Ursula Westfall is a Yukon 8th grade student with a very bright future ahead. She’s co-written two books with her mother Rachel Westfall and has plans for many more.
The Westfall ladies are a Whitehorse-based daughter-and-mother team. They’ve successfully collaborated on their second published work, which is the book, A Trail of Dreams. This work was published in autumn of 2015. Before they wrote A Trail of Dreams, this team published their first book, which is titled, Estella of Halftree Village.
Rachel Westfall has a Ph.D. in Ethnobotany from the University of Victoria in B.C. and her daughter, Ursula Westfall, is a student in the city of Whitehorse. Rachel now works with the Yukon government as a senior statistician.
I met young Ursula and her mother, Rachel, in Whitehorse’s Starbucks coffee shop during the month of December 2015 for a conversation about their newest book.
Rachel introduced the book by giving a quick and fascinating summary, which actually included information about both published novels:
“The main characters in both of these stories are the residents of a village which is an intentional community living in the wilderness. They’re people who have rejected modern society, which in the story is quite dysfunctional. It’s a bit of a dystopia. And, in A Trail of Dreams, one of the residents of the village starts having dreams that something terrible is going to happen to the village and she thinks that it’s coming from the direction of the city, but she can’t figure out what it is.
So, she goes on a journey to try to figure out what the threat is and whether she can do anything about it. So she gets to the city and meets a bunch of very strange characters, finds out what the threat is, but she can’t actually do anything about it. So she has to go back to the village and in the village there’s been some drama going on involving a Sasquatch who has befriended some of the villagers. But other villagers don’t know the Sasquatch exists. So there’s some funny scenes there. And then a solution comes their way.
So both stories have that tension between nature and city life, there’s that tension that really sets the stage for the stories.”
Rachel and Ursula’s second book is a stand-alone story as well, so if you haven’t read the first book, the second book will still makes sense. However, the same characters appear in both novels and they also share the same setting. So, this new story is interconnected with the last tale, but it’s still an independent story.
Rachel told that they did most of the writing over a period of about a year, off and on, after they published the first book in 2014. They got the second book published in the fall of 2015 through the publisher, Createspace. This book is also available at Amazon and in hardcover as well.
“Finishing one story, we were inspired with ideas for the next story,” Rachel mentioned that she and her daughter were inspired by the first book. “And it’s the same with the third story that we’re working on now. As soon as we finished the second story, we got inspired to write another one. And you get a lot of energy from finishing a project. And it gave us— I guess we felt encouraged that we could write more.”
“I usually write every evening in my free time, like I set aside some time for writing,” remarked the accomplished Ursula, after she was asked to explain how she balances school work and writing. She said she wrote non-stop, even on Saturday and Sundays, and, to date, she has written a lot of fantasy tales. The subjects of Ursula’s fantasy writings are things like dragons, with a lot of complex lore. She creates the lore and creatures and realms and loves creating fantasy stories which may be classified as “dragon fantasy”.
Ursula said that they were planning to make three books in the series and they would complete the whole story in the third book. They are expecting to complete their third book in the fall of 2016.
On the question of next projects after the third book is written, Rachel said that her daughter Ursula has got a number of novels that she’s working on right now and some short stories as well:
“If we decide to do another collaborative project, that would be great, too, but right now we’re just trying to get the third book…that’s what we’re focusing on right now, is the third book in the Halftree Village series. And then we’ll see after that.”
Rachel is originally from Victoria BC and grew up in Quesnel, in central B.C. She has lived in Vancouver and Victoria and she moved to Whitehorse ten years ago. So, Ursula’s really grown up in Whitehorse.
Rachel said she also had a passion for writing since childhood. However, most of the writing she did as an adult has been technical writing, which is a more academic type of writing. In addition, she wrote quite a lot of poetry as well. However, writing fiction is fairly new for her:
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. And Ursula’s really opened that door for me because of her passion for fiction.”
On the question of challenges of collaborating with immediate family, Rachel said that they teamed up really well, “I think if we didn’t we would not have been able to finish these books. There’s no way we could have if we were arguing about what was going to happen or how we were going to write it. It wouldn’t have worked.”
Equally excited, Ursula concluded, “We urge each other on.”
Rachel further elaborated how her family is working as a team to make writing a family affair. She told me that her son is also involved, as a proofreader.
“Where he’s involved is we bounce off a lot of ideas off of him. He helped proofread the new book. We all read it out loud together as our bedtime story over a period of a few evenings and he helped to go through that process and we cleaned up a lot of things that didn’t make sense at that time.”
On the question of hobbies other than writing, Ursula said, “When I am not writing I am usually playing music or reading. I also play the piano and the flute.”
“When I am not writing, I am busy raising my new baby,” Rachel added. “I like gardening, silversmithing, music. I also play the piano and things like that. I have more interests than I have time for. Right now I’m focusing on the writing.”
Ursula is a twelve years old published writer. She has a passion for writing and is already working on 4-5 books. Ursula’s mother Rachel Westfall is also a writer and an avid fiction reader. Mother and daughter were going on walks through the forest in the evenings, they were trading thoughts back and forth, many characters were being evolved, and finally came up with an idea of writing a book together based on a Sasquatch tale. Mother-daughter team met me at the Yukon College to talk about their book and future writings. So here is a literary dialogue – Gurdeep Pandher
Yukon Times: Congratulations to you and your mom for writing this book!
Ursula Westfall: Thanks!
Yukon Times: Tell me about your book, what’s your book about, and what’s the title of the book?
Rachel Westfall: It’s called Estella of Halftree Village: A Sasquatch Tale, and the main characters are a couple of young women who live in a village, and their village is an intentional community that broke away from the city to get away from all the crime and violence that was going on in the city life. So they live in a very old-fashioned way – very low-tech society – and they’re in the middle of the woods. And there are sasquatches living in the area, but they’re still sort of a legend, so not many people know they’re real. But a sasquatch starts to make friends with one of the girls and starts leaving presents and things for her. And they develop a friendship and then some bounty hunters come from the city and they’re looking for sasquatches. They want to catch a sasquatch to take back to the city to sell to some researchers. So there’s a lot of the story is built around the tension between the city life and the village life, and the struggle to keep the sasquatches a secret. And there are other secrets there as well that they have to keep from the city people. They don’t want the city people to know about certain things about the area because they want to preserve their lifestyle
Yukon Times: What inspired you both to write this book?
Ursula Westfall: We always go on walks through the forest in the evenings. And we trade ideas back and forth. Like ideas about stories and things. Me and mom were just having a nice walk in the forest. We started talking about this book and then we got enough ideas collected together that we decided to write a book. So it was an ongoing, continuous dialogue.
Yukon Times: Can you let me know how this idea was developed?
Rachel Westfall: Really, like Ursula said, we go for walks every evening together, and we talk and we share a lot of story ideas. And when we started writing the story, it was really a romance in the beginning, and then as the story developed, we started to build a lot more drama into it and a lot of humour. So a lot of our conversations in the woods were around character development, or around funny scenes, things that could happen that would be entertaining. And then we took turns doing the writing. So each of us would write a scene and switch back and forth. Like most of the sasquatch scenes, Ursula wrote, so she really created the sasquatch’s character. It just evolved like that. Once we had enough ideas, we started writing it right away. We wrote almost the whole first draft over the winter holidays.
Yukon Times: When did you start writing this book and how long did it take for both of you to complete this book?
Rachel Westfall: So it was over the winter holidays, and it took us about a month to do the first draft. And then after that it needed editing and proofing. And so there was probably about another month of that type of work before it was polished up. It took about two months, I think, altogether.
Yukon Times: How did two of you work together to write this book? Did you face difficulty working together to write a book? When we work together, especially in a closest family relationship; like son or daughter, sometimes people face some sort of challenges teaming up for a mutual project. Did you face any difficulties, challenges, or things like that?
Ursula Westfall: We didn’t really. We worked together really well.
Rachel Westfall: Yeah, it was beautiful. Yeah. There weren’t any problems working together on it. If anything, we kept each other going, because both of us have started novels before, but we never finished them. And so, to do it together, we were really able to work together, work through any of the blocks that we ran into, the challenges. And I think it was much more successful because we worked together.
