A Call from Hollie


Hollie with an ‘i’.

She was being patient with me.


I got it.



‘dot sea eh’.

You need a #referralforthisclinic.


I’m being dramatic.

When you look at the BC Children’s website – you may not have – you will see that there are several categories to log in to:  allergies, asthma, cancer and blood disorders, gastroenterology, gender, multiple organ transplants, neurology, pain, plastic surgery, renal, rheumatology.

BC Children’s Hospital.


In case you were wondering, I got a call today.

I got a call because in spite of work transitions, bill requirements, taxes being due on Monday, emails and texts from people who want things right now (because it is important), Gabe needs an EEG.

We live in Canada’s north, so…Gabe needs an EEG  thousands of miles from home, and he needs it next Monday.

Hollie said:  if you don’t come now, he won’t ‘fit in’ until September.

She was good, and kind and trying to be helpful.  I was thinking about telling my new boss that I would have to have next Monday off.  It wasn’t Hollie’s fault.  I took her info.  She waited for me to check my schedule.  Like a saint.  Like a goddamned saint.

If this seems big to you, let me tell you.

  • Gabe had six tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizures a week (minimum) starting in August 2011.
  • Gabe has Todd’s paresis – a condition where one hemisphere of his body is effectively paralyzed for up to an hour after each seizure.
  • He has been seizure-free since December 2015.
  • His medication costs $500 a month.
  • I’ve lost jobs, relationships, and what feels like years from my life.
  • He is whole, and smart and really good.
  • I am lucky. We are lucky.
  • They are checking him because it might be gone.
  • They want the test to see if he can do without the meds.
  • I am terrified.
  • I am terrified for him.

What if they test him and they are wrong?  What if they test him and say it is gone and they are wrong?  What if they pull the meds…and they are wrong?

But, what if it is gone?  This is the scariest of all.  What if they say it is gone?

Because then I will spend the rest of my life waiting/not waiting for the next seizure.

Or what if it’s not?…that’s worse still.

My boss said:  ‘oh Angela, you do what you need to do.’

Like a goddamned saint.

I’ve known her for three days.  Three.

And here I am…8 PM in Yellowknife…thinking these things while he’s in Whitehorse at the movies.  I’m grateful he can do that.  So many kids can’t do that.  Which is perhaps something you can only really understand if Hollie calls you, and you go have to go to the BC Children’s website.

People say they don’t know how we do it.

If you’ve seen what I have…you would know how lucky we are.

We are lucky.

I am scared that luck won’t last.  The luck has run out many times before.

I will let you know how it goes.

Thank you Hollie.  Thank you.

To Rock It


“He said ‘you didn’t rock it.’ ”

My son looked at me, half-frustrated that I asked for the follow up, and half-gutted by the statement.  I listened, walked away, bought him a movie ticket, dropped him off, went back to work, texted a friend, picked him up, came home, put him to bed and cried.

‘You didn’t rock it.’

We live in sensitive times. We talk about pyschosocial hazards and mental health in the workplace now.  We know better, we do better, we are better.

‘You didn’t rock it.’

We are sensitive people.  We mind our words.  We pay attention.  We try to use the right pronouns.  We check our privilege.  We ‘get’ it.

We pat ourselves on the back all day long about how much attention we pay to what people are going through.  We are better than the folks who don’t accept differences, or advocate for social issues.  We are ‘good’ people.  Just look at our walls.

‘You didn’t rock it.’

Maybe he blew an audition.  Maybe he blew a test.  Maybe he didn’t show up for something he was supposed to show up for.

However, let me assure you, teacher.  He definitely rocked it.

You see, my kid has lived half of his life with a serious chronic illness.  He has suffered hundreds of painful, humiliating, depressing and uncontrolled seizures.  He has known the heartbreak of thinking he was better, and discovering that he was very much not.  He has carried the load of knowing that ALL his life, he will need to be medicated, that he can’t be the pilot he once dreamed he’d be, and that at any goddamned moment he might collapse in front of his friends and lose control of his body.

