Thirty-five years ago, Pam Nugent left Aldergrove, BC, for Watson Lake, drawn by her new husband.
He had a dream of the North, of living in the bush.
Pam herself had not even been aware of the Yukon, let alone thought of living there, but she was in love and Chick’s dream was now hers.
McKinnon Lake was where the vision became a reality and where Pam found that living in a remote place, building cabins and being self-sufficient was her dream, too.
They were there for four years, with Chick leaving periodically to make the dollars they needed to maintain their modest lifestyle.
The move to Blind Lake was primarily due to two more people moving out to McKinnon, making it feel crowded to this solitary couple. Also, they had the opportunity to get a trapline at the new place.
Blind Lake was even more remote; airplane accessible in the summer, and snowmobile in the winter. Their son Christopher was born while they lived there.
It was also at Blind Lake where their family grew larger with the addition of Troy, Chick’s 15-year-old son.
Troy was a complete surprise to Pam; Chick knew about him, but had neglected to mention his existence to his wife.
Happily, Pam and Troy became as close as any son and mother could wish, with Pam saying the fact that they lived the way they did helping them bond.
“There is something wonderful about seeing your two boys sitting quietly watching a moose in your yard.” Pam says with a wistful nostalgia.
The boys needed a school; after four idyllic years, the family moved to Watson Lake where Pam and Chick were soon busy starting a business.
Pam did the books for CP Collison; she cleaned the shop, raised the boys, fed the crews.
“I did all the women’s work,” she says with a grin.
It was one of the boom times in Watson Lake; Cassiar and Cantung were in full swing and there were two sawmills operating. Tourists were streaming up the Alaska Highway all summer long, and the town boasted several restaurants, pubs, dry cleaners, dress shops, hairdressers, all the amenities.
And the new business was making money, with the boys working alongside their dad whenever they were not in school.
Tragedy struck in the midst of this busyness and prosperity; Troy was killed in a motorcycle accident. His wife was pregnant at the time.
“It was the worst thing that could happen.” Pam’s face still registers the deep sorrow of losing a child. “Nothing seemed right after Troy died, not for a long time.”
During that ‘long time,’ Chick left their marriage, the business closed and Pam had a tough period of adjustment.
“I love this community,” she says now. “When things were really tough for me, the people here stood by me; this town is my family.”
Gradually, Pam put together a life for herself.
The job she had as attendant at the Watson Lake campground, a position she has now held for 27 years, stood her in good stead.
She got a house through Yukon housing, and her daughter-in-law, though she remarried since Troy’s death, has kept a close relationship with Pam.
“My grandchildren are my pride and joy,” Pam reports. “Christopher is married with two kids and, though he has moved to Alberta, we talk on the phone every day and I spend every Christmas with him and his family. My kids have done well, and they have kept me actively involved in their lives. Being a grandmother, too, is a position of honour, I think, and in this I feel truly blessed.
“My campground is my pride, too. I do a good job, and I love the work. Every spring, I can hardly wait to get back at it.”
Her face reveals her enthusiasm, and her voice is animated when she talks about using a chainsaw to cut the firewood, and all the other work involved.
The long drive through deep wilderness to get to the site is a source of daily pleasure to Pam.
“I guess my biggest disappointment about my marriage is that we didn’t go back to living in the bush; it really is what I most loved about our life together, and it is just too hard for a middle-aged woman alone to achieve that lifestyle.
“The campground job is as close as I can get to it.”
This is not a woman who fills her time with TV or crafts. She spends time with family and friends.
“And I read a lot,” she says. “That is my hobby. I don’t even have pets. I am trying to learn to speak Kaska, too. I think the culture of the Kaska is interesting, and their presence adds a lot to this community.”
Like so many who have arrived in the Yukon with a dream, Pam has found herself in a different life from what she expected.
But also, like most those people, she is not unhappy with her current life.
“I am in a peaceful
place; I have my family, and a nice home in a community I like. And of course I have my job; I love my job. I am one of the lucky ones.”
Tor Forsberg is a freelance writer
who lives in Watson Lake.