Yukon Times: Who contributed more to this book, you or your daughter? Is this 50-50 percent contribution, or one contributed more and the other contributed less?
Rachel Westfall: I did most of the editing. But I think we shared the writing a lot more evenly. I just have experience as an editor, so for me to do the editing and make sure that the voices float smoothly, and that kind of thing. I did most of that. Ursula did a bit of editing. It was more around the story and what happened in the story. So each chapter has a few scenes in it, and we switched by scenes rather than by chapter. We set up the chapters after all the scenes were written.
Yukon Times: This is a question for you, Ursula, specifically. Was it easy for you to balance the work of writing this book and your school work?
Ursula Westfall: It was easy, because I usually don’t get much homework. So right after school, I’d just start writing.
Yukon Times: Is this your first book?
Rachel Westfall: Yeah. I’ve done academic writing and published that before, but this is my first fiction novel.
Yukon Times: What is the hardest thing about writing, according to your experience?
Rachel Westfall: I think envisioning the whole project, and getting beyond that first three chapters. I think that’s the hardest thing; to be able to envision where you’re going with it, and then just make it happen, give yourself time and room to do that. Because it’s so easy to start something, and it’s so hard to see it through to the finish. So I think it’s envisioning that product to the end, and then getting there.
Yukon Times: Is this the final story scene which you envisioned the very first day, or is the final story different than the first day?
Rachel Westfall: It’s definitely different. It got a life of its own.
Yukon Times: Who published your book?
Rachel Westfall: We published it through CreateSpace, which is an Amazon group. So it’s self-published, and it’s available through Amazon and on Kindle. And I can order copies through CreateSpace, so Mac’s Fireweed Books carries it.
Yukon Times: Is it mainly in electronic format?
Rachel Westfall: It’s paper and it’s also available through Kindle, as any book. Most of the sales so far have been the paper version though.
Yukon Times: How can readers discover more about you and your book in the town, and where can they go to buy your book?
Rachel Westfall: So in Whitehorse people can buy it at Mac’s Fireweed Books. If they’re outside Whitehorse, they can go through Amazon – any of the Amazon sites, so amazon.com or amazon.ca. We also have a website: sasquatchtales.com.
Yukon Times: Do you read much? And, if so, who are your favourite authors?
Ursula Westfall: We read almost every day. We read very often. And my favourite author is Brandon Sanderson.
Yukon Times: Do you read mainly fiction or non-fiction?
Ursula Westfall: Yeah, mainly fiction.
Yukon Times: Science fiction too?
Ursula Westfall: Sometimes.
Rachel Westfall: I love fantasy, the whole genre. I’ve read all the sort of famous epic fantasy books. Ursula is named after Ursula Le Guin, who is an epic fantasy writer. I really like Steven Erikson – he’s one of my favourite writers right now, he’s Canadian. Again, a fantasy author. Together we read a lot of Brandon Sanderson. We’ve read Ursula Le Guin, we’ve read Tolkien. Who else? Lloyd Alexander. All these fantasy genre writers, we’ve read out loud. As a family we read a lot of the books, so we take turns reading out loud.
Yukon Times: Are you both planning to write more books?
Ursula Westfall: We are. We’re already starting a sequel for Estella of Halftree Village.
Rachel Westfall: Right now we’re hoping to get that one done this summer. But Ursula has several other books that she’s working on as well. I’m only working on the one. She’s working on four or five!
Yukon Times: So you’re working on four or five books?
Ursula Westfal: Yeah, I might not get them finished, ’cause sometimes I just start the books ’cause I get some good ideas. But then I just can’t get through them all.
Yukon Times: So you are going to be a future writer of Canada, Ursula!
Ursula Westfall: Yeah.
Yukon Times: It’s great that you are getting great encouragement from your mom, Ursula. Are you both getting a good support from the Whitehorse community for your book?
Rachel Westfall: There’s lots of support for, I think, the arts in general, in Whitehorse. And, certainly, we’ve had lots of interest from friends and family, and the community at large, in the book.
Yukon Times: Thank you so much for joining this conversation, and I wish you both the best for your next books!
I met Ben Sanders at the StarBucks to talk about his recent announcement of jumping into the race of the Liberal nomination. Here is the dialogue that unfolded over a cup of coffee: Gurdeep Pandher
YT: How did the idea of jumping into Liberal nomination get started?
BS: Well, I used to work in the House of Commons, so I had a first-hand view of politics at the federal level. And, you know, I hear a lot of people complain that it’s not working very well, that politics is broken, that it needs a reboot or an upgrade. And I got to see that up close, so I know exactly, you know– I have a visceral feeling for that being true. And, you know, I feel as though I’m at a point in my life now where I’ve learned how to take some big ideas and make them happen in industries where it’s very hard to do so. And I’m hoping to apply myself politically. I really want to get people more engaged; I think that they’re turned off. So at the very least, I have some new ideas for how to build a new type of politics, to try and make it more exciting for people, and more relevant too.
YT: Are you a long-time politician, or you just started experimenting with it?
BS: Definitely not a long-time politician, and not a regular politician. I’m going to be a different type of politician. This is my first time running for federal, you know, for office officially in Canada. But I do have that experience having worked in the House of Commons. And I think I bring a different type of experience, a breadth of experience to the job. I’ve built a couple of environmental NGO’s, I’ve bicycled across Canada, I’ve helped build a tech company in Silicon Valley, and I helped build the Blackberry and the Canadarm, and the particle physics accelerator at CERN. So one thing I think that politics needs is people who look at fact-based, evidence-based decision making a little bit more, and who bring a bit more of a builder type of perspective to it. And that’s what my engineering background will do. I think, in some sense, people don’t like politicians who are kind of career politicians. And I’m hoping to kind of get in for a while and get some stuff done, but then leave before things get too comfortable and the level of activity drops.
YT: You want to do things differently?
BS: That’s right, yeah. And I think that’s what people are looking for. I think they’re tired of the status quo, ’cause it’s not working, and they want to see politics be more positive, more accessible, more cooperative, more transparent, and more inclusive. And they want to see something get done. I think that’s what people like about me; I have strong track record of getting things done.
YT: Why did you choose the Liberal Party? Is there any reason?
BS: I think that the federal political scene is what’s most broken. I’m very distressed about the way in which Harper is currently leading the country. I used to work in the House of Commons when he was the opposition leader, so I’ve seen him and I’ve seen how he operates. And I think that a lot of Canadians are very concerned about the direction he’s taking the country in. I think he’s taking the ‘Progressive’ out of the Conservative Party, and I feel very compelled to stand up and fight for the Canada that I remember, the Canada that I believe we can be again. And the best way to do that is to get involved, and here in the Yukon, to try and make a difference. I think, you know, I’ve never been a hugely partisan fellow. I’ve worked on various campaigns before as a volunteer, both for Liberal and NDP – I’ve worked on Jack Layton’s campaign. And my feeling is that Justin Trudeau is building a new team, and he’s trying to build a new type of politics. And sometimes that means taking some risks, trying some things differently. And sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but I like the fact that he’s willing to try and build it in a better way. And that’s why I’m seeking the Liberal nomination, federally.
YT: You talked about Justin Trudeau. What do you think of Justin Trudeau and his politics, as he’s going to be your leader?
BS: I think that, like a lot of Canadians, we’re eager to see him evolve and grow into the job, you know. I think that he is doing some things that have motivated me and have made me excited that he’s actually taking action and not just talking about doing things differently; he actually is. So, earlier this year, when he made the changes to the senate – to free the senators, so that they were no longer part of the party, that they could be senators in a more bipartisan way – I think that that’s really important, you know. And I think anytime you see a leader relinquish power, give more power away, that’s a positive sign. I think that’s healthier for democracy. He’s also made strides to open up the nominations more than they ever have been before for the Liberals. And I think that’s really exciting too, because it means more people will get involved. And I think having a race for nominations is healthy thing, so I’m glad to see that too. And I think he’s taken some strong stands on some issues that Canadians feel passionate about, and he’s not shying away from engaging Canadians in a dialogue about those ideas.
YT: Do you think that Liberals will be able to form the next government in Ottawa?
