northern and rural communities. They also showed me an era where extraction industries still thrived but needed some improvements.
The Faro mine was in production under Curragh Resources in those days, following a temporary closure in the first half of the decade due to falling prices for zinc and lead. The community of Faro was healthy and prosperous. It is hard to explain to anyone unfamiliar with what a community feels like with 100% employment, driven completely by the private sector. It was in the middle of nowhere, the winter was cold, and I saw snow during 11 of the 12 months of the year but the summers, when they hit, were 24 hours of sun and made up for every day of winter.
Faro was a healthy and a wonderful place to raise a family. In reality, with a fully employed community there was little in the way of social problems. It was the favorite posting for the RCMP and thanks to shift change decisions by Curragh management, staffed mostly with families drawn to a work schedule that allowed for time off together to explore the region and recirculate dollars in and around the Yukon. The Faro mine drove the Yukon economy, backed up by a few other mines. People had the necessary toys to enjoy the Yukon’s many beautiful areas, with skidoos, ATV’s, skis, motorhomes, boats and camping gear. These were good people, as a whole, who were hard working and often had moved from mining community to mining community to support their families. It has been unfortunate that over time the story of Faro has neglected to remember the benefits of these types of communities, for the wealth generation they created not only in Faro, but across the Yukon and Canada. The ‘political correctness’ to look at the history from a single perspective has created a loss of the history.
Now Ross River was a different story, and a community I visited twice a week. It was a short 45 minute drive away, easy except at 40 below. Very few people worked at the mine, the community was not as prosperous as Faro and suffered from a lack of opportunity and social problems. The difference was stark and one that shaped me as a professional, seeking ways from those days, to find better ways to communicate, better ways to address inclusion and better ways to manage environment versus economy issues. It simply was extremely odd to this outsider and I am happy to see the shift in the community now.
Who was I to know that it would be Ross River and the Kaska people of that community that would be such a huge part of my future, and make such a fundamental influence on my life.