After 30 years, a final trip for Whitehorse’s resident Greyhound driver

Roger Veilleux has been a bus driver with Greyhound for 31 years. He’s been driving the same run, between Whitehorse and Fort Nelson, for the last 16.

There is nothing particularly auspicious or festive about the Whitehorse Greyhound Station. At 4:30 in the afternoon in mid-May, the squat, square station casts a long shadow over the parking lot. Passengers in loose, colourless clothes sit with the tense laziness that comes with waiting, feet dangling, glossy magazine pages turning. One woman chews a stick of gum, smacks it, chews it again.

On the curb outside, Roger Veilleux’s wife is sitting with another woman, who is having a cigarette. The two are still laughing when Veilleux drives up in his little blue Toyota pickup.

“Hey!” the smoking woman says. Her cigarette is almost gone and she rolls the near-butt between her thumb and her forefinger. “So we gonna get to have a party on the bus tonight?”

Veilleux laughs and leans out his rolled-down window, drives into the back. He’s a short, slight man with greying hair and the rough but neatly-trimmed close beard common to sailors, bush folk, truckers and other travellers. Out of the truck, he moves with a much younger man’s step as he busies himself getting the bus ready.

A handful of his friends stand in the room behind courier desk, waiting for him amid brown paper-wrapped boxes and bubblewrap. When he comes in, his friends cheer and his wife presents him with a bouquet of yellow flowers and a blue balloon.

“We’re kicking your ass out of here!” someone says, laughing.

The balloon bobs above his head, skipping and turning as he talks animatedly. It reads, in silver letters, HAPPY RETIREMENT.

Veilleux has been a bus driver with Greyhound for 31 years. He’s been driving the same run, between Whitehorse and Fort Nelson, for the last 16. This night, May 17, when he pulls the long, heavy bus with its trailer bouncing along behind it, when he turns the bus southbound down the Alaska Highway, it will be for the last time.

* * *

From Whitehorse to Fort Nelson, it’s Judas Creek, then Deadman. Teslin Lake stretches out on the right, long before the village. There’s the iron buzz of Nisutlin Bridge, then that long, seemingly endless stretch of near-nothing to Watson Lake. Then it’s Coal River, the bison lumbering along Liard, the turquoise water of Muncho Lake, up the arching back of Stone Mountain and then down down down again into the flatlands where the natural gas crews work. Then, finally, Fort Nelson.

Twelve hours, if you’re driving nonstop, which Veilleux did each time he made the run, 4:30 p.m. to 4:30 a.m., ferrying passengers and cargo along this same stretch of highway. Then 12 hours rest and then back on the road again, everything in reverse.

“It’s not really twelve hours rest, really,” Veilleux says. “ By the time you get in, you’re really hyper. It takes time to wind down, before you can sleep.”

Veilleux got his start with Greyhound as a sort of fill-in driver, going where he was needed, driving anywhere between Whitehorse and Grande Prairie, Alta., — some 1,500 kilometres of highway. It was simply a chance assignment that first brought Veilleux to the Yukon.

“First year, I didn’t even know the Yukon existed. I didn’t want to come here. I was sent for seven weeks to do a holiday for a fella … I wasn’t too keen on it, the first time,” he says. “All of a sudden, about my second summer, I really started to love the Yukon.”

He met his wife Christine at the tavern in Watson Lake, where she used to be a bartender. He’s been here ever since.

Of the countless times he travelled that same stretch of highway, one trip in particular sticks out in his mind.

Veilleux says he was driving a busload of 12 or 13 people up Stone Mountain, a remote stretch of the highway known for its tight, twisting passes, far from cellphone service. He was nearing the summit when something went wrong.

“A red light came on, buzzers are going off. I look at the engine and it’s overheating,” he says. “People were saying ‘what’s the matter, what’s the matter?’”

He had blown a hose and lost all the coolant in the radiator and engine. He found a spare piece of hose and repaired it, but they needed water before they could go anywhere — both the rad and engine block were empty.

All the passengers gathered together and collected empty water bottles among them, he says. Then they climbed up to a creek and hauled water back and forth in their bottles for half an hour, pouring it into the engine.

“The rad alone takes five gallons!” he says. “It was unbelievable, everyone was happy to help. They even flagged down a passing car, who gave us a case of bottled water.”

Over the course of his time as a driver, Veilleux says he has seen a lot of changes.

“Thirty years is not long, but I’ve seen — good lord — all these lodges. I’ve seen them open from 24 hours to not open at all. Even the highway (has seen big changes) in 30 years. It’s unbelievable,” he says.

Veilleux says he isn’t retiring because he doesn’t like the job, but because he’s tired of the night work — and the rough weather, driving in sleet and snow in the middle of the Yukon winter.

One time his bus had “frozen up” at Contact Creek — when this happens, moisture in the air in the brake lines freezes, causing the brakes to seize up and the bus to remain stationary — and he had to call in a second bus. When it arrived, he drove it to Watson Lake, where he took it to a mechanic. Freeze-up can be prevented by adding alcohol to the brake lines, but when he went to add some as a preventative, it backfired.

