Community cares for carver

UPDATED VERSION Shawn Johnnie isn't a very large man. He isn't a loud guy either. He sits on the couch almost hidden within his grey, hooded sweatshirt.


Shawn Johnnie isn’t a very large man.

He isn’t a loud guy either.

He sits on the couch almost hidden within his grey, hooded sweatshirt.

Under his black, leather hat, his eyes are wide and he gives a subtle, but distinct smile.

“It’s pretty crazy,” he says of all the support that has been given to help rebuild the carving studio/home he was building out on Kwanlin Dun First Nation land, down Long Lake Road.

It’s his family’s land and he’s wanted to build a small studio/home on it for a year now – ever since he started trying to turn his life around.

Last week, he and some friends and supporters had almost finished the small shack. But an old, secondhand, oil-drip stove ignited last week, burning it to the ground.

Everything he owned was lost, including most of his carving tools.

The pieces of antler and horn that Johnnie turns into art have helped to keep him sober and out of trouble for this past year, he says.

He lives off the proceeds of his carving and had been saving for months to build the place.

But things are looking up.

“Much better than the day it happened,” says Johnnie. “It’ll be nice to have a place out there. I’m pretty stoked.”

After reports of the fire came out, Kwanlin Dun councillors Ray Webb and Jessie Dawson stepped up to help out.

By the end of the day Friday, Webb had nailed down the labour and insulation for a new structure as well as funding from the First Nation for the material.

Throughout the weekend, the support continued to pour in.

The first came from Willy Christiansen, a childhood friend who grew up with Johnnie at the group home.

Christiansen and his wife drove to Whitehorse from Dawson, and purchased all the lumber that would be needed.

Brian Kelly, Whitehorse branch manager of Igloo Building Supplies, gave all the lumber to Christiansen at cost, and then offered to donate all the needed drywall.

“I don’t know,” Kelly said when asked about why he offered to help. “He was being nice, helping out his friend, so I thought I would help him out.”

Canyon City Construction – a subsidiary of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, which will be providing the labour – has not given Kelly an estimate of what materials are needed, so he said he can’t predict how much it will cost him.

Energy North Construction will contribute about $3,000 to the new building, says owner Kirk Potter.

“I’ve been in the community for a long time, I was born and raised here and I know everyone involved,” says Potter. “Shawn had worked for us a while back and we do work with KDFN. I just hope things go better for him, he’s been trying really hard.”

Johnnie hasn’t participated in planning the reconstruction so far.

“I just basically told him that we’re building a little bit bigger and that we know what the past structure looked like,” says Webb. “And he’s happy with that – he hasn’t complained, anyway.”

Construction will begin Wednesday, and Johnnie will be joining Canyon City workers on the site.

Because they haven’t actually started the work yet, Johnnie says he’s not too upset about not being included or consulted.

He intends to make sure it is at least built in the right place when he joins them out there, he says.

“I’m grateful and just blown away,” he says. “I never expected this.”

This is the first time people have really helped him to this extent, Johnnie says.

Many other individuals and community organizations have donated clothes and supplies, including artist Jim Robb, who donated a few paintings, says Johnnie.

It should only take a few days to get the place up and ready, says Webb.

At that time, Johnnie says he’s going to continue carving. The goal is to get his art out all over the place.

But he will continue to stay here in Whitehorse, he says.

“I’ll be there and continue to live,” he says. “Build a nice log cabin there eventually.”

He stops and pulls out two small pieces of crinkled, lined paper from the pocket of his black jeans.

On them he has scribbled the list of people and organizations that have offered support – in all forms.

After reciting them all out loud, he refolds the papers and slides them back into his pocket.

“I just really appreciate it,” he says.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at