BS: I hope so. What I hope for is to see a change. Again, like a lot of Canadians, I’m very unhappy with the direction that Harper is taking, increasingly so, and I feel we need a change. And that’s why I’m standing up, to try and help be part of that.
YT: Let’s come to the Yukon. How do you believe that you can do better than the other two Liberal candidates who are in the race?
BS: Yes. You know, I think there’s even more who are exploring the idea, and I think that’s healthy. The Liberals are going to use a ranked ballot to pick the candidate here, and what’s exciting about that is: there’s no negative repercussion from having a lot of candidates. So I’m hoping to see even more step up and join. The ranked ballot does away with vote splitting and it leads to more positive campaigning, ’cause you have an incentive to be your other candidates’ second choice. It’s a system that’s used around the world, and I would like to see it adopted federally in more places in Canada. I was part of a team that helped move it forward at the municipal level in Toronto. And I think that that in particular is a very progressive move. Again, I don’t see this so much as a race against other candidates for the Liberal Party. I’m excited that together we’re getting more people involved and engaged, and I hope to see more people come out and vote. And I think that I offer something new and different, and I think that after politics as usual for such a long time, I think a lot of Yukoners are looking for change, and they’re looking for something new and fresh. And I’m hoping to get some new ideas off the ground.
YT: If you’re elected as an MP, what will you do for the Yukon?
BS: There’s a lot of things that I want to do, but I’m certainly aware that it’s a system where it isn’t easy to make quick changes overnight. They’re adding thirty new members of parliament, so in the next parliament there will be 338 MPs. Which means that, first and foremost, I want to represent Yukoners’ voice very loudly in Ottawa. I think that a lot of Yukoners feel very critical that right now, sometimes it’s more that Ottawa has a voice here in the Yukon, and I think people want to see that change. So I want to stand up for Yukoners and fight for what’s important to them, and make sure that we’re heard in big decisions for Canada. Especially on things like the environment, climate change here in the North. Those impacts are even more strongly felt, and so we have a big role to play in shaping some of those policies and shaping the vision of the future for Canada. I have presented a number of ideas that are important to me, and so I’m hoping to advocate and push for those. But, again, really I think the first step is to try and introduce a different type of politics that engages people better. I think that politics needs to be more visual, so I’m going to try and share some of these big decisions with people in a way that’s more digestible, more palatable, easier to understand. I want to engage people better and find some ways with technology perhaps, to allow people to have their voice. So doing more ranked polls with Yukoners, so that I understand more their opinion in a factual kind of way on certain issues. So that when I represent them and vote, in certain ways, that I have more than just a subjective understanding of their thoughts on certain issues. And I think in the past, Yukoners sometimes feel like their representatives haven’t stood up for issues that were important to them, so I want to do that better. In terms of specific policy ideas, again, I have some that are very close to my heart, but I think it’s important for people to understand too that it will take time to bring those to the forefront.
YT: The issue of the Peel watershed development has been a widely discussed issue in the Yukon recently. What are your view about it?
BS: So I think, for me, the larger issue there is that a lot– I’ve been talking to a lot of Yukoners who feel that their voice wasn’t heard in that process, you know. That there was a well-described process where the government here said that they were going to capture feedback from the public. It seemed to me anyway that there were some very clear, strong opinions and a pretty broad consensus on the way that that should move forward, and I don’t know that Yukoners feel necessarily that that voice was incorporated in the plan moving forward. I do certainly recognize that industries like mining are very important in the Yukon, and they have helped grow and shape the economy here. And I don’t think that we can turn them off overnight, but I also recognize the incredible importance of protecting and preserving our environment. And I think that there’s a way that we can grow the economy without having as negative an impact on the environment. Those are some of the ideas that we talked about, that I would like to propose, as another way to diversify the economy. And that’s what I haven’t heard in the debate so far: a way to kind of find a middle ground, and that’s what I’m hoping to push for.
YT: What will you do for the mining industry for the Yukon, if you are elected?
BS: I’m really motivated by some of the leadership that I’ve seen from Shawn Ryan and his team. They’re using technology in some really innovate ways; world-leading techniques that are making exploration have far less impact on the environment. It’s making their costs lower, it’s making them more effective at pinpointing good places to do some mining, with less environmental impact. So it’s a great example of how technology can help improve mining in many ways, and I’d like to see more of that evolve. And I think that the Yukon could become a leader in mineral exploration that is less harmful to the environment. So, again, I think that there’s a common ground there that we need to find and strive for.
YT: You’re a tech guy. Please tell me more about that, about your tech background?
BS: Yeah, I spent several years building a tech company down in Silicon Valley with some friends, and saw first-hand how that community embraces the notion of failure. And I think that sometimes in government, there’s too much of a concern placed on playing it safe, and that prevents new ideas from being realized. And I’d like to try and shift more of that focus so that there is a greater acceptance for trying out some new ideas. Knowing that if we try ten ideas, maybe only a couple of them will really work out to be successful. And there’s ways to pilot and test those to get feedback in a tangible way, without planning, and planning, and planning forever, and never really learning quickly from those iterations. I think that Silicon Valley is kind of an epicentre for seeing creative new ideas emerge in a practical manner. And that’s something I think politics lacks, and it’s an experience that I bring that I would like to introduce increasingly to that area.
YT: Do you want to bring Silicon Valley to the Yukon?
BS: Well I don’t think the Yukon will ever be a Silicon Valley, but I do think that a hundred years ago we had the Gold Rush, and one way to diversify the economy would be to build the Yukon ‘Code Rush’. The idea there is to help support the growth of more web-based businesses, who can scale very easily and who can export their product to the world without any detrimental impact, without as much of the restriction as if they were trying to build a physical, tangible product. Because, with the internet, if it is indeed fast, affordable, reliable – those are things we need to improve on for this to work – then Yukoners could build businesses here and compete on the world stage. And it’s a great example of helping to grow and diversify the economy without hurting the environment. And I think those are the kind of innovative ideas that we need to look toward for the future.
YT: How did you get involved with YuKonstruct?
BS: I was part of the early team that got YuKonstruct off the ground. I have seen the model of a ‘makerspace’, which is essentially a place where you can go and share tools and share ideas with other inventors and builders, to create new things. I’ve seen that model work well in other parts of Canada and around the world. And I was meeting with a lot of Yukoners who have great ideas – there’s no shortage of innovative ideas here – but a lot of people either don’t have the space, or the tools, or the expertise to get their idea off the ground. So over Christmas, on my personal vacation, I went and toured six or seven makerspaces across Canada, ’cause there’s thirty in Canada, and nine hundred around the world. And I wanted to better understand how that could be applied here. I was able to bring some of that back here and have an event to see if Yukoners were interested in it. And we thought twenty or thirty people might come, but ultimately there were over two hundred who came. Moving forward on that momentum, a nonprofit was built, and that group was able to take this idea and build it in fewer than four months, which is remarkable – to take an idea and make it happen in under four months. I think that’s an example of the kind of leadership that I bring in being able to, again, have less talk and more action, to get things done. And there’s a lot still to do, to make sure that that idea continues to survive, and blossom, and thrive. But I think it’s exciting to see the space evolve, and more and more tools are coming in, and more members are joining up. And I’m hopeful that this will be a space where Yukoners can see their ideas materialize, and hopefully help grow the economy too – start some new businesses, get some new jobs going. There’s a lot of benefits that could come from it.
YT: What are your hobbies? What else do you do apart from tech and politics?
BS: I love the outdoors. When I came to the Yukon, I had one bicycle, and now I’ve got three – one for every season, you know. So I try and spend as much time as possible outside. I really love the opportunity to live here, to be so close to access this world-class wonderful nature that we’ve got, and that’s one of the best things about living here.
YT: When did you come to the Yukon?
BS: So I am coming up on my first year, and sometimes people say: “Wow, how will you be able to represent the Yukon if you’ve only been here that short while?”. And my response to that is– I think some people are saying: “Well, look at how much he’s done with the short amount of time he’s been here. Imagine what he could do with even more time”. I have been to every community in the Yukon, I’ve purchased a home here, and I’ve helped build YuKonstruct – a new nonprofit. So I think that’s an example of what I’m able to deliver, and I’m hoping to continue investing in this community. I’ve decided this is where I want my home to be, and it’s part of the reason I’m running – I want to make it a really great place, an even better place. But, again, I’m no stranger to the North; I was born in Northern Manitoba, and taught science in Northern Quebec. So, in many ways, this is a very fitting place for me to end up, of returning to the North.
