When Jesse Cooke first arrived in Dawson City seven years ago, he had to get off a bus in Whitehorse and thumb a ride north.
Coming from the south, where transit abounds, he was surprised to learn that there weren’t any other options.
But it got him to thinking.
Now he’s turned those thoughts into action and it’s called Husky Bus.
Beginning April 29, the new summer service will start running between Whitehorse and Dawson City.
“I guess I got the idea from my own experience,” said Cooke. “Being a van driver is a strange choice, but I think the market’s there.”
It’s not the first time someone has run a bus service between the two communities, but Cooke is hopeful he can succeed where others have failed.
His website, www.huskybus.ca, has only been up for a couple of months and he’s already got some bookings from as far away as Germany.
It probably helps that there is a German version of the website. And although Cooke speaks both French and English, German is not his strong suit.
“My friend who did the German translation could have put anything up there,” he said. “I have to take his word for it.
“If someone writes me an email in German, I’ll be in trouble.”
Attracting tourists to the bus service doesn’t seem to be a problem.
“So far my business is people that don’t know the territory and that feel comfortable having a prearranged service,” said Cooke.
Cracking the local market will be a little bit tougher, but Cooke is optimistic.
“The locals seem excited about it, so hopefully I can get some of that business as well.”
Cooke purchased two 15-passenger vans. One will run between Whitehorse and Dawson City. The other will be used for charters and as an airport shuttle in Dawson.
Being a bus driver was never his life’s ambition, but having been a school teacher in Dawson, he already had the licence.
Like everyone in a small community, even teachers have to be jacks-of-all-trades, said Cooke.
“As a teacher, a lot of us have our Class 4 because when you go on a field trip, the teacher does the driving themselves,” he said.
He even drove the school bus down to Whitehorse a few of times, so he knows what he’s in for and he’s not too worried about it.
“It’s funny, all the people with the bumper stickers like ‘I survived the Alaska Highway’ and all this, but they’re not what they used to be.”
That’s not to say that he takes driving lightly. Last week Cooke drove all the way from Halifax by himself, an experience he described as “brutal.”
He and his partner, Sarah Van Thielen, spent the winter there, but once she finishes school next year, they plan to move to Dawson full time.
For the next couple months, Cooke plans to do the Whitehorse run himself until Van Thielen arrives to take over. Then he plans to focus on charters and the airport shuttle.
“I’ll have a couple drivers helping out, but I’ll be doing most of it myself,” he said. “I fully plan to go back into teaching.
“My long-term plan for the business is to manage it for the summer as a summer project and a second income, but have employees do most of the driving in future years.
“It’s been a lot of fun getting it up and running, but like I said before, my life dream is not to be a bus driver.”
But he’s not putting any limitations on the business.
There is a possibility of contracting with mining companies to keep the business going all year round, but “nothing is set in stone,” said Cooke.
In the future, he’d like to look at running the vans on biodiesel to off-set the fuel costs, but that’s also a long way off.
“It’s kind of funny, being a bit of an environmentalist kind of guy and then basing my whole business around fossil fuels,” he said.
“When I was first looking into the vans, I asked the guy, ‘what kind of fuel efficiency are we talking for these things?’” and he said “fuel efficiency and 15-passenger vans, those two words do not mix.’”
But he’s not too worried about rising gas prices.
“That’s just something that I have to deal with on my own,” he said. “I’ve been in Dawson for years and the price hasn’t budged.
“The huge gas inflation doesn’t seem to affect Dawson from what I can tell. It’s just always been ridiculously expensive.”
Contact Josh Kerr at firstname.lastname@example.org