Bowlers bid farewell to Whitehorse’s only alley

At the Monday night men's league this week, bowlers were throwing strikes while their hearts were in the gutter. It wasn't just the end of the season, it was the end of the league.

At the Monday night men’s league this week, bowlers were throwing strikes while their hearts were in the gutter.

It wasn’t just the end of the season, it was the end of the league. It was the final Monday of bowling in Whitehorse.

After 39 years of business, Mad Trappers Alleys, Whitehorse’s only bowling alley, will shut its doors indefinitely after Sunday.

“It’s going to be interesting … It’s going to be different,” said Whitehorse’s Wayne Beauchemin after his final league game. “Whether it comes back in time, it’s tough to say, but it’ll be missed.”

Beauchemin started bowling at Mad Trappers in 1983 after moving to Whitehorse from Winnipeg.

He has played in mixed leagues, super leagues, summer leagues and the men’s cash league. He coached youth bowling for 10 years starting in 1998.

Numbers in the men’s league have dropped over the last few years – this season had four three-person teams – but it’s had its regulars going back beyond a decade, he said.

“The men’s league has been around for quite a while. The core group of guys have been here for the last 12, 15 years,” said Beauchemin.

“It’s not super competitive. It’s a bunch of guys who come out and have a good time.”

Cody Bachelder has been bowling at Mad Trappers for a decade, starting as a junior at the age of 14. He came up through the youth program and was coached by Beauchemin.

His team, D-Stress, took first in the “spring” league and second for the year.

“This is something to do in the winter. It’s nice to get out and have something to do,” said Bachelder, who has been on the same team for four years. “It’s all I do. Now I have to take up golf or something.”

Bachelder is going out on top in more ways than one. In addition to his team placing first, he bowled a personal best 329 for the season’s highest score.

D-Stress, which includes Lyle Guest and James Harrison, also posted the highest team score for a single game with a 719.

“The first year I joined the men’s league I bowled my first 300 ever. That was pretty sweet, it felt good,” said Bachelder. “I bowled my second 300 this year and it was the highest 300 of the year, too. It’s nice to go out knowing I bowled the highest game of the season for the last season we’ll ever get to do.”

“I really hope some day we can get another bowling alley. I don’t know how, but it would be nice to see,” he added.

While bowlers knock pins for the last time at Mad Trappers on Sunday, Team Yukon will be playing their final games at the Youth Bowling Canada National Championships in Toronto.

Yukon is represented by four bowlers at the championships this weekend. The territory has entered a team every year since 2001, but without Mad Trappers, this year could be the last.

“It’s kind of sad really, this was a pretty nice place,” said Ulysse Girard, after his last youth practice on Tuesday. “This was pretty much the only place in the Yukon I could come bowling, and I really like bowling.”

Like Beauchemin, Kevin Murphy has been bowling at the alley since the mid-80s and has been coaching youth bowlers on their way to nationals since 2000.

He was also the organizer of the men’s league. His Monday evenings will never be the same.

“(I’m) sentimental about the whole thing because it’s been a big part of my recreational life going back into the mid 80s,” said Murphy, who wrapped up a game with a turkey on Monday. “It’s been one of the things I’ve enjoyed doing every Monday night. Or when I was doing it twice a week … it was so much fun. There was a good vibe about the place, there were a lot of people you were friends with, who you bowled with and against.”

Murphy, Beauchemin and Doug Ponsioen, who make up the Bowl Winkles, took first place in the first half of the men’s league season. They also won the “roll-offs” – the final league night – on Monday.

Murphy is taking the closure of the 10-lane five-pin alley in Riverdale in stride.

“It’s time, in some ways, to say goodbye to it,” said Murphy.

“I’m hoping down the road somebody with a business plan, maybe a deep pocket, can open another lane – could be the same size, could be smaller, could be bigger, could include 10-pin – and the community receives it well. Basically, I think it would be better to open up a completely new facility. That way you can start off with new equipment and there’s a feeling of renewal, instead of somebody sinking a bunch of money into this particular lane and still having problems with it running.”

Mad Trappers hasn’t turned a profit in years, plaza owner Chris Sorg told the News in September when the closure was first announced. He called it a “labour of love.”

The alley’s machinery is completely outdated and would require an investment of about $100,000 to keep it going, said Sorg.

Stephen Kwok, who has managed the alley since 2002, has described the alley as being like an old car: requiring constant upkeep and frequently needing repairs and parts.

“It’s still operational, but the problem is I’m the only one who knows how to fix the machine,” said Kwok. “It needs maintenance all the time. Everyone needs to understand I don’t know when it’s going to break down and I might have a hard time fixing it … Last year I had to go down south, find a bowling alley to ask a bowling expert to train me.

“Parts are not easy to find. I have to take the part apart and send it down to him, fix it and send it back. It’s time consuming and expensive.”

Kwok and his wife Irene are busy enough without searching for 40-year-old bowling alley parts. They also run the neighbouring pub and video rental store in the plaza.

He looks forward to having a little more free time on his hands, but he never says never. Kwok has the sign for the window that reads “closed until further notice,” not “closed forever.”

“Everybody thinks we’re tearing it down, but we’re not. That would cost a lot of money,” said Kwok. “If no one is coming in (to rent the space) why would you tear it down? It’s old, but it’s still workable.”

“We’ll close down for the summer and after four months I’ll see what I can do. I might open it back up for booking only,” he adds.

“I told the Special Olympics and Big Brother (Big Sisters of Yukon) that if I decide to keep it running, I might just open up for them for fundraising.”

Maybe bowling is making a comeback, or maybe people in Whitehorse are squeezing in one more game while they can, but the past month has been “super busy,” said Kwok.

In early April the alley was rented out for a Big Lebowski party, themed after the 1998 Coen brothers film in which the main characters are fanatical bowlers. Plenty of White Russians, the protagonist’s favourite drink, were served that night.

“I’ve been here 12 years and I’ve never had somebody book the whole place and have 60 people – the max capacity – show up,” said Kwok. “That never happens and they stayed for four hours straight.

“I was standing here making drinks for four hours straight non-stop.”

The territory still has one other bowling alley: the Watson Lake Recreation Centre has four lanes that were recently upgraded to include computerized scorekeeping. However, an eight-hour round trip to bowl is probably a little much for even the most keen Whitehorse bowlers.

“When we asked why they’re closing it, they said because of budget problems,” said Girard. “I’m honestly starting to think too many people are going to miss this place and they’ll start getting donations. I hope they’ll bring it back like they did with Mount Sima, for example. They were about to close, but then people would miss it too much and started giving money.”

Contact Tom Patrick at

tomp@yukon-news.com