A few years ago, Al Macleod overheard a bearded curmudgeon spouting his mouth at the Downtown Hotel in Dawson City.
“In the corner, there was a guy, maybe in his mid-‘50s, he was leaning over the table talking to a couple about the same age, and he’s just saying, ‘F***ing Whitehorse … f***ing Whitehorse … f***ing Whitehorse,’ throughout the conversation,” says Macleod.
“And I realized, these guys don’t like Whitehorse.”
The character began to crystalize in Macleod’s mind. Who was this guy? What’s so bad about Whitehorse? How could you hate it so much?
Soon, “Jim from Dawson” was born.
“From Outside, Whitehorse is a little tiny place,” said Macleod. “But Jim makes it up to be the big nasty city, like Bangkok or Mexico City. He thinks it’s overwhelming.”
Those luxuries residents take for granted in Whitehorse – coffee shops, yoga studios and cupcake stores—are all glaring signs of vanity and cosmopolitanism for Jim from Dawson.
“You’re a bunch of urbanites,” says Macleod, now in character. “You’re a little bit soft.”
To stand Robert Service on his head, Whitehorsians are not obeying the Law of the Yukon.
“You’re not real Yukoners,” Jim says. “You’re all yuppies, urbanites and bureaucrats.”
On Friday, Jim from Dawson is hitting the stage. In another installment of the Guild’s comedy nights, Jim will be hosting a slate of Whitehorse comedians who will provide their own brand of off-base, derelict humour.
Steve McGovern, Andrew Stratus, Scott MacDonald, Graham Barnie and Logan Larkin are all in the line up. A few more fixtures from the stand-up circuit are expected to confirm in the next few days.
It’s not the first time Macleod has done the Jim bit. He’s grown a hefty beard since October for this act. In a flannel shirt and leather cap, he could pass for a regular at the Pit any day.
“I really have to get rid of this beard,” he says.
That’s the Whitehorse in him talking.
Macleod’s more of a writer than an actor, he said. But the quintessential bushman look helps cover any performance training he’s missing.
“I’ve written a lot of material but I haven’t worked a lot on the performance,” he says.
Still, Jim does have his own way of communicating.
“He’s got a deep, confident voice and he’s clear about what he thinks,” says Macleod.
The content is based on the age-old small town/big city rivalry. Macleod dug into his past as a kid growing up in Guelph – and all the anti-Toronto sentiment that comes with growing up in Southern Ontario – to refine his character.
Jim is definitely a stereotype. And Macleod is not the only one to use a hackneyed Yukon personality for laughs. Though their comedy style is different, Gramma Susie and Cash Creek Charlie – played by actors Sharon Shorty and Duane Aucoin – also play on cliched characters.
And the old-Yukoner-versus-new-Yukoner animosity does exist – even if it’s not acknowledged in Whitehorse.
“There’s truth to all good comedy,” says Macleod. “And I think there is an anxiety about change to the Yukon just in terms of more people coming in and a bigger population and threatening our way of life and the wildness of the Yukon.”
Whitehorse has changed since Macleod first arrived in 1988, he said.
“A broader range of people can be comfortable in Whitehorse now because it’s just become a more diverse place,” he said. “It’s got almost everything you want in the South.”
And the tension Jim from Dawson brings to life isn’t just between Dawsonites and Whitehorse residents.
“A lot of the communities feel the same way about Whitehorse,” says Macleod. “It could be Watson Lake/Whitehorse, Pelly Crossing/Whitehorse. There’s this relationship with ‘the big place.’ They come here to buy stuff but there’s also this disdain.
“There’s a pride in the communities as real, rugged Yukoners and that’s sort of what Jim is.”
And as the Yukon – and Whitehorse in particular – becomes more accepting of new residents, there’s a worry that the magic of living here will be lost.
“There’s always been kind of a secrecy about (the Yukon,) like ‘This place is really special and really unusual, let’s not let everybody in the world know about this, because they’ll want to come here too,’” he says.
Macleod was a cheechako at one time, too. But he isn’t really a “real Yukoner” yet, either.
Just ask him about his day job.
“Do you really want to know what I do?” he says in a quiet tone, the ruffian drained out of him.
“I work for DFO,” he mutters.
The Guild’s Comedy Night is Saturday at 8 p.m. Tickets are $5 at the door.
Contact James Munson at