Mushing dinosaurs from a wheelchair

If it weren’t for plastic dinosaurs, distributor caps, shells and bits of wood, Peter Garsyde wouldn’t last at Copper Ridge Place.

If it weren’t for plastic dinosaurs, distributor caps, shells and bits of wood, Peter Garsyde wouldn’t last at Copper Ridge Place.

“I’ve got to fill my time here,” said the 66-year-old.

Dappled in bright paint splotches, Garsyde looks more like a French Impressionist artist than a former hydro expert.

But painting is a relatively new hobby.

For 34 years, Garsyde worked for Yukon Energy Corp, then owned by the Northern Canadian Power Commission.

Perched on his head, a trucker’s hat still sports its logo. There are some curricular glue blemishes on the brim. It’s where Garsyde must have stuck a few iridescent pebbles at some point.

“I started off painting walls and ended up as chief (dam) operator,” he said.

When the territorial government took over the Yukon Energy in 1990, Garsyde was given a position at Yukon Electrical Company Limited.

It’s a move that changed his life.

Two years into his new job, with a boss that caused him “big stress,” Garsyde had a stroke.

He was 50.

“I just knew after my stroke that was it,” he said.

“I couldn’t go out with the boys and have a few drinks, which I liked to do.”

Garsyde also couldn’t make roasts anymore.

The left side of his body had stopped working.

“And cooking was one of my favourite hobbies,” he said.

Partially paralyzed, now moving on wheels instead of feet, Garsyde ended up at Macaulay Lodge.

But the muse didn’t strike for another seven years, until Garsyde moved to Copper Ridge.

“I arrived three months and two days before the official opening,” he said.

Out rolling around in the parking lot, Garsyde found himself looking at the piles of rocks used for drainage.

“I saw this one rock that looked like a dinosaur head, so I grabbed it with my long-arm reacher,” he said lifting up a stick with a pinching contraption on the end, painted gold, with a tiny rear-view mirror attached.

Garsyde painted the rock, “to make it look more like a dinosaur, and gave it to one of the girls” on staff.

The next thing he knew, everyone wanted painted paperweights.

“And from there I just branched up and out,” said Garsyde, pointing out his dinosaur team.

Little plastic T-rexes and stegosaurs pull a wooden musher with orange pipe-cleaner arms across the top of a cabinet in his room.

Beside them there’s a half-finished painting of bulrushes framing a red sun.

“I’d go crazy if I didn’t do something,” he said.

Garsyde sees more death than most.

“But you see more in the special care unit than we have in the young adults (unit),” he said.

“Although, we’ve had quite a few young adults pass away over the years.

“It’s almost like a small family in here — you have some good friends and some not so good friends.”

Garsyde tries not to think about life before the stroke.

“The hardest thing is to get used to not working,” he said.

“So, I do my creative therapy. I come in here and putter around.”

There’s only one other person who shares his workroom.

“Lots of people just watch TV day after day — I don’t know how the heck they do it,” he said.

“Some people just stay in bed all day, they don’t even get up.”

But Garsyde had good teachers who didn’t let their circumstances get them down.

In Victoria, BC, for rehab after his stroke, the middle-aged Yukoner fell in with three elderly women in the transplant wing.

At the end of their wing was a balcony overlooking a car park and these aged women would sneak off the balcony, down the stairs and around the corner to a local pub.

“They’d come back stiff as boards,” said Garsyde with a grin.

One of these tipsy nights earned him the nickname he still carries.

Garsyde heard the gate rattling and let the ladies in — “Yukon Jack, we got inebriated off your beverage tonight,” they tittered.

The name stuck until Garsyde got up the nerve to explain his name was actually Peter.

“So they started calling me Yukon Pete — that’s how I got my handle,” he said.

“And the handle came back with me.”

 With a Yukon plate on his wheelchair, a russet beard and a creative streak, Garsyde looks the part.

It’s hard to imagine him as a young boy with aspirations to be a minister.

Garsyde later joined the Royal Canadian Air Force for three years, before wanderlust brought him back to the territory where he spent his youth.

“Life changes over the years,” he said.

Wooden sculptures with blue nuts and red-and-white flowers glued to them sit on Garsyde’s table in the dining room.

In the glassed-in smokers’ corner there’s a wooden block with pencil holes drilled in it — “Please leave alone, Yukon Pete’s cigarettes,” is scrawled across it.

“I don’t plan things in advance, I just putter away and see what shows up,” said Garsyde.

“What is garbage for one person is treasure for another,” he added, picking us some used scooter parts brought in by a worker.

“It’s treasure for me,” he said.

“I appreciate it if people bring me stuff — any garbage they want to get rid of.

“Because you can’t make anything out of nothing, you’ve got to have something.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at

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