Honest living, honest happiness in the bush

Prison does a strange thing to a man, even if you're not jailed there, says Charlie Sharkie. "You become just like them; foul-mouthed and mean.

Prison does a strange thing to a man, even if you’re not jailed there, says Charlie Sharkie.

“You become just like them; foul-mouthed and mean. It’s a different world, with its own code, and after awhile the only difference between you and them is you get to go home at night.”

Charlie spent three-and-a-half years as the assistant food manager for the Guelph Correctional Institute in Ontario.

“One day a knife went missing from the kitchen; the whole place was searched in a way you’d have to see to believe—I am talking a really thorough search. Two days later it turned up in the chest of one of the inmates. He wasn’t quite dead when he was found, but he was shortly afterwards. They never did find out where the knife was stashed till then.”

He stops to light a cigarette.

“I think it took me months to get back to normal, to fit in with regular society after that job; to stop being so cynical. It wasn’t a nice way to be; I didn’t enjoy myself much. But hey! the money was real good; it was the paycheque kept me there for that long.”

Charlie has been involved with the food business for 40 years in various capacities and not only does he still like cooking, but he does the cooking at home for himself and his wife.

“Joy does the baking” he says “She makes a great apple pie.”

We’re talking at the outside table of Tags in Watson Lake where Charlie has ruled the grill for 10 years now.

“I saw an ad in the paper in Vancouver. We were looking to move to a rural area and I knew people who’d been to the Yukon, so on a Monday I sent my resume. They responded with, “Can you be here by Friday?”

“Chef-style cooking is for the young guys. I can do it with the best of them,” he tells me. “But there’s lots of ego involved, lots of pressure. At my age, I’m happy to be short-order cooking.”

He was 13 when his parents immigrated to Canada from Paisley in Scotland. They settled on Prince Edward Island, but Charlie didn’t stay there and has no desire to return.

“Just another island,” he says. “Pretty place, but hard to make a living there.”

There was a trip back to Scotland at one time, but after that he won’t be going back there, either.

“The place I fished as a boy has been drained—it’s all highrise apartments now.”

He was head chef for General Foods in Ontario for awhile before moving to the penitentiary job, and then heading west.

He cooked at the Terrace Hotel and held other jobs in BC.

Cantung had him for awhile, but the three-weeks-in, three-weeks-out lifestyle was hard on his wife, who doesn’t drive.

“Tags suits me fine” says Charlie “I like the work and I have a good boss.”

So, what makes a good boss?

“He’s reasonable and fair, the pay is good and he trusts me,” says Charlie “That’s important, to feel you’re trusted.”

He’s happy at work, and happy to be living in a small town with lots of access to wilderness.

“Joy and I are outdoor people; we like to go camping. Joy hunts with me—to keep me company; she doesn’t actually shoot anything. And fishing! We both love to fish.”

Charlie was a fly fisher at age seven and loves the sport. He used to tie his own flies, and still likes to spend money on good equipment.

“I was the first person to catch a sockeye salmon on the Skeena River with a fly,” he says, proudly.

The Sharkies have a boat and a quad. Next winter they are looking at buying a snowmobile for the ice fishing; Joy’s asthma makes it difficult now for her to snowshoe into the good fishing spots.

Their first winter in the Yukon was a shock; winters are a bit too long, he reports, and the cold bothers his asthmatic wife, but Charlie cuts their firewood (“good exercise, and gets me outside in the winter”) and they watch movies.

Joy took a computer course at Yukon College and Charlie just bought a computer; another winter-passing activity.

“We sort of just hole up for the season.”

Is there anything he misses about life Outside? Or in a bigger town?

“Well, it’s annoying when you can’t get parts for a vehicle right when you need them, and buying stuff like furniture is a big effort.”

But this couple has no plans to leave Watson Lake. It suits them well and Charlie says he and Joy will be buried here.

Still, he’s got no time for layabouts, and he sees too much of it.

“Lazy people bother me. Though, I think laziness makes me more sad than mad nowadays; there seems to be so much more of it. Too many people wanting something for nothing and too many people with no work ethic. I’ve always figured you give a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay.

“And I got no use for people who steal, especially when they steal from the people who are paying them.”

Why does he think his marriage works?

“We like the same things. Joy is easygoing. I’m not so much—if someone pisses me off, I don’t forgive and forget.”

His philosophy seems to keep him balanced.

“Mind your own business; help someone out when you can, and don’t judge people.”

Not a bad creed to live by and, after spending time with him, it obviously serves him well. Sharkie’s a contented man—a man who has found his partner and found his home.

He appreciates what he has and is proud to have worked for it, to have earned it.

“A good day’s fishing in good weather and a cold beer,” keeps him happy, he says.

He’s in the right place.

Tor Forsberg is a freelance writer

who lives in Watson Lake.