YT: I think that’s it. I wish you all the best, Ben!
BS: Thank you. You too, Gurdeep. It’s great to talk.
An Interview with Norm Hamilton who wrote a novel on the results of fracking, irresponsible mining, and polluted waters. Norm Hamilton is a well-known Yukoner. His new novel, From Thine Own Well, explores a dystopian Canadian society set in 2036, a scant 24 years after FIPA (Foreign Investment Protection Agreement) of October 2012. In an interview with Gurdeep Pandher, he tells more about his book.
YT: What’s the title of your book, and what is your book about?
NH: The book is titled From Thine Own Well. Basically, what it’s about is – it’s a futuristic novel, so it’s about the results of fracking, and irresponsible mining, and how watersheds get polluted, and how corporate interests take over Canada, in general. The book itself is centered in Yukon.
YT: What inspired you to write this book?
NH: Well, I spent the last forty years living in Yukon. And throughout that time, I’ve watched governments doing various things, much of which is geared towards mining development and so on, and more recently towards oil and gas development. So this book is a piece of fiction that’s really created from my observations coupled with my fears, concerns, and, of course, my biases. And what transpired from that is a book on a dystopian culture – an anti-utopian culture – in Canada. Now, that’s sort of where it came from.
YT: For how long have you been writing this book? When did you start it?
NH: It’s interesting because in the fall of 2012, we were selling our home in the Yukon. I got involved with a group called NaNoWriMo – National Novel Writing of the Month. So for the month of November, I sat each day for about three hours, and wrote to tell the story. After that – and you had to get at least 50 000 words, and I had well over that. From that point, however, it took over a year of rewrites, proofreading, copy-editing, getting beta readers to read it, and then finally a complete editing, and a cover created, before it was actually published. So it’s been over a year.
YT: How are unrestricted mining causing environmental damages in the Yukon? Your observations?
NH: There’s much involved with that. However, throughout the world, everywhere there’s been fracking, there’s been problems with the watersheds and the water that people are supposed to be drinking. Mining itself – Yukon Government, in my mind, keeps proclaiming that mining is sort of the be-all and end-all. And yet, it’s kind of collapsed over the last few years. We cannot do without mining, we cannot do without oil and gas exploration, but I believe we need to be more cautious about what we do. The book also stems from the FIPA agreements – the Foreign Investment Protection Agreements. And what they do is they allow foreign corporations to come into Canada, and if a government sets up a regulation that makes it so they make less money than they think they should, they can sue the government. That goes to an international tribunal – it doesn’t even go to court. So, in the book, that has taken place on a number of occasions, and the government has been effectively bankrupted because of it.
YT: Because they don’t have any power, right?
NH: That has been removed from them. And, again, in the book – and it’s a fictional account – the government is now controlled by international corporate interests.
YT: You put a great emphasis on drinking water in your book. Please tell me more about this?
NH: Yes. I believe that in relatively short time, water is going to have more – well it already has more value than any mineral that we can come up with. But it’s going to have more monetary value as well, because we keep polluting it everywhere we go. Yukon is one of the last vestiges of pure water left in the world, and my belief is that we have to protect that and guard it jealously. So we have to be very careful about what we do with it. If we pollute one part of a watershed, because it’s a watershed, it’s going to fl ow through the entire area, and we’ll end up without water to drink. And at that point, whoever can provide us with that water has complete control of us.
YT: The Yukon Government in January 2014 approved the Peel Watershed area for development. So what are your comments on this?
NH: I find it incomprehensible that they would go completely against the recommendation of the Peel Watershed Review Committee – the land use committee that spent all the years and the time and effort in the studies. And the Government totally ignored that. So I find that quite disconcerting.
YT: Your book draws the reader to a dystopian Canadian society setting in 2036. Why did you choose this year to make a point?
NH: Because it is my belief – what created the thought for me was the Foreign Investment Protection Agreement with China that was done in 2012. And I kind of was curious, if that went bad, and others followed, how long would it take before Canada was in serious trouble? And it came to me that it could happen very quickly, for two reasons. One, as soon as the tribunals give an order that the Government owes money, then that’s more money that we owe. And, unless Canadians stand up against their government when they think it’s necessary, it’s just going to happen and we’re not going to do anything to stop it. So at this point, Canadians are not going to electoral polls, they’re not standing up for what they really want. From what I’m seeing on social networks and so on, there’s a lot of talk, but too many people are not standing up for it. So if we don’t stand up for something, we’re going to be mowed right over. And 2036 came to me, and I thought: “24 years? Yeah, it could happen that quick.”
YT: Related to the previous question, what could happen if the Foreign Investment Protection Agreement of 2012 goes against Canadians?
NH: That’s what the novel is all about. People no longer have any rights, it’s been completely taken away from them. The corporate interest must be served at all costs. Mining companies – not all – some mining companies have started to ignore regulations, so they’re polluting the water as well. The fracking is causing watersheds to become corrupted, and has also shifted some of the plates in the Tintina trench. Because the corporate entity told them to, government is capping off wells, and forcing people to purchase bottled water from the corporation. In general, it’s just all gone completely opposite of what we experience today.
YT: In your book, you refer to “The Coalition”. What is The Coalition, and how are they working?
NH: The Coalition is a non-existent entity at this point – it’s, again, a fictional entity. The FIPA agreement of 2012 was with China, and the book assumes that a number of other agreements – and that’s happening, again, as we speak – there’s more agreements being put in place. And when the first one sues successfully, the others jump on the bandwagon and they all end up being owed countless billions of dollars by the Canadian government. So they form a coalition to run Canada. So The Coalition is formed by these corporations that are owed the money.
YT: Your book discusses the issues of mining and fracking. How have you woven these issues to make a novel? These are current political, economic, environmental issues – how did you put them together into the novel?
NH: It’s really written not from the perspective of mining companies or oil and gas companies. It’s written from the perspective of the citizens that have been impacted by that. As it turns out, there’s a baker’s dozen of Yukoners that end up together – and one dog – who come together because they cannot tolerate what’s going on anymore, and they end up working towards change. The other half of that, of course, is the people who work for The Coalition, for that group of companies that is now running things. So it’s written from the standpoint of: when this is already taking place, we need to do something about it.
YT: What’s the price of your book, and where can it be purchased from?
NH: In Canada, the price is $19.99. It’s available in Whitehorse at Coles bookstore and at Well-read Books. It’s also available online, and it’s difficult to quote a price there because the online stores tend to compete with each other, and the price is fluctuating everywhere from about $13.00 up. A signed paperback is available by going to my website and ordering it from there, because I can then sign it and mail it out from there. That’s normhamilton.ca/writer. The book is also available in numerous e-book formats for Kindle, Kobo, Sony, and iBooks, and all the rest of it. And they’re all online as well. And as an e-book, it’s only priced at $2.99 right now.
YT: What would you like to say to the readers about your book? What message do you want to convey to them?
NH: Other than inviting them to pick up the book and read it, and let me know what they think of it. That’s always nice – I’m getting some excellent and wonderful reviews posted on Amazon about what people are thinking, and feeling very humbled by the amount of positive response to the book itself. I’m hearing everything from how exciting it is to what a thought-provoking story it is. I’m really grateful to the readers and my fans of the book. I think the biggest thing is that it does give pause for thought. So I invite people to read it.
YT: Thank you so much Norm for joining me for this brief interview!
NH: Thank you for having me. It was a pleasure meeting you and spending some time with you.
Because it is my belief – what created the thought for me was the Foreign Investment Protection Agreement with China that was done in 2012. And I kind of was curious, if that went bad, and others followed, how long would it take before Canada was in serious trouble? And it came to me that it could happen very quickly, for two reasons. One, as soon as the tribunals give an order that the Government owes money, then that’s more money that we owe. And, unless Canadians stand up against their government when they think it’s necessary, it’s just going to happen and we’re not going to do anything to stop it. So at this point, Canadians are not going to electoral polls, they’re not standing up for what they really want.
