There’s gold, and it’s haunting and haunting;
It’s luring me on as of old;
Yet it isn’t the gold that I’m wanting
So much as just finding the gold.
It’s the great, big, broad land ‘way up yonder,
It’s the forests where silence has lease;
It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder,
It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.
from the Spell of the Yukon, Robert Service
[by Fritz] Last month I headed to Dawson City to shoot the Klondike National Historic Sites for the Canadian Tourism Commission. Most of the talent we pulled in were Parks Canada staff whose jobs had just ended for the season, along with some keen locals and a few tourists. It was supposed to look like a ‘summer’ shoot, but fall was in full swing here in September so we embraced it.
One afternoon we spent some time at Robert Service Cabin. Most visitors to Dawson seek out the home of the famous poet known for his verses about the Klondike Gold Rush. The weather had been cloudy and cold, but while we were there the sun beamed into the historic site. For a short time we were surrounded by magic light and golden fall colour.
While leading us around town on a walking tour, Parks Canada heritage interpreter Fred Osson became Robert Service. By the time we arrived at the cabin, we’d been listening to Fred recite Service ballads and spout off tall tales like Service. I found myself lowering the camera so I could watch the famous bard. I caught myself thinking: this actually is Robert Service, and I really am standing here on the boardwalk in 1903.
It’s easy to think about historic times in monochromatic black and white like we see in the old photos, yet Service’s life was full of colour. That afternoon Fred animated Robert Service’s world for us. Fred is incredibly gifted at what he does, and he took us back a hundred years. We re-created a historic photograph in front of the cabin porch, with Fred teasing us in and out of the past. Oddly, it was 100 years almost to the day since Service left the Yukon for good.
I’ve been to Dawson many times, yet I felt something significant at the cabin that day, like I’d travelled through time and found Klondike gold myself. It was a testament to the power of interpretation.