Every day, he wakes up and puts on his socks and faces all of the struggles and dramas of adolescence.  He does this as a kind, outgoing, accepting, empathetic and loving kid.  He works hard in school, laughs, plays, and is the bravest person that I know.  He does this while smiling.  I suspect that is why you don’t know that he is one of the mightiest warriors that you have ever met.

Maybe you didn’t notice.  Maybe you think he’s just like everyone else.  Maybe you see Clark Kent and not Superman.  He’d consider that a win.

But whatever you do, don’t tell him he ‘didn’t rock it.’

Because you don’t have the slightest idea what it takes for a kid like my son to be the person he is.  You don’t have a clue what his medication does to his body, the way the thick fatigue overtakes him, how his face erupts with acne, or the way he faces the serious look on his pediatric neurologists’ face when she talks about the critical importance of adolescent dosage compliance.  You don’t know the stress he was under each and every time that a doctors appointment made him late for your class.  You don’t know the effort that goes into being ‘just like everyone else.’

So tell him the areas that he can improve, tell him that you believe in him, or tell him that you know he can do better next time.

But when he stands up bravely in front of you, trying his best, being and good and fair to everyone, and somehow the dragons win that day, do not tell him that he ‘didn’t rock it.’

Because, privileged teacher, that child rocks it in ways I hope you will never have to understand.

The Extra Worry


I have an extra worry.

When I brought my first son home from the hospital and I cradled that perfect creature in my arms, one of my early callers told me ‘A son’s a son ’til he finds a wife but a daughter’s a daughter for life.’  Reflecting on that for days, I worried about my son’s future, his successes, his partner and his relationship with me.  I worried, as all mothers do, about his fevers, his vegetables, his number of words, his ability to escape the baby gate and then his first days at school, his teachers, his friends and his grades.  I worried through having his tonsils out, through a broken leg, through cavities and stomach flus and H1N1.  I worried about playdates, and nights out, and baby sitters and bike rides and crossing the street.  I worried about fitting in, bullies, homework and giving the right answers about the ‘birds and the bees.’

Now he is almost thirteen, and I talk to his friend’s moms and we say things like: ‘they aren’t ready for high school.’ We nod when someone offers ‘but they’ll all be together.’ I worry about the things he will be exposed to, about girls, about having his heart broken, about condoms in case he doesn’t, still about fitting in, about coping, about academics, about his mental health, about drugs and drinking and ‘making good decisions.’

I worry about him being a good man someday.  I worry about how he treats people around him.  I worry about him having too much compassion.  I worry about his new habit of rolling his eyes at me.

Worry was invented by mothers.

As a single mom, I worry about keeping us sheltered, fed and in the right amount of clothing for the season.  I worry about my car needing work, and balancing being a parent with working two jobs and trying to keep up professionally with people who don’t have the same amount to juggle.

But this isn’t about those worries.

You see, when my son was eight, I was given an extra worry.  My son has epilepsy.

I am lucky, some parents with an extra worry have much more to deal with than I do.  He is healthy and strong and does very well in school and has good friends and has, thus far, made good decisions.

But, I have an extra worry.

My extra worry means that sleepovers come with the risk that he will have a seizure, and that the people looking after him won’t know what to do, or that the kids will be freaked out.  Then I worry that he will suffer socially if I don’t let him go.

My extra worry means that asking to go swimming at the pool or skiing with his friends is not the same as it is for other moms.  It means that his class trip to an isolated location in the Yukon wilderness had me terrified. It means that he will never be able to go swimming at the lake without me, or someone else who is capable of a water-rescue.

My extra worry means that he won’t get the privacy he will want at night.  It means his door will always have to be open.  It means that I will always have to be able to hear him.

My extra worry means that drinking and drugs, which come with the usual risks, are multiplied by a factor of seizures and medication counter-indications.  It means that drinking to the point of passing-out creates a horribly dangerous combination of risks that could result in his not having a chance to choose better next time.  It means that each time I hear a story from a male friend about their high-risk behaviours through adolescence my natural maternal fears are amplified by concern that those things will bring on a seizure.