“It was -58C in Watson Lake that night,” he says. “Everything froze up immediately … now we had two frozen buses: one in Watson Lake and one in Contact Creek.”

He and the mechanic tried to thaw the lines, but couldn’t get the replacement bus working again, so Veilleux borrowed a pair of insulated coveralls and hitchhiked back to Contact Creek — 60 km away — and tried the same procedure on the first bus. Eventually, he got it running again and drove it back to back to Watson Lake, picked up his passengers, and drove to Whitehorse. The trip was extremely cold, because the bus had been sitting out and the heater wasn’t powerful enough to warm it.

“We froze and froze and froze. We had blankets but it was a cold, cold night,” he said. “We were 12 hours late getting in. I’d say that was my worst trip ever. Don’t get me wrong though — I’m going to miss it,” he says. “All I can say is that I’m glad I was on the Alaska Highway… I consider myself very fortunate. I’m energized at the end of every ride.”

“On a beautiful, clear full moon … you can’t beat (the view). It’s beautiful. You can see everything for a long, long ways. It’s incredible.”

* * *

Over the years, he says, one of the most amazing things was all the people who helped him when he needed it. Lodges would stay open late to make sure passengers got in safely and truckers would halt their rigs to help him repair the bus during a breakdown.

“I owe a big thank you to everyone who helped us along the way over the years, the truckers, the travellers and the lodge owners,” he says. “And to my wife Christine, for putting up with me for the last 29 years of being away from home and taking care of business by herself a lot of time, being considerate when I was getting sleep in the daytime, and plainly putting up with me being grumpy at times.”

Now that he is finished his time on the highway, Veilleux isn’t quite done with driving; he’s working part time with the city as a bus driver. Still, he might have a little bit of extra time, he says, which he plans to use riding his Harley Davidson and working in his garden, where he is especially fond of growing petunias.

“This might surprise some people,” he says with a grin, “but I like to play with flowers.”

Contact Lori Garrison at lori.garrison@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Benjamin Poudou, Mount MacIntyre’s ski club manager, poses for a photo in the club’s ski rental area on Nov. 16. The club has sold around 1,850 passes already this year, compared to 1067 passes on Oct. 31 last year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Early season ski pass sales up as Yukoners prepare for pandemic winter

Season passe sales at Mount McIntyre for cross-country skiing are up by around 60 per cent this year

The City of Whitehorse will be spending $655,000 to upgrade the waste heat recovery system at the Canada Games Centre. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
New waste heat recovery system coming to the CGC

Council approves $655,000 project

Yukon First Nation Education Directorate education advocates and volunteers help to sort and distribute Christmas hamper grocery boxes outside Elijah Smith Elementary School on Feb. 23. (Rebecca Bradford Andrew/Submitted)
First Nation Education Directorate begins Christmas hamper program

Pick-ups for hampers are scheduled at local schools

Cyrine Candido, cashier, right, wipes down the new plexi-glass dividers at Superstore on March 28, before it was commonplace for them to wear masks. The Yukon government is relaunching the Yukon Essential Workers Income Support Program as the second wave of COVID-19 begins to take place in the territory. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon Essential Workers Income Support Program extended to 32 weeks

More than 100 businesses in the territory applied for the first phase of the program

Cody Pederson of the CA Storm walks around LJ’s Sabres player Clay Plume during the ‘A’ division final of the 2019 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament. The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28 in Whitehorse next year, was officially cancelled on Nov. 24 in a press release from organizers. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament cancelled

The 2021 Yukon Native Hockey Tournament, scheduled for March 25 to 28… Continue reading

Lev Dolgachov/123rf
The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner stressed the need to safeguard personal information while shopping this holiday season in a press release on Nov. 24.
Information and Privacy Commissioner issues reminder about shopping

The Yukon’s Information and Privacy Commissioner Diane McLeod-McKay stressed the need to… Continue reading

Keith Lay speaks at a city council meeting on Dec. 4, 2017. Lay provided the lone submission to council on the city’s proposed $33 million capital spending plan for 2021 on Nov. 23, taking issue with a number of projects outlined. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Resident raises issues with city’s capital budget

Council to vote on budget in December

Beatrice Lorne was always remembered by gold rush veterans as the ‘Klondike Nightingale’. (Yukon Archives/Maggies Museum Collection)
History Hunter: Beatrice Lorne — The ‘Klondike Nightingale’

In June of 1929, 11 years after the end of the First… Continue reading

Samson Hartland is the executive director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines. The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during its annual general meeting held virtually on Nov. 17. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Yukon Chamber of Mines elects new board

The Yukon Chamber of Mines elected a new board of directors during… Continue reading

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and — unsurprisingly — hospital visitations were down. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Annual report says COVID-19 had a large impact visitation numbers at Whitehorse General

The Yukon Hospital Corporation has released its annual report for 2019-20, and… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Most Read