Joanne Bailey is not technically a resident of Watson Lake any longer, having recently moved to Dawson City. But she lived here for 20 years, and having her mom, Brenda, her daughter, Jennifer, and two grandbabies in this community keeps her coming back on a regular basis.
Her son and another grandchild live in Fort Nelson, BC, and the family often all get together using Watson Lake as the meeting place.
Bailey moved to Dawson City a couple of years ago. She’s very pleased with the change.
“In Dawson there is always something interesting going on,” she says. “And the people are happy and friendly. Everyone is encouraged and liked for being just who they are. There’s a positive energy that seems to pick you up and carry you along with it. I enjoy it, though I do miss my family in Watson Lake.”
She has opened a reiki/reflexology studio in Dawson, something she trained for and longed to do. It is doing well and is the realization of a dream of being in the healing arts.
Another is the romance that brought her to Dawson. She and Kelly courted for a couple of years before Bailey moved to be with him in Dawson City.
“We both love the outdoors; it’s the strongest bond imaginable. We spend days, weeks, of every summer on the river. We have a 30-foot riverboat that Kelly built, and it takes us away, camping and fishing, exploring the wilderness. It’s heaven.”
Bailey, with her two young children, Jennifer and James, left Fort McMurray, Alberta, for Watson Lake 20 years ago. Her mother was here, and Bailey needed to make a fresh start for herself and her kids.
She’d been here a year, waitressing at the Belvedere Hotel, when she met Keith Bailey. They were married in 1990.
It was a good marriage, for Joanne and for her children. Keith took the kids as his own, adopting them, and it was as a family that they spent their free time exploring the wilderness, camping and hiking. They became particularly familiar with the country around the Liard Hot Springs, as Keith’s First Nations family had a trapline in that area.
Tragically, Keith was killed in a car accident in 1992, an event which devastated Joanne.
“It took years to recover from Keith’s death; we’d been so happy, all of us, and I didn’t know how, or if, we would be that happy again. It was a really hard time.”
In an effort to find some peace and gladness, Bailey took a big risk in 1997: she’d worked her way from waitressing to the office at the Belvedere Hotel in Watson Lake and she left that job to take on the management of the facilities at the Liard Hot Springs, known as Trapper Ray’s. It was a daunting undertaking; there was a restaurant, an RV park and a gas station. Her kids would have to be home schooled.
“It was the best thing I could have done,” she says now. “It was a lot of hard work for sure, but we knew the area through Keith and we spent every moment we could spare outdoors: hiking, fishing, swimming in the river. The kids were in their teens; I knew I wanted to have them close to me in some meaningful way, and this turned into a time of bonding with them that was deep and important and has lasted to this day. It was a big job; we all worked hard, but it brought us close. We all have fond memories of that time.”
In 1999, back in Watson Lake, Bailey took the job of administrative assistant for the Liard Aboriginal Women’s Society. Weekends, she worked at the women’s shelter. Her daughter married a Watson Lake man and started a family; her son moved to Fort Nelson where he, too, married and started a family.
Bailey enjoyed her work at LAWS, took her reiki and reflexology training, walked and camped with her dogs, and spent time with her family. It was a time of aloneness, but not loneliness; it was a time during which this gentle, thoughtful woman became more than a fierce and devoted mom; she found and became her own real self. Bailey paid attention to this part of her life; she appreciated it, and she used it well. She got to like and value what she found.
She met Kelly online; they took their time getting to know one another, mutually resolved to have a relationship based on thoroughness of understanding and complete honesty.
“We really took our time developing our relationship; we didn’t even meet face to face for months and months. It was a couple of years before I made the big decision to leave my mom and my daughter and move to Dawson to be with Kelly,” Bailey says.
“Like all tough decisions, it had to be well made, and it was; it’s not only been wonderful to be living with Kelly, but it’s been incredible to experience a town like Dawson; I didn’t know there were places like this. It’s been very liberating.
“I’ve been so involved with my kids; maybe a bit too involved,” Bailey says. “It’s been good to learn we can all handle this distance from one another. It’s a different time for us. The kids are raising kids of their own now. They are happy and doing well.
“I have finally recognized that it is my time now, and I am ready to take it and enjoy it.”
Tor Forsberg is a freelance writer
who lives in Watson Lake.