My extra worry means finding a way to complete honesty with my son about what his epilepsy really means in an adult world.  That seizure-free years don’t translate to the ability to take baths alone at home, or locking the door when you’re having a shower, or to go camping with your friends without your mother ensuring there will be no drinking and that one of them will stay sober enough to help you if you need them to.

My extra worry keeps me up at night, trying to think of ways to explain that even though I have spent his whole life telling him that nothing should hold him back, he needs to ALWAYS take his medication on time.   Even at the party.  Even on the date.  Even at school.

My extra worry is that my wonderful, amazing, brilliant and heroic son will one day google the side-effects of that medication he takes to be ‘well,’ and will start to manifest them because he sees them there online.

My extra worry is in the statistics and numbers for people with epilepsy.  I pour over them and memorize them as if knowing them will give me comfort.  They don’t.

My extra worry means that every night when I tuck him in I wonder if he will have a seizure, and that every morning when I go into his room to wake him up I am relieved when I see his body moving under his blankets.  It is hard to write that, but that is the truth.

As parents, we all worry.

But I have an extra worry.

Please help people like me – the parents of children with something ‘extra’ to worry about.  Help us by teaching your children to accept differences.  Help us by encouraging your children to learn first aid, and learn it yourself so that you won’t be fearful of having a child like mine stay at your house.  Help us by demonstrating compassion to your children.

Help us by telling your children that there are some people who CAN’T ‘get drunk.’  Not even one time.  Teach your kids that there are some people who can’t just ‘try’ the acid, or the pot or the pill.  Even though I know you don’t want to think about your kids doing that either.

And if you are reading this, and your child has a friend who can’t do all the things that they can do, teach them that pressuring to them is wrong.  Teach them that the most important thing they can do is help a person to make good choices.  Teach them to watch out for people like my son, as he would for them.

When you teach your children these things, let them see your compassion for mothers and fathers like me.

Ones who have an extra worry.

The North


If you log on to CBC’s Searchlight Contest, that’s what they call us.

It’s a label applied to all the musicians from the territories featured in the competition. On this seemingly comprehensive list of 1,742 emerging Canadian artists, ‘The North’ features only 18.  I have several friends seeking my votes and the ultimate Searchlight prize, most of whom I have met since moving Whitehorse last year.  This might seem unremarkable, given my background in the music industry and the small population of the place, but the fact is that the level of talent of these artists IS remarkable.

I’ve wrestled with this post for a long time, because I don’t want to seem as though I am pandering to specific groups or artists and forgetting others, when truthfully I haven’t had the ability to balance my schedule well enough to get to know everyone well.  However, I can’t allow my failure to familiarize myself completely with the local music scene to prevent me from writing about the wonder that is the arts-incubator I now call home.

I had a friend once tell me about the arts and music scene in Whitehorse, long before I ever considered relocating.  She described it as some sort of creative elysium populated by people of extreme talent, but also doing some of the most directed artist cultivation in the country.  My curiosity has always outweighed my skepticism, and the source was someone I deeply respected on these matters, so I had some confidence of the quality and quantity of arts-experiences available in the Yukon.

The truth, however, is that I had no idea.

I’ve worked in live performance for the better part of two decades.  I know the right words to use when speaking to funders about how the arts impact ‘quality of life,’ play a critical role in ‘economic development,’ and ‘attracting professionals to communities.’  I have even been known to work the phrase ‘enhance the liveability of a city’ into small talk.  I’m not a stranger to the threads that the arts lend to the cultural fabric of a place.  I’ve not only been the choir, I’ve been the preacher.

But I had no idea.

I had no idea that this place they refer to as ‘The North’ is a place where the arts form the very soul of the community.  They aren’t a pleasant afterthought or a ‘nice atmospheric addition.’  The arts are the heavily thumping heart of the place.

In all my years I have never encountered a place like the Yukon.  Everyone is a patron of the arts here.  Everyone is encouraged to be an artist.  To try, to experiment, to express and to become.  The audiences are educated, sophisticated, intelligent and hungry to be pushed, to participate in experiences and to be immersed in excellence.

I’ve been wrestling with the ‘why?’  What makes this place this way?