Damien Tremblay’s book entitled Yukon Dreams studies Yukon’s remote areas. In an interview with Gurdeep Pandher, he tells more about his book.
YT: Thank you so much Damien for coming to this interview!
DT: Thanks to you!
YT: Why did you write this book? I mean what inspired you to write this book?
DT: Well I wanted to write it because, well, I had read many books about the Yukon and the North in general. But I felt that– well, there was– the idea of remoteness was never explicit. It was always implied in those books, and it was more or less, well, omnipresent. But it was not very clear what it was exactly. So I wanted to explain it well – remoteness – what it was, and how it had an influence on people.
YT: There are a lot of books on Yukon – when we go to different bookstores, we find many books. So how different is your approach, how different is your book from other Yukon books?
DT: It’s a very focused book, because I wanted to talk about remoteness, and everything that was around this idea. And for the Yukon, of course, there was a mystique of the place, there is a mystery surrounding the Yukon. Why does it attract so much? And one of the reasons, for sure, is remoteness, and one doesn’t go without the other. You have the mystique of the territory, and you have the remoteness. So, I wanted to explain that idea.
YT: Are you the fi rst writer to touch Yukon’s remoteness, or did any other writer make this kind of attempt, do you know?
DT: No, the fi rst clear and explicit attempt, I think, is with my book. But, of course, everybody
talked about remoteness in his book. Because it was– it’s omnipresent, again, in the Yukon. So, you can pass it. I mean, you have to talk about it. And in my book I quote many other books about the Yukon, or the North, and chapters or things that talk about remoteness. But I wanted my book to be an analysis of remoteness. That’s what it is.
YT: When did you start writing this book?
DT: About two years ago.
YT: How long did you spend in research? How much time did you spend on writing, actual writing?
DT: Well, I did research at the same time as I was doing writing. Because I already had a lot of research done. Because, since my childhood, I read about the Yukon and the North. So I had that knowledge, that base of knowledge. I knew what I wanted to say. So I was able to both research it and write at the same time. But the writing maybe took a year.
YT: One year on research, one year on writing?
DT: About that, yes. And, yes, publishing matters too, you know.
YT: Ok. Yeah, it involves a lot of things. Your book tells about Yukon remoteness. How far did you go to write about this book? I mean where in Yukon, like what places in Yukon did you travel to, for your research?
DT: Well, I will say first: there are different scales of remoteness. The territory, for example, is remote from big urban centers. It’s remote from most big Canadian cities, so it’s a few thousand kilometers away. So that type of remoteness, anybody can feel it. I mean, you feel it, I feel it – anybody can feel it. I mean, we don’t have the same services exactly, however, we have everything we want, I think. But, I mean, we are still far away from many places – from France, from India, from our countries. But, of course, you can go always deeper into the Yukon remoteness. If you go in the wilderness, you are deep, very far – you can be wild very fast! Sorry. So, I mean, my favourite place are the Ogilvie Mountains. So every year I go there at least once, or twice. I go hiking by myself in the Ogilvie Mountains. So it’s– I’m by myself for a few days in the mountains, in very remote and beautiful places.
YT: Can you name places? Like, where did you go for your research?
DT: Well, I’ve been all around the Yukon; in the St. Elias Mountains, Ogilvie, and all of that. So, I’ve done some canoe trips, I’ve done some hiking trips, I’ve been in the wilderness all around, that’s for sure.
YT: You went to different Yukon remote places for your book to do study or research. So which area of the Yukon attracted
your attention mostly?
DT: The Yukon – all the Yukon, really. And I wanted to say: I didn’t fi nd it, really. The answers I give in that book are not really from the outside, what you could see from the outside. They are from within you – remoteness is about introspection. What is inside you, when you’re outside. So there is a paradox, you know – it’s more about you than the mountains. The mountains don’t care if they’re remote or not, we do. So it’s– talking about remoteness is an intellectual thing. It’s not something that you could guess looking at a mountain. You have to look within you, what’s inside you.
YT: In your book you mention the Peel River watershed. So what are your views about that region of the Yukon?
DT: Well, it’s a region that is very much discussed right now, because it’s one of the remotest areas of the Yukon, and they want to mine it and develop it. And, of course, I’m against that, because I think that all the Yukon is built – you know, the mystique, the importance of the Yukon for the world – is built on the quality of its remoteness. So, if you destroy that area, of course you destroy animals, you destroy wildlife and all of that, but you destroy the very idea that made the Yukon, and the reason people are coming for the Yukon. So you destroy something big.
YT: Do you support the “Protect the Peel” campaign?
DT: Completely. Of course.
YT: You have studied Yukon’s remote areas. So what did you learn about Yukon’s gold? Is Yukon still a great source of gold? Did you touch this subject too?
DT: I talked about it, yes. Well, I would say: Yukon is still a good source of intellectual gold. That would be my answer. Which is found, well, in its wilderness, remoteness, and all of that. It’s in a world that is more and more built, you know, where there are more and more cities, where everything is connected. Well, you still have the chance to not be connected to anything here. To be distanced from time, from everything that the world is right now. So this is precious, for that reason. But, of course, I talk in the book about the Gold Rush and why those young men came, and what they did find. And most of them didn’t find gold. They found what Pierre Berton– they found maturity, you know, they became adults. And that was the gold. That was what they found, really.
YT: We talked about the gold and the Gold Rush. So what do you think about Yukon’s “cold rush”?
DT: Well, a little bit long.
YT: Where are people more happy – in cities or in remote areas? Did you meet people in remote areas? How different is their lifestyle from people in the city?
DT: Yeah, I don’t know exactly how to answer that. I would say that in the Yukon, well, there are people that have always lived here, like the First Nations. But Yukon is made a lot from people coming from elsewhere. And those people are coming for different reasons. So, well, for example, I came for– really for the idea of the Yukon; the wilderness, Jack London, everything I read about that book. So, I’m quite happy to be here, because it was a conscious choice. But I know that many people are coming here for money, for a job. And for them, I think many are very happy to live here. And some are not so much. Because, I mean, it’s– the Yukon we know is cold, too, is isolated, dangerous. So maybe those people don’t appreciate that much the Yukon, I don’t know. But, so there are– so it’s hard to generalize, to say.
YT: What things are you concerned about Yukon’s remoteness? What things are you fearful about? Like, what you think that government should do, people should do for remote areas.
DT: Yes, I think that Yukon’s remoteness is an asset, in many ways. It’s an asset, well because people are coming from all over the world for that. So, it has, in some ways, to be conserved, and– but, for sure, since 1942 and the building of the Alaska Highway, it has diminished. Less and less– well, we have more and more roads, it’s less and less remote, for sure. But it’s remote enough, you know. So, yes, I think we should try to keep it that way. But, I have to say, trying to keep things the way they are is very much a romantic idea. It’s a bit a crazy idea, you know. But, maybe I’m crazy too, I don’t know. So– but, still, why would you change something that you love? When you love something, you don’t want it to change. And that’s why I’m saying: well, let’s keep it that way. Don’t build more roads, don’t change it – don’t change the nature of it, because I love it that way. So it’s a very romantic way to see things, but it’s valid because I’m not the only one thinking that way. I’m not the only one, I’m expressing it, but I’m not the only one thinking that way.
YT: People love that type of nostalgia, sadness, remoteness!
DT: Yeah, and what I found when I wrote that book is that– well, talking about nostalgia– because, I mean, in the idea of remoteness, you have the idea you are separated from something. And when you’re separated from something, you have pain – you become- well, you can be nostalgic, melancholic, and all of that. And it’s important to say it, because in North America it’s not a very good thing to say your place is melancholic, because, I mean, everybody should be happy, should have a big smile, and all of that. But it’s important to say, because, I think, for the Yukon, melancholia is a good thing. Because it’s a source of artistic inspiration. It’s– in isolation, as I see, you can look– you can have introspection. And that’s why so many people paint, write, photograph here. Because of that light, positive melancholia. And that’s why I found it was the very essence of the Yukon, that melancholia. And remoteness and melancholia – it’s pretty much the same thing, to me.
YT: Is this your first book? How long have you been writing?
