“How many Canadian songs have the word river in them?”
Songwriter Natalie Edelson asked the question over a cup of coffee recently.
The answer is tricky to pin down. But, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, the Tragically Hip, David Wilcox, Hank Snow… the list gets really long, really fast.
Suffice to say there are a lot of Canadian songwriters referencing rivers.
Here in the Yukon are four more.
“All four of us have a river in at least one of our songs,” said Edelson, referencing Kim Beggs, Kate Weekes and Kim Barlow.
And, taking the theme to the next level, the four women will be giving a unique concert at the Anglican Church in Fort Selkirk on Monday.
It’s unique because concertgoers can only reach the July 16 show by paddling the Yukon River.
The idea came up during a conversation between Weekes and Beggs last fall.
“We thought it would be neat to do a river trip together and time it to be in Dawson for the festival,” said Weekes, who has just released her first album, which is self-titled.
“It was sort of a daydream idea, ‘Yeah, we could do a concert at Fort Selkirk!’”
The two artists decided to do it, “purely for the joy of having a concert.”
Kim Beggs spearheaded the project, spreading the word and soon getting Barlow and Edelson on board.
She also wrote the government and the Selkirk First Nations to get permission to use the historic site.
The location was a First Nations trade and meeting place, well before settlers entered the Yukon.
In the years leading up to the gold rush, the fort became a well-established trading post and mission.
The community prospered until the 1950s when the construction of the Alaskan highway heralded the end of the sternwheeler era.
Because of the sudden abandonment, Selkirk is well preserved, a snapshot of the past.
“It’s an incredible opportunity to perform in a place that has so much history,” said Edelson, whose first album, Mayfly Days, was released in 2005.
“It’s an opportunity to be in a place where generations have lived before you.”
A lot of this history is getting bulldozed, said Edelson citing the razing of Whitehorse’s shipyards community six years ago.
Beggs lived in that community by the Yukon River, which has now been turned into a park.
“I think it’s very dear to Kim, after living on the river for so long,” said Edelson. “It’s important to her.”
Beggs was not available for comment —she’d already begun her canoe trip to Fort Selkirk. She plans to spend a few quiet days hanging out by the water and writing music.
“It’s a forced creative vacation,” Weekes said.
Barlow, currently on tour, was also unavailable for comment.
Selkirk’s old church was chosen because of its great acoustics. Without any power on site, this natural amplifier will be tested.
The CBC will dispatch a crew to record the special show.
Also, Daniel Janke, who is currently making a documentary about the Yukon River, will have cameras rolling.
“It all just came together so well. It feels like there’s momentum,” said Edelson.
Rivers are important to Canadians, she added.
“I think it’s part of our collective consciousness,” she said, invoking images of canoeing fur traders, explorers and the Yukon River’s past importance as a transportation route.
“As Canadians, I think we’re hardwired to have rivers resonate with us.”
The concert will be a one-night event.
Admission is free, but you have to paddle your way there.