Name: Jim Robb
Place of Residence: “I live in an old historic 1930s log house in Whitehorse, Yukon.”
Occupation: “Artist. I do pen-and-ink watercolour paintings. Also, I spend a lot of time putting stories together.”
How long have you lived in the Yukon?
“I was born in Quebec City, in 1933, and mostly raised in Montreal. I came to the Yukon in 1955, when I was 22 years old.”
What brought you here?
“I like smalltown, country-type of people. I was living in Montreal, which at the time was the largest populated city in Canada. I had read that the Yukon’s population was about 0.2 persons per square mile; now it’s probably 0.3. The small population had me interested. Plus, reading Robert W. Service’s ‘The Spell of the Yukon,’ I had to come up to the Yukon and have a look. I fell in love with the Yukon and stayed.”
What keeps you here?
“I stay here because I love and enjoy digging into Yukoners’ stories and Yukon history in general. I’m interested in recording colourful Yukon personalities of the past and present, people who I call the ‘Colourful Five Per Cent.’”
Settle the debate for us: What makes someone a “real” Yukoner?
“To believe in the Yukon’s possibilities and to help others if you can.”
What’s the biggest tall tale you’ve told friends or family in the South about life in the North?
“True story: I went to Pelly Crossing about 35 to 40 years ago for New Year’s. It was 76 degrees below. Taking photos in that cold was difficult, but I got some good outside and inside shots.”
How do you get your friends or family in the South to come visit?
“Get people in the South to read our history. Show photos of the territory. Promote films about the Yukon.”
Who is your favourite Yukon character of all time?
“My favourite character of all time is the late Harry Fieck, also known as Wigwam Harry. The first time I made any money doing any artwork was in 1957, when I sold three murals to the Taku Hotel bar that was just built. But my first serious Yukon-style artwork was of Harry, in 1958. It was a large, pastel-charcoal drawing of him, four by eight feet. It was called Wigwam Harry Dancing On The Barroom Floor. It hung in the Whitehorse Inn’s Rainbow Room lounge, when Jack ‘Silent’ Smith leased it. So, Wigwam Harry gave me my start. Doing the Wigwam Harry picture gave me an insight into the Yukon’s uniqueness. Since this, through the years, I’ve worked on hundreds of images and stories of unique personalities with my artwork and photography. Also, I would like to mention the late Buzz Saw Jimmy, [who] was a Klondike pioneer. He lived across the street from me. He certainly was a fantastically unique character of the past, as well.”
I wouldn’t change ____ for all the gold in the Klondike.
“[The Yukon should] remain a territory, not become a province of Canada. Never change to a province.”
What’s the best meal you’ve ever had in the territory?
“In 1955, while working on a survey crew on the Teslin River. The camp ran out of grub, nothing left at all--just one jar of peanut butter. Because of very bad weather the plane that was supposed to pick us up could not. Many days went by, so the party chief shot a moose, and for many days we had slabs of moose meat, cut like slices of bread with peanut butter thickly spread in the centre, like a giant sandwich. It was great! It’s the
meal I remember the most and appreciated very much. The pilot who finally picked us up, I think, was Ron Connelly.”
What’s one thing about the Yukon that more of us should take advantage of?
“Visit remote spots in the territory, like Old Crow, Rampart House, 60 Mile country, Glacier Creek, Herschel Island, Miller Creek, etcetera.”
What’s your favourite piece of little known Yukon trivia?
“People don’t believe me, but I have pet spiders in my bathtub. No matter how often I take a bath--like two or three times a year, no matter if I need a bath or not--I take the spiders out and put them back after my bath. I don’t like to disturb the little critters too much. My favourite spider is the one I call ‘Lady Gaga.’”
What do you wish more Canadians knew about life here?
“Although life is changing here, it’s still not as fast paced and hectic as life outside the territory. We have some of the most beautiful countryside in North America and wonderful people. Also, an incredible, unique history.”
Where is your favourite place in the territory?
“My favourite places in the Yukon are the Teslin River, Dawson City, and Carcross.”
What’s the best up-close-and-personal encounter you’ve had with the local wildlife?
“While sketching and photographing one of the Klondike roadhouses with another photographer, Rhonda Snary, a moose came wandering by, very close. It took us by surprise--a pleasant surprise.”
You’re on the phone to a friend from the Outside. No one from the government is listening. Do you say “Yukon” or “The Yukon”?
“Definitely ‘The Yukon.’”
When the cold and dark gets to you, where do you go to recharge?
“Just a warm Yukon cabin to listen to the blues and do some artwork. I feel that’s my way to recharge.”
Dog mushing or snowmobiling?
“Neither. Like the previous answer, I like working in my cabin, listening to the blues and good country and western.”
How cold is too cold?
“If you have to go, you go!”
What author, musician, band, or artist from the territory do you think should be more famous?
“I like Ed White, a great drummer in Whitehorse. He has a great, smoky barroom blues voice.… Brandon Isaak (good stage performer, sort of swing bluesman), Ryan McNally (good blues-pop style), [and] the Yukon Jack Band, for their Yukon style of a country band. Also, some of our visual artists like Halin de Repentigny, Heather Hyatt, Richard Shorty, Chris Caldwell, Lillian Loponen, Nathalie Parenteau, Emma Barr, Ukjese Van Kampen, and carvers Keith Wolfe Smarch, Eugene Alfred, Dennis Shorty, and Willie Atkinson. I believe all these artists mentioned have great potential and some produce world-class work.”
You’ve just won a huge jackpot at Diamond Tooth Gerties Casino, and you have 24 hours to spend it in the Yukon. Where are you headed?
“To buy an additional large house. To pay five years advance to a person to help catalogue my collection. Also to hire two professional researchers and writers.”
Finally, what does “The Spell of the Yukon” mean to you personally?
It means to me that it’s the only place that I want to live and work, that I love the place--the countryside and the people. And I want to be buried here. But please give me a few years more--I’m not ready yet!” Y