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Another death at the Chilkoot

A Whitehorse man died at Chilkoot Trail Inn on Tuesday night. Paul Gagnon was "a good guy, not a fighter," said Chilkoot owner Gurmeet Gill.

A Whitehorse man died at Chilkoot Trail Inn on Tuesday night.

Paul Gagnon was “a good guy, not a fighter,” said Chilkoot owner Gurmeet Gill.

In April, when Gagnon first tried to rent a room at the Chilkoot, Gill turned him down because “he was drunk.”

But Gagnon assured Gill he was a nice guy who wouldn’t fight.

“And I believed him,” said Gill.

True to his word, Gagnon didn’t cause any trouble during his five months at the Chilkoot.

“He was not a bad guy,” said Gill on Thursday. “He was not a thief or a fighter, but an alcoholic and drug man.”

But just before he died, Gagnon had some trouble with the owners, according to reports from several residents (who asked to remain anonymous, fearing eviction).

“He kept having his girlfriend over, so they locked him out of his room,” said one resident.

“They just let him back in the day before he died,” said another.

“And his girlfriend had a stroke the week before, so maybe he was stressed.”

Gagnon was in his 40s, according to those who knew him.

On Tuesday evening, Gill heard strange noises coming from Gagnon’s room.

When he opened the door, Gill could tell something was wrong.

“I said, ‘Paul, Paul, Paul,’ but there was no answer, so I immediately called the police,” he said.

The death is not believed to be suspicious, said Whitehorse RCMP Sgt. Don Rogers.

“It is under investigation by the coroner, as with any sudden death.”

“It was a natural death,” said Gill.

“Everybody who has died here has died from a natural death. Nobody has died from fighting or killing.”

The last Chilkoot death did not involve a resident, he added, citing an incident last September involving a 39-year-old man who struggled with police in the motel.

A man was running from the cops and came into the building when the night shift clerk was downstairs making coffee, said Gill.

“He died in the police car,” he added.

Gill used to work at the mine in Faro. When it shut down, he and his wife Nina bought the Chilkoot in 1990.

It used to run like a standard hotel, with nightly rentals, said Nina. “But slowly it turned into monthly people.

“I think they need it more than the nightly people.”

Rooms at the Chilkoot run anywhere from $900 to $1,200 a month.

“The rent is usually paid by Social Services,” said Nina.

“The rooms are totally disgusting,” said one resident who has been living there for almost a year.

“There’s a lot of money being paid here for what you get.”

Basement rooms without a sink or toilet cost $900.

Another resident has had pipes leaking into the room.

“It leaves a big puddle on the floor,” said the tenant.

Gill knows about the problem, but all he does is give the tenants with leaking pipes rubber garbage pails to catch the water, said a resident.

“There’s black mould everywhere, and I don’t think the carpets have ever been shampooed,” said a longtime tenant.

“With the amount of money they’re making, there’s no reason the rooms should be in this state.

“People shouldn’t have to live in these conditions - but there’s no other places to go.”

Social assistance covers $822 for rent, but it won’t give would-be tenants enough money to cover first and last months’ rent.

This closes the door on most cheaper, cleaner rental options in the city.

“That’s why I had to go to the Chilkoot,” said one resident.

After the Taku and the Pioneer shut down, more and more people moved to the Chilkoot, said Gill.

“I try to help them,” he said.

Some people are in desperate situations, said Nina. “They can’t find a place to live.”

Gill has been known to give the needy a free room for a night or two.

“One September I had these two teenage girls show up,” he said.

“It was cold and they asked for a room.”

Gill showed them one, and the girls told him they didn’t have any money.

“They told me to stay with them for a good time,” said the 72-year-old hotelier.

“I told them, ‘No.’”

But Gill still let the girls stay the night.

“They needed a place, and I didn’t charge them,” he said.

Another night, walking home late, Gill realized he was being followed.

“I was scared,” he said.

Then the man started calling his name. It was a fellow from Alaska who ran into trouble in Whitehorse months before. At the time, Gill helped him out and gave him a room. Now, on his way back to the US, the man had returned to pay Gill for the room.

“I like helping people, and I like money, too,” said Gill.

The tired carpet in the Chilkoot’s lobby is dressed up by a collection of healthy plants.

As the tenants come and go, they greet Gill.

“Tell her how you like living here,” said Gill, hailing an older man in a jean shirt.

“It’s as good a place as any,” said Larry Gillis, who’s been at the Chilkoot for three months.

“I’ve lived in a lot worse places,” he said.

Sometimes, rooms are still rented to overnight guests.

While checking in a family of European tourists on Thursday morning, Gill was interrupted by a call.

“No, I haven’t gone in the room,” he said, referring to Number 3, where Gagnon lived.

After some more questions, Gill asked for the caller’s address.

“If there’s anything in the papers, I will cut it out and send it to you,” he said.

“The people here are like our family,” he said.

But Gill’s fatherly approach is too much for some of the tenants.

“It’s like a boarding house, or jail,” said one tenant.

“You can’t have company, you can’t have visitors overnight, and sometimes they tell people I’m not here even though I am,” said the resident.

When the News tried to talk to the tenant who cleans the Chilkoot, Gill said she was sick.

An appointment had been set up, so the News insisted on knocking on the tenant’s door, but Gill followed along down the hall, insisting she wasn’t available.

“Thank you, goodbye,” he said.

“Sometimes it’s hard on us,” said Nina in an earlier interview.

“It seems like 99 per cent of the people use drugs, and their friends show up, and people who, by law, are not supposed to be around.”

And evicting tenants is tough.

“Sometimes you try to kick them out, and they won’t leave,” said Gill.

“They’re like a magnet.”

Gill, whose son and daughter work for the federal government in Vancouver, is also vice-president of the Quality Inn Surrey in Surrey, BC.

“It’s a $5-million hotel,” he said.

But he’d rather run the Chilkoot in Whitehorse.

“I like this place,” he said.

“The RCMP, the store people, everyone knows my face and my name,” he said.

“It’s easy to stay.”

Contact Genesee Keevil at