Paved paradise, squatting a parking lot

Squatting is a proud Yukon tradition. It used to involve finding an unoccupied patch of wilderness, clearing the land, and building a sturdy log cabin.

Squatting is a proud Yukon tradition.

It used to involve finding an unoccupied patch of wilderness, clearing the land, and building a sturdy log cabin.

Nowadays, the territory’s fastest-growing squatters’ community is in a parking lot.

Sebastien Jean was crawling around on the roof of his truck camper in the Walmart parking lot when the News caught up with him on Tuesday.

He’s been living there, about 100 metres from Starbucks, for the past month.

Heavy winds the night before had ripped the vent flap off the roof, but it wasn’t anything a little duct tape couldn’t fix.

Job done, he crawled down from the roof, using an open window and his battered car as steps.

There are about eight other RVs, vans and campers scattered throughout the parking lot.

The majority are parked along Quartz Road but there are also a few, like Jean’s, in other areas.

“It’s becoming quite a little squatters’ community,” he said.

He’s befriended his neighbour, who lives in a Dodge van a couple parking spaces away.

“And there’s another guy over there, I think,” he said, pointing towards the far side of a massive pile of snow.

Jean came to the Yukon from Quebec City in March. He lived at Lead Dog Backpackers hostel for a while and bought the camper in the summer. He and his girlfriend moved in and relocated to the bush for three months.

But their time living in the wild wasn’t quite as idyllic as you might expect.

The pair camped out at the end of Long Lake Road, within sniffing distance of Whitehorse’s main sewage lagoon.

“The smell got pretty bad whenever we got a south wind,” Jean admits.

“But it was more funny than anything.”

After the snow began to fly, Jean worried about getting stuck on the wrong side of the river.

So he moved to Walmart, which is well-known for offering free camping spaces.

During the summer, the parking lot is usually bustling with RVers who are passing through the territory and aren’t interested in paying parking fees at campsites and RV parks.

Since he’s moved in, Jean hasn’t heard from Walmart. The corporation didn’t respond to a request for an interview by press time.

But Jean’s pretty sure that there won’t be a problem with their temporary residence.

“I think they know that there’s a problem with housing,” he said. “And it works out nicely for them, too.”

Jean uses the Walmart parking lot and its bathrooms, but he also does his shopping there. And if he ever runs out of duct tape or WD-40, Canadian Tire is in the neighbourhood as well.

It’s unclear whether the majority of the Walmart campers are living there because of high prices and low vacancy rates, or some other reason.

Judging from the lack of tracks in the snow around their entrances, some of the trailers in the parking lot aren’t being used at all.

But Jean, for one, seems to prefer the novelty of living out of a camper.

He works as a trucker and is used to tiny spaces and life on the road, he said.

“It’s cheap and I like the simple life.”

The camper contains a Coleman stove and a barbecue for cooking. Jean says he eats well, but at the base of the stairs, there was a pile of frozen macaroni, that Jean spilled the night before. It looked suspiciously like Kraft Dinner.

The camper is kept warm with a kerosene heater.

Jean admits that he should have done more work on the camper over the summer and fall to winterize it.

“It’s like the story of the ant and the grasshopper – I sang all summer.”

As a result, he and his girlfriend have laundry stuffed into corners to prevent drafts, and Styrofoam insulation here and there.

“The rest is love,” he said.

Just because the squat isn’t in the wilds, doesn’t mean there’s no wildlife.

There’s a coyote that shows up every evening, possibly to clean up Jean’s spilt macaroni.

And the ravens come to visit every morning, squawking and stomping around on the roof of the camper.

These animals are the only visitors that Jean has received. He hasn’t had any problem with vandalism and has never felt unsafe.

He’s received a few stares from Whitehorse residents using the parking lot for its more conventional, short-term use, but no one seems too surprised to see someone camped out in the dead of winter.

“It’s the Yukon,” said Jean. “People aren’t surprised by much.”

Jean and his girlfriend plan to find a hotel or apartment once Jean begins to work again in January.

So they’ll be sticking around their parking lot squat throughout the holidays.

All they need are a few decorations to make the place look festive and a little more like home.

Contact Chris Oke at chriso@yukon-news.com

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

Just Posted

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Are they coming?

One of COVID-19’s big economic questions is whether it will prompt a… Continue reading

Yukon MP Larry Bagnell, along with Yukon health and education delegates, announce a new medical research initiative via a Zoom conference on Jan. 21. (Screen shot)
New medical research unit at Yukon University launched

The SPOR SUPPORT Unit will implement patient-first research practices

Yukon First Nation Education Directorate members Bill Bennett, community engagement coordinator and Mobile Therapeutic Unit team lead, left, and Katherine Alexander, director of policy and analytics, speak to the News about the Mobile Therapeutic Unit that will provide education and health support to students in the communities. (yfned.ca)
Mobile Therapeutic Unit will bring education, health support to Indigenous rural students

The mobile unit will begin travelling to communities in the coming weeks

Premier Sandy Silver, left, and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley, speak during a live stream in Whitehorse on January 20, about the new swish and gargle COVID-19 tests. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Swish and spit COVID-19 test now available in Yukon

Vaccination efforts continue in Whitehorse and smaller communities in the territory

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Faro photgraphed in 2016. Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old building currently accommodating officers. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Faro RCMP tagged for new detachment

Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old… Continue reading

In a Jan. 18 announcement, the Yukon government said the shingles vaccine is now being publicly funded for Yukoners between age 65 and 70, while the HPV vaccine program has been expanded to all Yukoners up to and including age 26. (1213rf.com)
Changes made to shingles, HPV vaccine programs

Pharmacists in the Yukon can now provide the shingles vaccine and the… Continue reading

Parking attendant Const. Ouellet puts a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 6, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is hoping to write of nearly $300,000 in outstanding fees, bylaw fines and court fees, $20,225 of which is attributed to parking fines issued to non-Yukon license plates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City of Whitehorse could write off nearly $300,000

The City of Whitehorse could write off $294,345 in outstanding fees, bylaw… Continue reading

Grants available to address gender-based violence

Organizations could receive up to $200,000

In this illustration, artist-journalist Charles Fripp reveals the human side of tragedy on the Stikine trail to the Klondike in 1898. A man chases his partner around the tent with an axe, while a third man follows, attempting to intervene. (The Daily Graphic/July 27, 1898)
History Hunter: Charles Fripp — gold rush artist

The Alaskan coastal town of Wrangell was ill-equipped for the tide of… Continue reading

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. While Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis is now setting his sights on the upcoming territorial election, other members of council are still pondering their election plans for the coming year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillors undecided on election plans

Municipal vote set for Oct. 21

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decicions made by Whitehorse city council this week.

A file photo of grizzly bear along the highway outside Dawson City. Yukon conservation officers euthanized a grizzly bear Jan. 15 that was originally sighted near Braeburn. (Alistair Maitland/Yukon News file)
Male grizzly euthanized near Braeburn

Yukon conservation officers have euthanized a grizzly bear that was originally sighted… Continue reading

Most Read