Certainly, the Yukon Arts Centre has played a big role in this cultivation of artists and audiences.  They are excellent at what they do, but there are centres like this all across the country.  It can’t be the YAC alone.

After talking to many of my friends who make their living in the arts in this community, and after spending a year in the heritage field in this territory, I have a much more intriguing theory, and while I am writing on my experience in the Yukon, I can surmise that this holds true across ‘The North.’

We are a society of storytellers.

Spend a couple of days in the shops and restaurants of Whitehorse and you will see what I mean.

The North is a community of people who come together in groups of one or two hundred, on cold, dark nights and warm, sunny days to listen to and tell stories.  We are some of the best storytellers in the world.  From colourful First Nations histories to personal experiences in the wilderness or at the Superstore, being a good teller of stories is what distinguishes people in this part of Canada.  Strangely, it is a greater source of pride to share experiences than it is to drive an expensive car or live in a large home in this place.

And isn’t that what great art is?  A story.  A series of stories.  A sharing of experiences. The ability to grow a person by contributing wisdom in a creative way.

That is The North.

It’s the 70-year-old woman telling a story of how, as a girl, she used to mark the passing of the seasons by the date she could first skip on the road, and the when the first hopscotch board was chalked on the sidewalk.  It’s the man who asked what his buddy did when he emerged from the house on his way to work to find a bear sitting on his car, and it’s his friends response of a simple shrug and ‘I took the bus.’  Also, it’s the way that people listen to these stories and make them important somehow.

It’s Ryan McNally’s CD Release party last Saturday night, packing the Old Fire Hall with incredible music, dancing, stories, suits and overalls.  It was an amazing time.  More than that, the music developed and recorded on this album is excellent.  It is what we in this part of ‘The North’ are putting our stamp on and sending to you.

It’s Claire Ness and Speed Control.  It’s some of the musicians just starting to tell their stories, and those Yukon artists of all disciplines who have told their stories across Canada and around the world.

These are our sounds.  This is our music.

And it is your music too.

It seems that conversations are constantly evolving and devolving over what makes up Canadian culture.  I’ll put it to you:  aren’t we all a community of storytellers?  Aren’t our stories our national cultural legacy?  Don’t they set us apart.  Weren’t we all, at some point, ‘The North?’

So I invite you to head over to CBCmusicsearchlight.ca and enter ‘The North’ into the region section.  Give a listen to some of our artists.  Not because I told you to, but because it will make your day better.

Ryan McNally just dropped his new album ‘Steppin’ Down South.’  Ryan is a fantastic Yukon musician and what I am listening to right now.  Check him out at http://www.ryanmcnally.ca.  

This Week, I Sang


Sometime in that naturally depressing period of self-evaluation between Christmas and New Year’s Day, I came to the realization that I had stopped singing.  I thought about when it had happened exactly, as I remembered that I had always been a singer.  I’ve been asked, over the years, if I wanted to sing in this and that, but I haven’t set foot on a stage in years.  ‘I’m not interested,’ I would say.  ‘It’s not who I am.’

That wasn’t true, of course, and in an effort to embrace the new me that I saw emerging against the northern landscape, I needed to face a demon that I’ve been dragging around for years.

Everyone has their demon.  Mine began with a friendship that I thought was something other than it was.  I realized, in those moments when I peeled back time and events, that it had never been a friendship, it had been a competition, and in my abandonment of music, I had let her win.

That individual epiphany lead me to a bigger question that I’ve been struggling with since I arrived in the Yukon more than one year ago.  It’s something I’ve been trying to give voice to, if only in my head, and it relates to competition.  It relates to the competition which has become the world, and the competition that is missing from the Yukon.

Competition has been simultaneously demonized and idolized in modern times.  It has been removed from formalized programs.  In many ways we’ve removed winners to avoid naming losers.  But, what we’ve taken from sports and schools has moved into our everyday lives.  We compete constantly.  We compete at work, we compete in friendships, we compete in relationships, we are in a constant and unending cycle of making others into losers in order to become winners.