DT: Well, yes, it’s my first book. I’ve been writing for all my life, it seems. I was a history teacher a few years ago, and now I’m working in the translation you need for the Yukon government. So, I like words, I like play on words, I like poetry, and I’m an avid reader too – I read a lot.
YT: Were you born in the Yukon, or you just came to Yukon from somewhere else and fell in love with it?
DT: Yeah, it’s pretty much that story, yes. But I would say that I was already in love in the Yukon before seeing it. Because I read all those Jack London stories and all of that, so I was already in it. Plus, my father was a trapper in the Quebec wilderness. So every year when I was going in Quebec, I could see, you know, the North, and the forest, and animals, and all that. So, I mean, I fell in it in a very early age– at a very early age, so…
YT: Ok. So where did you come from originally?
DT: I’m from France, and part of me– my dad was from Quebec.
YT: What’s the price of your book, and where can people go to buy your book?
DT: The price is $25.00 in town. So they can buy it in the stores, in the Yukon. Or you can have it on the web too – on amazon.com.
YT: It must be cheaper over there.
DT: Yes, it’s a little bit cheaper over there. Yes. And you can– sorry. You can have it as an e-book too, for those who like electronic books.
YT: What else do you want to say about your book, to the readers?
DT: Well, I invite them to read it, for sure. If they have questions, or– about remoteness, or if they are interested by the subject, yes, for sure. And if they are interested by the DNA of the Yukon, I think, the identity of the Yukon. I think, knowing more about what is remoteness will tell you a lot more about the Yukon than gold, for example. Gold is just– well, it’s part of history, but it’s not so much part of identity as remoteness is, I think.
YT: Yeah. So your book– summary of your book is that real gold of Yukon is its remoteness.
DT: Completely. Yes, completely.
YT: Thank you so much Damien for coming for this interview!
Whitehorse is known for many great artistic activities. One of them is The Grand Ole Northern Opry. Kim Beggs is a producer and an artistic director of the Northern Opry Project. She came to the Yukon Times office for an interview. It is here what she told us:-
YT: Thank you so much Kim Beggs for coming to Yukon Times for this interview. So, what did inspire you to start Grand Ole Northern Opry?
KB: Well the inspiration for The Grand Ole Northern Opry came out of many conversations in Baked Café, with another friend – Dale Harnesh –, and he also helps with organising The Grand Ole Northern Opry. I am– my name is Kim Beggs and I am the producer and the artistic director of The Grand Ole Northern Opry. And the Opry is an annual event that takes place each winter solstice – we’re having our second annual this December 20th and 21st. And it involves artists from all over the Yukon, from emerging to established. The goals of the Opry are about bringing emerging and established artists together, about bringing artists from the communities into Whitehorse to interact with the many artists that are in Whitehorse, and kind of bring people a little bit more out of isolation. Isolation is really good for creativity, it’s amazing. But when you’re trying to sort of move forward with your art, and also your artistic goals, and maybe music career goals, it’s really, really great to be able to network and get to know other people in the industry in the Yukon. So that’s part of– one of the inspirations about the Opry. It’s also about pushing the envelope. So, for an emerging artist, pushing the envelope might be just performing on a really big stage, in front of a lot people. And for established artists, that would be a different thing, because they’re used to it – they do that all the time. So, what are the ways that we can get established artists to push their envelope, take them a little bit out of their comfort zone? And that– one of the ways that we do that is: we have new songs commissioned for the Opry. So we’ll have writers write songs for somebody else to sing. So, the writers are no longer writing for themselves, they have to think about how the other person sings, and what is their vocal range, and think about the other person’s comfort as well. And in the same way, an established artist will be– might be singing that song, or it might be an emerging artist singing that song. So it’s like a, you know, it’s a whole different adventure, to be singing somebody else’s song. And it’s not just the old top 40 cover tune thing, it’s something completely different. And another benefit of that is also about mixing up DNA, and that’s something that’s a huge benefit to any artist – to work with another artist and collaborate. And then you come away with something new, a new kind of influence. And you may use that influence down the road, or you might not. You may want to work with that person again, or you might just appreciate having a– writing a different kind of song. Because I think what happens with a lot of song writers is: we end up– we have a pattern, and we have our influences. And it’s really good to shake it up a little bit, and have some new DNA, and write a different kind of song. And I think that once you try that, it is with you forever – it teaches you how to try something different. The other thing about the Opry is about artists getting paid, [laughs]. And one of our main funders – well our only funder this year – is Arts Fund. And one of the things that makes an application really strong is that artists are getting paid. And that’s important to them, and it’s really important to me, as an artist – I like getting paid! [Laughs] ‘Cause we all have to– we all gotta pay the rent and we got all our bills to pay, and we can’t– you know, artists are often called upon to volunteer, to play for free at fundraising events. And that’s great – we love to do it, but once in a while, we need to get paid, ‘cause we’ve got bills. And then the other– one of the last components – but there are many components to the Opry – is the mentoring that happens between the emerging artists and the established artists. And that’s something that we have– the whole Opry is actually about six days long. We’ve got the two nights of the actual show, which is December 20th and 21st. We have two days of rehearsal – full day rehearsals at the Arts Centre, on the December 18th and 19th. And on December 16th and 17th, we have the Opry music camp. And the main purpose of this camp is about bringing– is just a place for the artists to gather and be in one place. And especially when artists are coming from out of town. It just gives a venue for the exchanges to take place. It’s comfortable, you’re there all day, there’s food. And it just– it allows the exchange to unfold in a really comfortable way, and with as little stress as possible. And we want people to feel really good.
YT: Good, good.
KB: And that helps with preparing them for the big show, because it’s a high-end show, and we want everybody to be able to perform their best. And I think to perform your best, you have to feel your best, you have to feel really good about yourself. And we want to help with that.
YT: Good. So who’s coming to participate in this show?
KB: We’ve got singers, musicians – some of the– most musicians are singers, but many of them aren’t, but we have like, The Grand Ole Opry band ensemble, which is made up of six great musicians. And that ensemble backs up all the singers during the Opry. So we’ve got singers, we’ve got musicians, we’ve also got some country dancers. And we have songwriters, and we have “general writers”, and performers.
YT: Good. So how many Yukon artists are involved in this project?
KB: I was just counting it up this morning, and we’ve got 32 Yukon artists, and we also have about 13 Yukon production members, and we’ll have about 20 volunteers.
KB: And people– we have some out of province and out of country participants as well. We’ve two Northwest Territory artists coming, we have one from Ohio, Texas, which also is our old friend, Jerome Stewart, who used to– was a Yukoner, before he moved to Ohio. And we also have two artists from Oregon, and one of which also used to be a Yukoner.
YT: So what type, or kind of music and dancing there will be?
KB: It’s all about country music. And we try to stick to the old-time country music, rather than the new commercial type of country. We really like the old-time country. You know, it’s– there’s just something so appealing [laughs] about it, and it just really tells an interesting story. And I feel like the old-time country music really gets to the heart of the matter, and makes you feel things. And especially at this time of year, when it’s very dark and cold – winter solstice – we’re all feeling a lot of things. And we’re feeling the darkness, we’re feeling the isolation, and it’s nice to come together in a place where music that makes you feel even more is being performed. And we can all feel together [laughs], we can feel sad and we can feel happy. And it’s a very powerful experience.
YT: Good. So I heard that there will be two-step dancing. Tell me more about that.
KB: Yeah, we have some two-stepping that happens. So in, not necessarily all the songs, but many of the songs, we’ll have the two-step dancers go out and two-step on the stage while the song is being performed. And that’s just– it’s not to take the focus off the singer, but it just offers another kind of a visual for the audience. And a real bonus about it is that we do have the Opry signed for the deaf and the hard of hearing. And we have it signed on one night only – it’s December 20th. And we thought that it would also give a visual kind of rhythm to the music, that can’t necessarily be heard. And the music– the lyrics of the music are being signed, so they can get the meaning of the song. And also, our Master of Ceremonies, whatever he is saying, will also be signed. So it just gives– rather than just paying attention to words, it also gives a way of feeling the music in a rhythmic way. We’re kind of hoping that we can get some members of the deaf and hard of hearing community to get up dancing. I will be speaking with them later this afternoon. [Laughs]
KB: And I want to encourage that. So we have some really, really good dancers that know how to lead and that– We’ll just see how it goes, I mean people have to be comfortable. But we would be really open to that happening. And having more of the general public getting up dancing as well. If they’re dressed country.
