I picked this book up after attending a “Museum Hack” at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, where non-museum staff told visitors elaborate stories prompted by small historical items. For example, a commemorative pen displayed on a chunk of debris from Cosmos 954 led into the story of the nuclear-powered Soviet satellite that exploded all over Great Slave Lake in 1978, prompting fears of radioactive fallout and leading to a $14 million cleanup.
Another good story came up near the rock collection. This was the tale of Tony Gregson, who managed to steal two sacks of gold from the Discovery Mine while traveling on board a company-chartered plane.
Both of these stories appear in Randy Freeman’s Stories from Yellowknife, which is effectively a coffee table book of yarns that all Yellowknifers should be familiar with (lest they get even more elaborate in the retelling). Freeman writes in the voice of a man filling time at the legion, but the stories are short, each contained in one chapter, so you can dip in and out freely.
Freeman also writes of a barrenlands flower fanatic from Carlton, Minnesota, who was accused of being a Russian spy — how else to explain her sudden interest, and her hugely expensive journeys through the newly militarized Arctic? Freeman commemorates an editorial page battle between the editor of News of the North and Farley Mowat. He describes the creation of the first ice road in the NWT, and tells the story of five Yellowknifers who chartered a plane to go prospecting in the Nahanni, but neglected to make plans for the plane to come pick them up. Three died.
Freeman does a particularly nice job with the story of Everett Klippert, the Pine Point miner who was the last Canadian to go to jail for being gay.
“The manager of the mine knew of Klippert’s past yet hired him anyway, giving him the job as a mechanic’s helper. The manager and his wife also befriended Klippert, and often had him as a guest in their home. They described him as ‘a quiet-spoken, likeable fellow, who did not drink. …By no stretch of the imagination would anyone have thought of him as a dangerous sexual offender. …Those words, ‘gross indecency,’ seem utterly ridiculous when applied to Everett Klippert.’”
There are smaller stories too, including one about a hypnotist from New Zealand who put a young girl to sleep in a furniture store display window for the twenty-four hours leading up to his big show. And the story of an explosion in Behchoko brought on by the make-shift storage setup used for the hydrogen used in weather balloons.
This book was meant to be a three-part project, with Stories from the Mackenzie Valley and Stories from the Arctic to follow. I don’t believe those books ever materialized, but if they do: probably worth a read.