In order to survive, we tell ourselves, we must eliminate anything that might ascend past our level.  We have become a society who believes that our success is dependent upon the failure of others.  The behaviour that follows is ugly, damaging and often, cruel.  It also acceptable, understood and often, praised as being the way to conquer the world.  A sort of emotional manifest destiny that we place as a tax on everything.  If the world is a meme, then we are all stating our views against a Darwinian image of a tiger eating an antelope.

Shortly after I began working in the cultural sector in the Yukon, I noticed that there was an incredibly different approach to social interaction.  Where, in other places, I have felt as though another person or organization might see my skills as a threat – and had steeled myself for the inevitable game of thrones – I found myself enveloped in encouragement, guidance, understanding and desire to ‘grow me.’  In fact, the Executive Director of a much larger institution introduced herself by saying how excited she was to work with me because I might be able to help her make her museum even better.

In the past year, I have realized that the people here are far more interested in collaboration, sharing and growing individuals than they are at tearing folks down.  Actually, they applaud when you do well.  Your successes are the communities’ successes.  A rising tide, lifts all boats.

There is a code of social conduct here that seems to condemn the contrary.  If I left an event and sat with a group of friends and made mention of some deficiency in someone’s performance, it would be met with a fairly predictable correction of my unkind behaviour. I have found that there is little tolerance for criticism (unless constructive and given directly to the individual in question), immaturity, gossip, corruption, greed or the ugly side of competition.

I could postulate on the reason why the Yukon is so unique in this area of social culture, but am still seeking answers myself.  However, I will say that the dynamic that allows people to improve themselves, to continue to develop and, in the end, celebrates their successes and achievements, makes for a much greater sense of peace.  It also helps to cultivate a better place to live by leveraging talents, skills and abilities into something that benefits the entire community.

And so, in a music room just north of Whitehorse, surrounded by brand new friends, and some who’ve been my pals for the past year, I found myself suspending my terror and singing again.  Before my first shot at the microphone, the instructor explained that ‘this is a safe place.’  I looked at the people gathered for the class and knew that it was true.  This is not a place where my performance would be critiqued later at a bar by the ‘popular crowd,’ this isn’t a place where seasoned musicians are grasping for gigs and worried that a new ‘one’ might take something from them, and it isn’t a place that creates losers in order to declare winners.

I sang.  It didn’t matter how it sounded, or whether I will continue to develop my skills as a vocalist, it only matters that I sang.  The people clapped, the instructor gave notes, and the next day, and the next day, I sang again.

I am in competition with no one now, and will cultivate growth in myself and others because that is what we do here.

They can’t take that away from me.





Jazz Singers and the Treatment of Epilepsy

gabe at sick kids

I had a hard time finding the light switch, but my foggy eyesight finally helped me navigate the dark room to find it so I could watch what I already knew was happening.  I had heard a loud thump from the next room, it was nearly midnight, but more than the sound of a boy falling out of bed, there were shrieks, grunts and the sounds of repetitive knocking.

The week before, my son Gabe, then nine, had been at his dad’s house.  He called me and said ‘I think Gabe had a seizure last night.’  ‘He does that,’ I said, ‘it’s not a seizure, he just thrashes when he has a bad dream.  It’s a night terror.’  His dad was slightly relieved, but not entirely convinced.  Neither, I suppose, was I.  When I heard the clamour coming from his room, my mind flashed back to the conversation, and my concerns became fears when I turned on the light and saw Gabe in the throes of a tonic-clonic seizure.  The days that followed involved visits to doctors, specialists and to strange new tests in hospitals across Southern Ontario.  Leading to a final diagnosis of epilepsy.

You learn a lot of new words, new treatments, new symptoms, new risks and new services when you are thrust into the world of having a child with a special need.  In my case, as in the case of many parents of children with epilepsy, one day I was not such a parent, and the next morning I was.  The learning curve was a uncomfortably swift incline which seemed insurmountable at the time.  As a single parent, struggling with sleepless nights (in those first few months he would have up to six seizures a night), adjusting medications and travelling for tests, I paid a heavy price, both financially and emotionally.

