Former Watson Laker discovers her art in Whitehorse

The attractive, soft-spoken Carmen Komish grew up in this town, and she harbours fond memories of her childhood.

The attractive, soft-spoken Carmen Komish grew up in this town, and she harbours fond memories of her childhood.

Carmen was four and her brother Barry six when their father, Hal, with partner Chuck Hamilton, bought BC Yukon Air services from George Dalziel.

It was a charter business based in Watson Lake.

Hal had been in the North before and always planned to return someday; this time he brought his wife, Dorothy, and their two kids, moving them from Edmonton to this small northern community.

“It was a good childhood,” says Komish. “We had a lot of freedom because it was a safe place and our parents didn’t worry like parents do these days. Everyone knew everyone else.

“Kids who grew up here seem to stay close to one another,” she says. “I think more so than in other, larger places. We may move out of the territory and make new friends in other places, but we stay in one another’s lives.”

There was plenty for kids to do with their freedom; the lake was there for swimming, boating and fishing in the summer. And there were softball games every weekend. There were trips on her father’s airplanes to hunting camps and fishing lodges. She was allowed to bring friends when circumstances permitted.

In the winter there was skiing, hockey and curling.

“I remember we were always outdoors, no matter what the season or the weather,” Komish says.

“I was 13 when canned TV came to Watson Lake. It was only on for four hours a night, and it was old. I still remember people watching week-old hockey games; everyone as excited as though they didn’t know the outcomes.”

Komish graduated from the high school in Watson Lake and feels she got as good an education as was available in any small town.

She moved to Toronto where she married Gar McClean, a Toronto boy. They returned to the North when Komish was pregnant with Graham, the first of their two sons.

They tried gold mining in Dawson City before Gar and Ron Hawley started their construction business. It was a busy time for the young couple as they built their home out by the lake and increased the family; Ryan was born two years after Graham.

In 1978 they divorced and Gar left Watson Lake.

“It was an old story: married and with kids too young,” Komish says. “I missed my adolescence. My parents helped me have it. They took care of the kids every weekend. I worked at all the jobs you work at when you don’t have any training or education: waitressing, clerking, and working at the local barite mine.”

She met Mark Robinson in 1985, a man who represented stability, a hard-working man that her kids loved and her parents approved of.

In 1986 Komish knew it was time to go back to school, and she knew what she wanted – to be an animal health technician. Watson Lake’s Yukon College campus could take her only so far before she would have to go to Olds, Alberta, for the two-year course. It was time to make big changes and create a life for herself and her sons.

Ryan had earlier been diagnosed with kidney problems; it seemed timely for the boys to go to Toronto and be with their father while their mom got her education.

Komish split up with Robinson; she couldn’t see a future for them as she would have to work outside the North after she got her diploma – there were no available jobs for animal health technicians in the Yukon at that time and Robinson was not interested in living anywhere else.

But she missed him.

She finished her course and got a job in Calgary. Robinson came to visit. It seemed they were meant to be together after all; a job came open with a vet in Whitehorse and Komish took it. Robinson moved to Whitehorse and worked construction for awhile before finding a permanent job with Aqua Tech, where he is to this day.

They got married at her parents’ place in Mexico in 1998.

Komish worked in her field for 15 years, loving the work and quitting only when the clinic closed. Before that happened, however, she had found another love, working with glass.

“I think there is a correlation; I particularly liked lab work with the minute details seen under the microscope and now the glass work I most enjoy is minute and intricate designs,” she says. “I’ve even thought of doing glass designs based on the different cells.”

The finding of her artist self began five years ago with a course in stained glass, which led to more courses in other glass-related art. She rented a store, right beside the vet’s office where she worked. She would open the store for two hours a day, filling a niche market discovered when she began working with glass; lots of people were doing it and had no outlet in town from which to get supplies.

When the clinic closed, Komish just moved right in to becoming a full-time store owner/operator.

She began making glass beads, taking courses in Vancouver and Las Vegas, studying with the masters of the craft.

A studio was set up in the garage of her home in Porter Creek where she practised her craft before taking it into the store.

She began to give workshops on stained glass and glass fusing. She started to sell her work at local markets.

“I closed the store seven months ago,” Komish says. “It was one of the victims of the economic downturn. I moved back into my home studio and now making glass beads is my full-time work. I sell at craft fairs and a few local stores carry my work.”

Clearly, this is someone who has found herself in her art; she is very involved with the process of learning more and becoming even more skilled.

Her work is intricate and beautiful: the colour and detail speak to her talent and dedication.

Komish’s work will be found at the Christmas fairs coming up, the Cranberry Fair and Ice Fog Finds, to name two.

One can visit her websites: and

She will be doing the Watson Lake Chamber of Commerce Art Show in February, bringing her work back to her home town.

“It’s endlessly interesting, this glass fusing,” Komish says “There is so much to learn; I’ll never come to an end with it.”

Tor Forsberg is a freelance writer based in Watson Lake.