Few people can stop moving vehicles with a glance, but Leonard Gordon Sr. can.
And sometimes he doesn’t even have to do that.
Many of the cars that pass him on a regular basis slow down to wait for his attention. Drivers honk, wave and, most importantly, they slow down.
That’s the point.
Gordon is a crossing guard.
And at 74, he is good at what he does.
“Leonard has outlasted them all, but it’s way more than that,” says Elijah Smith Elementary principal John Wright. “It’s the relationships he has with the kids – and the drivers.
“He’s on the job early, stays late, never misses – no matter how cold. He’s set the standard. I never thought we’d have a guard that has stayed so long and works so hard.”
The program for the only “out-of-house” crossing guard in Whitehorse has been running since about ‘97-‘98, says Wright. Ten to 12 guards have come and gone since then.
Gordon has been on for about three years now, rain or shine, snow or ice.
“If you become a Yukoner, I think you’re supposed to do anything,” says Gordon while standing at the roundabout on Hamilton Boulevard in front of the school.
The temperature was around minus 20 Celsius, and dropping.
“If you know what the weather’s like, what to dress like, you can conquer anything,” he says.
The intersection was just a set of lights before the roundabout was put in, says Wright, remembering that two children from the school had been hit by passing cars in the mid ‘90s.
Because the intersection is quite far, and around a blind corner from the school, attempts to staff the crossing guard position with teachers or senior students under supervision, like the other schools do, didn’t work, says Wright.
It was a huge safety concern for the Kwanlin Dun First Nation as well, says executive director Loretta Edzerza. The aboriginal village is located across the street and down the road from the school.
The First Nation government approached the territory, which made some changes to speeding zones and then put in the traffic circle, but it was still unsafe, says Edzerza.
“You’re heart’s at peace when he’s there,” she says, touching her chest. “Before we were worried, now it’s a quiet and calm area. I’m just really glad that we have him there. I’m just really glad that he’s the one out there for us.”
Gordon is an elder who has been a member of the community since it was located in the Marwell industrial area, she says.
He is also a symbol of the school’s partnership with the First Nation, says Wright, explaining that more than 50 per cent of the students who attend Elijah Smith Elementary are aboriginal, with most those coming from the Kwanlin Dun First Nation.
“Safety for the children, that’s what it’s about,” says Gordon before he bends down to address the scarf-bound and hooded youngster approaching him at the crosswalk.
“Are you ready?” he yells enthusiastically to the nodding bundle of winter clothes. He pushes the button to signal the flashing lights, looks both ways and raises his orange, diamond sign all in one, swift motion. Then, keeping an arm extended, he runs alongside the child, first to the meridian, then to the other side, waving the cars on behind him with a little flourish.
Apart from the three hours a day, Gordon is retired. But it’s important to stay active, he says.
“You wanna be old? You be old,” he yells amid the smoke and growls of passing cars. “You can be sick if you wanna be, but if you wanna do something you come out there and just do it! Your mind controls you. That’s the way it is with me. If I want to do something, I’ll do it.”
And Gordon has done a lot of things.
“You name it, I’ve done it,” he says.
And it’s no exaggeration.
His past careers include working on a railroad, a tramline and an oil rig.
He’s worked in Edmonton and Calgary.
He’s been a horse wrangler, a cook and a janitor.
He’s worked for the territorial government and the army when it was in the Yukon. Within his First Nation he has been a councillor and a judge in circle courts.
Of all these jobs, “this is the hardest,” he says, throwing his head back, booming a boisterous laugh into a fog above him.
The exhaust from the cars is the worst in winter, but he ignores that, insisting that walking children across the street from 7-8 a.m., 12-1 and 3-4 p.m. each day is good for his health because it keeps him young.
And being a 74-year-old, single-dad demands a youthful spirit.
Rosemary, Gordon’s fourth child, is only in Grade 2.
It’s like a new life for him, he says, mentioning that he never got to be as close to his first three children as he is with Rosemary.
“If I could be born again and know what I know now,” he says, “that would be great.”
Looking into what will be his fourth year on the job, Gordon says he can’t believe it, but adds that there are lots of things he wants to do and never knows what he’s going to do next.
“Try something and keep going, that’s about it,” he says. “Most of our young generation now want to be operators or sitting behind a table, white collar. Some of us never got that chance, years back, haven’t got what you got today and young people should make good use of what they got. Go further! Go on!
“Try everything, cause that’s what it’s all about – going somewhere, being somebody, because I never had that chance. And I done everything.”
Gordon approaches another, short, walking bundle of winter gear.
“You just live through it … and now I’m going to take this little bugger across,” he says with his nearly toothless smile at the small eyes looking up at him, through the small gap in the wound scarf.
Wright and Edzerza both say they don’t know what they will do if Gordon ever retires, but Gordon says he hopes someone will take this path for the kids: following in his footsteps, back and forth across what is now a much safer street.
Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at