You come to understand this world of epilepsy, and do your best to navigate a vast medical field to drill down and discover what treatments and therapies are available.  There is no one to hold your hand, although I was blessed with several doctors along the way who did their best.  In the end it comes down to you and your child, and a bottle of medication with six months until your next specialist appointment and the number of your pediatrician on speed dial.

Don’t call an ambulance unless the seizure lasts more than five minutes.  Or he isn’t breathing.  Or if he hurts himself.  Or if he seizes in a pool.  Or a bathtub.

You go through the exercise of determining whether or not regular childhood activities are ‘safe.’  Can he take the school bus if he has to walk two blocks to get there? What about riding a bike?  Or a horse? Are rollercoasters dangerous?  How about flying?  If I want him to take swimming or skating will anyone want to coach a child who might have seizure?  What if he has one at school?  In front of friends?  Will he be able to go to sleepovers?

Over time, you learn these things about your child, because in every case, the answers are different.  Gabe is fortunate, after the first two years his seizures came only at night, and always with an ‘aura’ that was so significant that he would wake up and cry out before they even started.

With medication, he got down to about five seizures a week.

Then came the Yukon.

I was brave.  An adventurer.  I was prepared to seize the opportunities of the north for myself and my children.  I was not prepared to risk my son’s life to do it.

Eagerly, I scoured the internet looking for information regarding services for people with Epilepsy in Whitehorse.  Finding information about the Yukon Health Insurance Program was easy enough.  Determining that I would have continuity of coverage was a snap.  Learning about the Whitehorse Hospital and their facilities wasn’t difficult.  Still, I had so many questions.  It’s easy to look at a pamphlet on hospital services or read an article about a new MRI machine, but it’s not easy to determine things like emergency wait times, or specialist availability, or access to corollary services which he might require.  Would pharmacies have open access to his medication, for example?

These are questions that a person moving to Southern Ontario doesn’t ask.  They assume that their child will have access to the best services in Canada.  They trust that these services will be available when their child needs them.  However, anyone who has ever had the pleasure of dealing with the health system in Ontario will tell you that this is not precisely the case.  Wait lists are endless, emergency rooms are crowded and often services are located far from where you might be living.  The stretch from Cambridge to Thornhill is practically all one expansive city from one end to the other, but the average turn around time from our Southern Ontario home to the pediatric neurologist’s office was five to six hours.

All that being said, I had certain comfort about  Southern Ontario that I did not have about an isolated, northern community like Whitehorse, and there was little to be found on the world  wide web to assuage my misgivings.

Finally, I came across a radio interview with a Yukon jazz artist who had a daughter with epilepsy.  The interview was centered around the artist’s experience with the disorder, and a quick entry of the singer’s name into my facebook search engine turned up the beautiful image of the professional vocalist I heard speaking on the CBC.  Without much hesitation I sent a desperate message to Fawn Fritzen in the early hours of an Ontario day, and by noon had a simple reply of ‘I’d be happy to speak to you, call me.’

So began a friendship which I have cherished through my first year as the mom of a child with epilepsy in the Yukon Territory.  Not only did Fawn provide me with boat-loads of information about life in the territory for a child with a ‘need,’ but shared her story, her experiences and her challenges and successes with me.  The information that Fawn provided me became one of the founding factors in my move to the territory.

When I arrived, she was one of the first to greet me, and consistently offered me support through Gabe’s medication changes, through seizures and through my integration into this new place.  Through our discussions, we realized that we would be able to leverage our knowledge, skills and experience into an organization that could help other people, either relocating or newly diagnosed in the territory, by providing valuable access to information and services.  Within a couple of months, we formed Epilepsy Yukon, of which I am extremely proud.

Upon reflection, having experienced healthcare in both Ontario and the Yukon, I have a striking observation that bears sharing:  Ontario isn’t actually in the business of healthcare at all.  In fact, if I were to look at the system of care in Ontario and contrast it with what I have experienced so far in the Yukon, I’d say that what Ontario does is actually ‘sick care.’  Sick care is what you access when all other options have been exhausted, when prevention and treatments have broken down.  You see specialists when things go badly.  You see a doctor when you are sick.  You fix yourself rather than keep yourself.