YT: So can you tell me about which date timeline of this event is happening? Starting time, I think, time…
KB: Yeah. It begins at 8p.m. So on Friday, December 20th and Saturday, December 21st. It’s the same show both nights, and it starts at 8 o’clock, and it will be a two-and-a-half-hour show.
YT: At Yukon Arts Centre.
KB: At the Yukon Arts Centre, that’s right. And people can buy tickets – they can get them online, or at www.yukontickets.com, or you can go to the Yukon Arts Centre Box Office. Or you can go to Arts Underground, on Main Street.
YT: Good. So will there be any food or snacks, or any other thing, any different?
KB: We’re hoping so. I don’t know yet. I mean, there’s a– I don’t think that I should– because we were talking about having– doing like a fundraiser for the Philippines there. But I feel like it’s still in just discussion mode, and I don’t think that I– I have to talk to Tamara and Janice before I, like, put it out there, so…
YT: So, about this project–
KB: So if we did that, then we would want to invite the rest of the Filipino community, because– anyway, all I can say is: we hope so. [Laughs]
YT: Yes. So, to know more about this project – Grand Ole Northern Opry – which website, or where can people go to find more information about it?
KB: Ok. We have a few presences on the web; we have our website, which is: northernopryproject.com. We also have a Facebook page, which you can Like, and you can follow us on Twitter, and we also have a YouTube page that we are building. Right now, we have the Air North jingle posted on that.
YT: Good. So what are your thoughts about the future of this project? Like future plans.
KB: Future plans. Well, I would ultimately like to have a lot more song-writing commissions. The organisation of that is a little bit difficult, because it’s a lot of people matching. You have to match writers, and then you have to match who they’re going to write for, what singer. And so it’s a very– a lot of thought has to go into that to make it right. But I would ultimately– I think it’s a very fun part of the show, and I’d like to have more of that. And also, my view about the Opry is that, eventually, every single Yukon musician who is aspiring to be, you know, somewhat professional, will have the opportunity to play at the Opry. We just can’t hire everybody, every year. So no one should ever feel, like, left out. It shouldn’t feel– it’s not exclusive. It is about being inclusive.
YT: So, thank you so much, Kim Beggs, for coming to Yukon Times for this interview, and we wish all the best for your project.
Air North – Yukon’s Airline is starting a new service to Yellowknife and Ottawa in the first quarter of 2014. In an interview, the Yukon Times editor Gurdeep Pandher spoke with Allan Moore who is the Airline’s director of commercial development, regarding this new route and the Airline’s future plans.
YT: Congratulations on your new service! Looks like Air North is spreading its wings far East. How are you feeling?
AN: We are nervous. It’s a new opportunity for us. Normally we just operate in the North-South type structure. This is the first time we’re going out towards the East. And it’s exciting times, but we’re just trying to satisfy our customers – the Yukon customers. So we’re not really in competition with anybody. We’re not trying to take anything away, or– But we– It’s important that we look after our Yukon customers.
YT: That’s great. So, first, tell us a little bit about Air North – the history background, so that– there are so many new people in the Yukon, and outsiders. They would like to know.
AN: Air North is 37 years old. It started as a bush flying company. And, going on 12 years now, they bought jets, and they entered the Vancouver market. So that’s become a really big part of what we do. And it’s 49% owned by the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation – the development arm. And we’re providing service throughout the Yukon. And now looking to, obviously again, satisfy the needs of theYukoners by broadening our markets.
YT: About your new service– So when are you going to start this new service to Yellowknife and Ottawa?
AN: In the first quarter of 2014. We’re waiting for regulatory approval at the moment, so we can’t make the announcement on the days of the week or the times. But we’re looking at twice-weekly operation. And very obviously, we’re trying as much as possible to get it to fit in with what we believe – and what we’ve heard – is federal government and territorial government travel.
YT: That’s great. So, this new service, how many jobs will it create?
AN: It should create about ten extra jobs.
YT: Ten full-time?
AN: Ten full-time jobs. And the reason being is that we’re spreading our work day, so we’re coming in and leaving at different times. As opposed to now which has got a really early morning rush, and then a late afternoon rush. We’re going to be leaving at different times, which means that you have to stretch your shifts. And then you’re also flying a lot more. One flight, one way is equivalent to three round-trips to Vancouver. So you’re potentially putting a lot more time and, you know, wear on the aircraft, which is– we’ll need people to deal with that.
YT: Ok, where are you also having people from? Yellowknife and Ottawa too, to support there?
AN: Normally what we do is we take a local person, to run the operation there. But we use a local service provider. So, ourselves, we normally take on one person, in each city. But we do utilise– like we ground handle for other airlines here. They return the compliment and we pay them to do the work, yes.
YT: Good. So is this Air North’s own venture, or is there any department of government or any private organization supporting this?
AN: The idea for this flight was actually hatched on a Premier’s trip to Germany. We looked at– obviously done the math and the homework on the flight. We knew what was viable and what wasn’t viable. And we knew how to do the, you know, timing of the aircraft, and the number of duty hours. But when we went to Germany, myself, the Premier, and the Minister of Tourism spoke for a very long time about it, and that’s what really hatched the egg, rather than creating the egg. And so it was a fantastic idea, and that’s what really got us interested. So it was really the Premier’s trip to Germany that triggered it.
YT: So it’s got a little bit Government connection, right?
AN: Not so much Government connection, but more Government encouragement. The Government here is savvy enough to realise that by putting on this flight, it’s creating extra jobs, it’s creating extra revenue. It’s just building on a lot of stuff, which benefits the Yukon. So there’s no Government interference in our airline, whether it be federal or territorial, but they will, you know, do anything they can to create jobs to Yukoners, to stimulate the economy. And in line with that, this is a perfect meshing of the two synergies.
YT: Good. So what will be the traveling time from Yukon to Yellowknife, and from Yellowknife to Ottawa?
AN: It’s approximately an hour and a half from here to Yellowknife, depending obviously on the weather and which direction you’re flying in. And then there will be a 40-minute wait in Yellowknife while we refuel, take on passengers, you know – disembark and embark passengers. And then it’s about a four hour, fifteen minute flight down to Ottawa. So a big step up for us.
YT: A lot of time to eat candies!
AN: A lot of time, and we’re just lucky a lot of people start taking the tablets and laptops on board, because otherwise we’re going to end up with some really bored people.
YT: Yes. So, how well does this new service benefit the Yukon economy?
AN: It’s– well, straight up, it’s– we’re going to look at the green side. You know, a lot of people are flying from the Yukon down South to go back up to Yellowknife. You’re straight away cutting out all those carbon emissions by flying directly across. Then you’ve got the other side of the coin, where it’s creating new jobs. Those people in turn are spenders within the North. If you look at a lot of other airlines that say they’re Northern carriers, they truly aren’t because they’re based either in Calgary or Ottawa or somewhere like that. We are based here, so anything we earn, including revenues, stays in the North. And that’s important to the economy. Putting extra hours in the aircraft means, you know, that we’re servicing the aircraft at more frequent intervals. That means that, you know, we have to spend more money within the North. We’re even looking at trying to get, you know, a mechanics program up here in the North, which will benefit us because then we’ve got a pool to draw from. So the spinoffs from it are huge, for the Government, whether it be accommodation, housing, food, anything.
YT: Yes, yes. Tourism.
AN: Yeah. Talking about tourism, the tourism opportunities have just skyrocketed. Because you’ve got a market in the Ontario area, you know, Ontario-Quebec border, that would love to do Northern lights. And here we’re making it very viable that they can fly up for a weekend, and have three nights of aurora viewing – or three chances of aurora viewing – and going back. So it’s now viable. You’re not having to fly via somewhere. It’s four and a half hours up to Yellowknife, another hour and a half across. We’re looking at a big investment in tourism.
YT: That’s great. So in the East, why did you choose Ottawa instead of Toronto? Because in Toronto there are more people, I believe.
