Hantavirus claims an Atlin cornerstone

The annual music festival in Atlin, B.C. may be months away, but at least one organizer knows what a focus of this year's event will be.

The annual music festival in Atlin, B.C. may be months away, but at least one organizer knows what a focus of this year’s event will be.

This year’s event will be a tribute to one of its founding board members, Gerhard Holmok, said Manu Keggenhoff, another board member.

Holmok, better known as Ged, died at Whitehorse General Hospital on Jan. 9. He had been admitted the day before. The evening he died, the festival board was holding a meeting.

It was a sudden and rare illness that claimed his life. Last week, it was announced he died because of the hantavirus.

The rare virus causes severe flu-like symptoms, including nausea and shortness of breath. It spreads through infected feces, urine or saliva from deer mice.

Infected particles land in dust. If the air is dry, the infection can remain in an area for about an hour. In moist areas, the infection can stay for up to 18 days, said Dr. Ronald Chapman, chief medical officer of health for B.C.‘s northern health authority. When dust with infected particles is disturbed, the virus enters the air.

The virus has a mortality rate of 60 per cent, according to the Yukon’s Department of the Environment.

The virus can only be passed by mice to humans, said Chapman. People can’t spread it to each other. Cases “pop up at odd places at odd times,” Chapman said, adding he doubts another case will be found in Atlin.

It’s extremely rare in this area. The last time a person in British Columbia had the virus was in 2007, and they got it while travelling overseas, said Chapman. The furthest north a case in humans was found before was in Williams Lake, B.C., he said.

The best defence against the virus is keeping the deer mouse population down. Areas where mice have been should be ventilated for over 30 minutes before cleaning, and disinfectant should be poured over the areas before beginning. People should wear gloves, goggles and masks with filters when cleaning areas where the mice have been, according to HealthLink B.C. These masks are not the same as the ones used when painting or installing insulation.

Health officials will not be trapping mice in Atlin, B.C., at this time, said Eryn Collins, a spokesperson for Northern Health. The cold weather makes finding the rodents difficult, she said. Health officials don’t want to expose more people to the virus, and knowing how prevalent it is won’t change any information they have right now, she said.

The most they can do is communicate with health workers there by teleconference and make sure residents have enough information. A public information session will be held once it’s warmer, said Collins.

It was at Atlin’s music festival that Holmok met the great love of his life, Marie-Christine Benoit, while sorting recycling and planting garlic. The two married in 2011, at a Quebec vineyard. In November, they travelled to New Zealand.

After the trip, Benoit returned to Quebec, where she’s a student. She was there when her husband died. She has since returned to Atlin, B.C., but could not be reached for comment.

Holmok was a ranger. He was “the best prepared guide, ever,” said Keggenhoff. “You knew you could survive, like, for 12 weeks when you had Geddy along.”

He was also a volunteer firefighter, a guard at the jail and a supervisor at the Atlin Teen Centre. He was a history buff and excellent Settlers of Catan player, said Trudy Ewing, one of his co-workers. Because Holmok and Benoit’s friends in Atlin couldn’t attend their wedding, Ewing hosted a celebration at her house.

The couple’s devotion was obvious. “They were made for each other,” said Ewing.

Holmok, originally from Quebec, came to Atlin in 1993. He is predeceased by his father, Eugen and survived by his mother, Ursula, and his brother, Bernhard. His brother was unable to attend the Jan. 21 memorial at the Atlin Recreation Centre. He works for the federal government and is currently stationed in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Holmok would have turned 46 next week.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Dawson the dog sits next to the Chariot Patrick Jackson has loaded and rigged up to walk the Dempster Highway from where it begins, off the North Klondike Highway, to the Arctic Circle. (Submitted)
Walking the Dempster

Patrick Jackson gets set for 405-kilometre journey

Liberal leader Sandy Silver speaks outside his campaign headquarters in Dawson City following early poll results on April 12. (Robin Sharp/Yukon News)
BREAKING: Minority government results will wait on tie vote in Vuntut Gwitchin

The Yukon Party and the Liberal Party currently have secured the same amount of seats

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
YUKONOMIST: The Neapolitan election

Do you remember those old bricks of Neapolitan ice cream from birthday… Continue reading

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Exposure notice issued for April 3 Air North flight

Yukon Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley has issued another… Continue reading

Crystal Schick/Yukon News file
Runners in the Yukon Arctic Ultra marathon race down the Yukon River near the Marwell industrial area in Whitehorse on Feb. 3, 2019.
Cold-weather exercise hard on the lungs

Amy Kenny Special to the Yukon News It might make you feel… Continue reading

Today’s Mailbox: Rent freezes and the youth vote

Dear Editor, I read the article regarding the recommendations by the Yukon… Continue reading

Point-in-Time homeless count planned this month

Volunteers will count those in shelters, short-term housing and without shelter in a 24-hour period.

The Yukon’s new ATIPP Act came into effect on April 1. Yukoners can submit ATIPP requests online or at the Legislative Assembly building. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News file)
New ATIPP Act in effect as of April 1

The changes promise increased government transparency

A new conservancy in northern B.C. is adjacent to Mount Edziza Provincial Park. (Courtesy BC Parks)
Ice Mountain Lands near Telegraph Creek, B.C., granted conservancy protection

The conservancy is the first step in a multi-year Tahltan Stewardship Initiative

Yukon RCMP reported a child pornography-related arrest on April 1. (Phil McLachlan/Black Press file)
Whitehorse man arrested on child pornography charges

The 43-year-old was charged with possession of child pornography and making child pornography

Team Yukon athletes wave flags at the 2012 Arctic Winter Games opening ceremony in Whitehorse. The postponed 2022 event in Wood Buffalo, Alta., has been rescheduled for Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023. (Justin Kennedy/Yukon News file)
New dates set for Arctic Winter Games

Wood Buffalo, Alta. will host event Jan. 29 to Feb. 4, 2023

Victoria Gold Corp. has contributed $1 million to the First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun after six months of production at the Eagle Gold Mine. (Submitted/Victoria Gold Corp.)
Victoria Gold contributes $1 million to First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun

Victoria Gold signed a Comprehensive Cooperation and Benefits Agreement in 2011

Most Read