The Yukon has shown me that healthcare includes all of those important components of ‘sick care,’ but also takes on a new approach to the care of its people.  My doctor sees Gabe monthly, even if it’s to ask him if he has anything he wants to talk about, my pharmacist calls me when Gabe’s meds are running out to see if they need to place an order in case they run low when he is in need, nurses begin conversations with ‘how is your health’ rather than ‘what is the matter,’ even the schools have been willing to have Gabe speak about his seizures so that students can understand what he needs in that event. Meanwhile, the local media has supported epilepsy education in a significant way, giving Fawn and I a forum to address issues relating to first aid practices.

It turns out that not only is there excellent care available in the Yukon, but it is a place where you feel as though the Minister of Health & Social Services personally knows that your son has epilepsy.  I can’t confirm that he does, but his office follows us on Twitter, as does the Minister of Community Services.  I could have never imagined living in place where I feel that people are so invested in the other people who live here.

As for Gabe, he went from having five seizures a week to having five seizures in the last 365 days.  I have a variety of theories (none of them scientifically proven) about why there was such a remarkable change in his health between our move and its first anniversary (better ‘health’ care, cleaner air, cleaner water, a more active lifestyle, fewer lights, more stable weather), but ultimately I’m just happy that he is doing so well.

The other day, Fawn came by for a visit, and when she left I put on her album.  My youngest son, Cohen, came into the living room and said ‘mom, is this Fawn?  Is she an artist?’  I told him yes, and he couldn’t contain his surprise.  ‘You’re friends with AN ARTIST?’  I said, ‘yes, I am.  Thank God for her.’  He said ‘yes, she is the lady that helps people with epilepsy.’  I nodded.  ‘She is a really great singer.’  I nodded, again.

Fawn Fritzen is a jazz singer, songwriter, pianist and vaudevillian from Whitehorse Yukon.  Her multi-cultural background lets her explore music in English, French and German.  Her album Bedroom Voice is available for download on iTunes. Please visit her website www.fawnfritzen.com to find out more.

Fortune Favours the Brave


It doesn’t matter if that opportunity lies in stories of gold, or the calling wild.  It doesn’t matter if opportunity comes in the form of a great new job, or a relationship with someone that you can’t imagine living without. Opportunity requires change. When a person is brave enough, change happens.  So it was with me, so it has been with many of the people I’ve met since I’ve been here.  Each and every newcomer to the Yukon can easily tell you why they are here, but that rarely satisfies the questions of the inquisitor.

People don’t really want to know why, what they want to know is:  how?

‘How’ is the question that tourists ask me when I tell them about my recent relocation.  How do you live up here?  How do you like it?  How do you sleep with all this sun?  How do you find the schools?  How much are groceries, and gas, and rent?  How long has it been since you saw your mother?  How cold does it get?  How?

‘How’ turned out to be much more difficult than the ‘why.’  Deciding to come to the Yukon was easy.  It was the business of determining how to do this that seemed impossible.  It was so far, it was remote, it was winter.

Then I thought about my grandmother.

My grandmother was a British war bride.  In 1947, she boarded a boat and set sail from everything she knew towards her husband in Canada.  She was moving to a remote community where she didn’t speak the language, where her modern world had not yet extended, and where shortly after WWII, her new mailing address would indicate that she lived in a place called ‘Swastika.’  My grandmother brought with her no cell phone, no internet, no television, and a two year old daughter.  Trans-Atlantic flights were uncommon and beyond their means at the time.  Overseas phone calls were saved for very rare and special occasions.  She had no family in Canada.  My grandmother was brave.  The prospectors who ascended the Chilkoot Pass were brave.  People who hitchhiked their way north in the 70’s were brave.

I had Google.

I entered ‘should I drive to Whitehorse in January’ into my search engine. I found a blog which heartily discouraged the concept, citing the risk of imminent death as a possible barrier to such an adventure (in retrospect, this was ridiculous).  I queried the cost of u-hauls, and of loading my personal effects on an airplane.  I looked at the charges for shipping my vehicle, and for sending it up by rail.