AN: Toronto is a four-hour train ride away. Montreal is a two-hour train ride away. We’ve kind of positioned ourselves in the middle of that triangle.
YT: Oh I see.
AN: It’s giving us a lot more opportunities. If you fly into Ottawa, you can catch a 40-minute flight down to Billy Bishop airport, which is downtown Toronto, and you’ll actually be in downtown Toronto quicker going via Ottawa than you would by flying to Pearson airport in Toronto. That’s the one side. The other side is: we know our customers. We know where they go – we follow the bags – we know where they go from our gateway cities in the South. And– like, we put on the Kelowna flight because a lot of people were sending bags to Kelowna. We know that Victoria and Ottawa are two other big hubs. So we chose Ottawa because there’s a lot more going there than there would be going to Toronto or Montreal. But it’s still central enough in all those cities to give you access to those cities if you need to be. And the third reason is that we look at where our territorial Government traffic goes, and where the Federal traffic comes from, and that’s Ottawa.
YT: Yes, that makes sense. So how many flights will fly every week on this new route? Two I think?
AN: It’s two return flights a week.
YT: Ok, that’s great. So how much traffic are you expecting from Yellowknife when it stops there?
AN: From Yellowknife? A lot, because it’s a slightly bigger population there than in the Yukon, number one. But they’ve also got a lot of diamond mines there, and the majority of– or, by far the biggest sector of workers at the diamond mines are from the East coast. So flying into Ottawa, there’s direct connections through to Newfoundland and to New Brunswick. And these are men that are on their break, and they really just want to get home quickly rather than spend half the day in Vancouver, or Edmonton, or Calgary, or somewhere. Or flying via the North – via Iqaluit. They actually want to be at home as soon as possible. So we’ve taken that into consideration as well.
YT: Great. So do you see any competition with the other airlines due to this new route?
AN: There’s always competition, no matter what you do. It’s who’s got the biggest buck, who takes the first try at it. This route – to Yellowknife – used to be operated a couple of years back, and it didn’t have the right market. And this is why we’ve combined the two. So not only do you have just a Whitehorse-Yellowknife, but you’ve now got a Whitehorse-Ottawa, and a Yellowknife-Ottawa option to make the flight viable. So we put three options in instead of one, which it’s– you know, it just means that you have to be less successful on one sector than combined successful on three sectors.
YT: Good. Air North is loved by passengers because it provides meals, cookies, things like these for free. So it’s a long trip. So what else are you going to do that– just to please passengers.
AN: Accordingly, if you travel one of our short flights, it’s different from the two-hour flight. And likewise, this will be different from– this four-hour flight will be different. We’re looking at a totally different menu – a more substantial meal than the big roll or– you know, that you get right now. We have looked at in-flight entertainment, but with the way technology is going right now– and we do look, and we do gather from our passengers that the majority carry either a tablet, a smartphone, or a laptop. And so, the days of providing in-flight entertainment are really becoming yesterday. I mean, we were having a conversation earlier about, you know, it’s– smart phone technology is the way to go. You can watch a movie. And so you’re putting that in the hands of the people as to what they want to watch.
YT: Yeah, now we don’t need TV’s in the flight.
AN: You don’t need TV’s in the flight. And a lot of people don’t realise how heavy the equipment is, to provide that in-flight service. I mean, you take any other 737 top operation – if each screen weighs half a kilogram. Right through the aircraft, you know. That’s an extra 60 kilograms. And there’s a cost to transporting that. Not only that, you’ve got the actual boxes underneath the middle seat. Not only does it compromise the middle seat passenger’s leg room, but it’s a really weighty piece of equipment. So by letting people use the equipment that they actually bring on board, we’re going to be saving cost there, and greenhouse gas emissions.
YT: Yeah, that makes sense. So you are going to connect Yukon and NWT with this new service. Great. Will you be starting service to Nunavut in future, to connect all the three territories – entire North?
AN: Absolutely, it’s on our radar. But connecting the third capital is really not servicing Yukoners, which is our main aim. Would we look at something? Absolutely. Would we look at anything. Do we get a lot of requests for it? Absolutely. We get a lot of requests to go across to Nunavut. But the big thing is that our business credo – our motto – is to service Yukoners, not to service people from the other territories. We don’t expect other people to come in and try and pirate our market, and we wouldn’t do the same.
YT: Ok. So, same thing. Will primary focus on Yukon, or are you going to ship some of your business to Northwest Territories?
AN: No. If we pick up business out of the Northwest Territories, like I was speaking about earlier, that’s a bonus that makes this flight viable. But the flight is intended to be a Whitehorse-Ottawa, or Whitehorse-Yellowknife. The fact that we get a bonus sector in that can make the flight viable. It’s just, you know, good planning.
YT: Ok. So, would you be buying new planes to meet needs of this new route, or do you already have enough fleet?
AN: We have a big enough fleet. I believe that our fleet is underutilized. When you look at the utilization of aircraft at other airlines in Canada, they’re operating an aircraft up to 14, 16 hours a day. Whereas our usage is way down from that. We don’t have the network they have, but what we do have is a plan for better aircraft utilization. We will actually bring aircraft in, rotate aircraft out, so that we’ve got more planes available to us to perform the routes that we need to.
YT: Are you exploring other destinations as well? South, East?
AN: Absolutely. We are looking the whole time. You know, if we don’t move, we’re going to get [inaudible], and it behooves us to actually look at other stations. Looking at BC is obviously in our interest, and in the interest of Yukoners. We’ve got to see where Yukoners go to university, where they shop, where they have family – that type of thing. And so it kind of highlights Victoria as a really stand-out destination. But we’ve got to learn to crawl before we walk, and we need to get the Yellowknife-Ottawa route running properly before we start exploring anything else.
YT: You added a new route at Kelowna this summer – seasonal route. How is that going?
AN: During the summer it was fantastic. We were full most flights. And some of the flights we actually had to put on a bigger aircraft, just to meet the capacity. It’s been highly successful. We extended it through the winter. We’re kind of in a trough season right now, between summer and winter. Although – you look outside – winter has struck, it hasn’t really sunk home yet. And there gets a point in time when people want to get out of the snow and the ice, and Kelowna becomes a really viable option, with good weather.
YT: Yeah, tourism.
AN: And good tourism. So from that point of view, it’s very very important. And we’re expecting an upturn in business, but currently, as I say, it is in a trough. But it’s not discouraging.
YT: Good. So you have your booking system online, through your website.
YT: So that causes the demand of the next generation, young people especially – they are tech-savvy. They are looking for booking system through tablets, iPhone apps, Android apps. Are you going to do something with–?
AN: Absolutely. We’re busy with that right now. We’ve just introduced online check-in. You can check-in online, you can get a boarding pass online. There’s a lot of that happening. But, once again, it’s a matter of learning to, you know, to crawl before you can walk. And we’ve got a fantastic team who are working on that. The product – the online check-in product – has been wildly successful, with a higher uptake, believe it or not, out of the Yukon than most southern cities. So we were very surprised at the higher uptake of online check-in.
YT: So how much percent of your business do you get from your website?
AN: From the red website, it’s by far the biggest– the majority of our business is done on the website, or through agencies, or through online travel agencies. But just as far as that goes – the online check-in – is about 30%, around there.
YT: Great, which is great. So my last question is: What do you see as future of Air North?
AN: Good question. And I ask myself that every day. Are we going in the right direction? What are we correctly? I think we have to cement ourselves as the airline of the Yukon, not try and be number 3 carrier, number 2, anything like that, within the country. We need to service the people that support us. We need to keep Whitehorse in the loop – in other words, we need to keep the base here. We need to work on that. And we need to provide a product that satisfies Yukoners, whether it’s bringing people to the Yukon – and letting Yukoners have that opportunity of business – or taking Yukoners out. So I see us as looking at more routes in the long-term, but not expanding that it becomes a beast that we can’t manage. I believe that we service our shareholders very well, and I think a lot of our expansion has to be supported by the shareholders. So whatever we do in the future – no matter what grand plans I might conjure up – I don’t think it’s anything that the board wouldn’t approve. But we have to keep that in mind.
YT: Alright, thank you so much for talking to Yukon Times. Thank you so much.