In 1952, when Evelyn and Lloyd Kostiuk drove north with their young son Pat, the trip from Fort St. John to Watson Lake took three days.
When they got as far as Lucky Lake, a few miles south of Watson, after seeing nothing but stunted spruce trees and sand or moss, Lloyd said “Maybe this was a mistake.”
They were uneasy about the absence of grass anywhere in this landscape.
Lloyd was to put his University of Alberta schooling to work in the service of the army as a mechanic for the Northwest Highway System, and Ev was to create their home in army housing.
They’d met and married in Fort St. John, Ev leaving university and a dream of journalism and Lloyd putting away his desire to become a pilot in favour of growing a family and a life in the Far North.
Ev claims she fell for Lloyd because he was quiet and she got to do most of the talking.
Lloyd liked Ev for her red hair and, “She was the right size. And she was good-looking.”
There wasn’t much to the town in those days; a couple of hotels, the post office and a store.
The army quarters lacked privacy.
Lloyd illustrates just how close together the houses were when he tells us of an incident that saw his boss in the house next door yelling “shit disturber!” at Lloyd because he could be seen drying the dishes for Ev.
In l957, Lloyd started his own welding business as a sideline to his army job. There was no other welder in town, making his shop an immediate success.
Yukon Electric hired him in 1960. He worked there for 27 years.
“They finally chased me out, saying my pension wasn’t going to get any bigger,” he says.
It seemed he was always working when everyone else wasn’t during those years, says Ev.
Except, she notes, for bonspiel weekends.
The Kostiuks could boast shelves full of curling trophies until the sheer weight of them necessitated their removal to the basement.
Eight years of army housing later, they bought the home they live in still. Two more children were born, with the house and yard being an ideal playground winter or summer. The property is large and shows the years of work and care that have been spent making it attractive. There is an enormous garden, and Lloyd has a shop on the property where until recently he did welding projects.
Lloyd and Ev not only curled, but were avid square dancers, an activity they say is terrific exercise as well as being a lot of fun. The town boasted a busy club in those days and the dancers performed in other communities.
Frances Lake was a huge part of the pleasure of their life in the Yukon.
“You could spend a lifetime in that area and not really know it,” Lloyd says. “There’s 100 miles of shoreline on Frances Lake alone, and then there are river connections to McPherson Lake, the east arm, Anderson River and Frances River. Every summer they spent several weeks camping there, with a boat to provide a means to explore an area that can truly claim pristine wilderness. And the fishing is great.
Twice in those years they were forced to evacuate due to forest fires, with the last hasty move being achieved within 20 minutes of being told they needed to leave.
It was in 2000 that Lloyd was out on the flat calm lake by himself when he noticed a large wake in the water near the shoreline. Thinking it was likely a moose, he motored over only to find that whatever it was had gone, leaving only a column of air bubbles. The lake was 39-metres deep in that area. Lloyd says he sat in the boat with a rifle at the ready, expecting some sort of monster to come up, but nothing returned to the surface. Asking around, he found that some Kaska elders had stories of gigantic and ‘ugly’ fish that had been seen over the years. He reckons it could be sturgeon, reporting the size of the creature as indicated on the sounder would support his theory.
Since retiring, the couple have done a fair bit of travelling, visiting Hawaii, Costa Rica, Mexico and Arizona. For the last 17 years they have spent a significant part of the winter on Vancouver Island in Cowichan Bay, where their daughter lives with her husband and children.
Last year, they were unable to go anywhere except to Outside hospitals.
Ev suffered a debilitating condition to her upper spine that was in danger of rendering her paralyzed from the neck down. Operations resulted in titanium screws and plates being inserted into her spine.
“Lloyd could’ve done it in his shop,” says Ev. “He’s a very good welder.”
Her recovery has been slow, with Lloyd having to forgo a lot of his Frances Lake time to care for her, but she is definitely on the mend.
“When something like this happens,” Lloyd says. “You learn just how caring a community this is. There were people bringing prepared food and goodies; we got such a lot of help.”
The computer age has not been ignored in the Kostiuk household.
Lloyd took his first computer classes when he was 80, and now enjoys being able to do things like keep in touch via e-mail with a grandson who is currently working in Ethiopia.
Ev attended the first computer class, but claims they lost her when they took the computer apart and tried to acquaint her with its innards.
Are they here to stay? Or is a permanent move to Vancouver Island a temptation?
“Every time we are down there we talk about moving, but then when we get back it feels so darned good to be here,” says Ev.
Lloyd claims the last word.
“Burial at Lucky Lake is cheap.”
Tor Forsberg is a freelance writer
who lives in Watson Lake.