In the end, I contacted a moving company and they came and loaded our personal belongings onto a truck.  They told me they were going to wait until other people added to the load to make it economical.  ‘It might take a month or two,’ they said.  My best friend and I packed up boxes with the boys’ old report cards, drawings and photographs, along with our winter clothes, dressers and the odd kitchen appliance.  Nervously, I watched our history load onto a truck willing that I would see it again in the Northwest. I would buy new furniture and essentials in Whitehorse, and figure out the transportation of my vehicle in the summer, when conditions were better.

Hours later, we left for Ottawa with our two cats, both of whom were overweight for carry-on, but whom Air North assured me would be accommodated under our seats on the flight through Yellowknife.  My mother met us in Ottawa, and on the morning of our flight she drove my truck to the airport and hugged us goodbye, before taking it back to her home in Northern Ontario.

My mother is a fortress.

In those moments I realized that I had bravely overcome the terrifying logistics of a move across Canada, and it was really rather uncomplicated.

As we worked our way through security I pretended that the load of the two giant felines in carry-on cages was lighter than it was.  Our biggest challenge came when we were advised that we had to cart them through the x-ray machine without the carriers.  My eldest son put on his brave face and carried the lighter cat through in his arms, while I struggled with the other.  No problems, no questions, no worries.

With the cats under the seats in front of us, the boys watching movies at my side, and a copy of Yukon, North of Ordinary on my lap, our little family moved to Whitehorse during that flight.  By the time we landed at the Erik Nielsen Airport we were citizens of the Yukon, and my opportunity met us at the gate.

Three weeks later, our belongings arrived from Ontario.

How did I move from Ontario to the Yukon?

On a plane.

Just like that.

(I would like to thank Air North, Yukon’s Airline, for their consistently wonderful service.  Their regular flight between Ottawa and Whitehorse has made me all the more brave.  www.flyairnorth.com.)


So Nice to Come Home To

ssklondikeSomewhere in my CD collection there is a photo of the S.S. Klondike holding up two young men in tuxedos and a brunette in a long black dress.

I saw the Peters Drury Trio in Toronto at a showcasing event in 2002.  A month later, I placed a call to their agent to enquire about performance rates.  These young jazz artists, and their agent mother, quickly became my first link to the far and wild that is the Yukon.  I could close my eyes and hear Caroline Drury and Jesse Peters crooning Cole Porter standards by a crackling fire and I was transported.  For years, I listened to this album as I drove up and down highways throughout Ontario and imagining how nice it might be to come home to a place equally charmed with sternwheelers as it is with the smell of woodsmoke. I will admit that I began to identify the Yukon as a jazz bar decorated like an old mining saloon…

My first impressions of the land of the midnight sun were largely fuelled by the people I encountered in the Canadian performing arts industry.  So much of my notions of the cultural fabric of our country have been shaped by musicians throughout the years.  Nova Scotia was always an amalgam of coal mining  choirs and alternative rock, the Prairies became a fabric of country and roots music, Quebec to me was a beautiful a cappella group and avant-garde new musicians, and British Columbia was a warm and comfortable folk musician singing about a bar he once performed in.  The north was manifested in throat singing and storytelling, but then one day there were these three teenagers on a boat, and the Yukon became all about jazz.

And I have always had such a weak spot for jazz.

I drove past the S.S. Klondike this morning and noticed that the Yukon River is still open.  This is of critical importance to me.  Newcomers to the Yukon are considered ‘cheechako’ until they have seen the river freeze and thaw twice.  Buried in a drawer is a lease agreement with my name on it for my house.  It is dated January 1, 2015.  I have been here for one year today, and am still awaiting my first freeze up.  It seems I will be cheechako a little longer.

Jazz is alive and well in the Yukon, I have not been disappointed.  Over the past year, I have discovered that the Yukon truly is ‘So Nice to Come Home To.’  A community of creators has wrapped around me like a scarf and encouraged me to start writing again, so I’ve dusted off my Merriam-Webster and determined to share my experiences from my unique cheechako-mom perspective.

But first, I need to turn up the music and pour myself a glass of wine.

(The Peters Drury Album is called Backbeat, this and their two other albums are available for download on iTunes).