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Remembering the ‘fiddler on the loose’

Joe Loutchan, beloved Yukon musician, died earlier this month at 82
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A tribute to Joe Loutchan behind the bar at the 98 Hotel in Whitehorse, where he played for more than 25 years. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)

Joe Loutchan, a local fiddler of Yukon and national acclaim, died earlier this month at the age of 82.

News of his death has reverberated across the country and highlighted his impact as a musician and person.

Loutchan played the fiddle every Thursday night at the 98 Hotel for more than 25 years.

He was born in southern Manitoba shortly after the Depression and learned to play accordion, harmonica and fiddle from family members, according to a biography published to Facebook.

Loutchan was gifted his first fiddle at the age of four by his grandfather, who crafted it from local wood and snare wire.

He received his first store-bought fiddle at the age of 14 from a second-hand store, purchased by his father. At that age, he was enrolled in an apprenticeship program for winding electric motors. He would be paid 95 cents per hour as an apprentice, whereas musicians were paid twenty dollars a night.

Loutchan was playing in a band by the age of 17 and worked gigs at weekend dances in Winnipeg. He began a local radio show, on which he played 30 minutes a week. He later joined a bluegrass band and played for communities throughout Manitoba. The travelling gig lasted about six months before he grew tired of life on the road and moved to the Yukon in the 1960s.

Once he arrived in the Yukon he began touring the territory and was dubbed “fiddler on the loose.” He played dances in Whitehorse and became an advocate for Tourism Yukon. He travelled widely to Mexico, Texas, Washington, the Northwest Territories and Disneyland. He played for Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and the Governor General.

In a Facebook event posted by the 98 Hotel in 2018, Loutchan was described as having an eternal love for the fiddle who could play all night, wearing out a series of accompanying musicians.

“Joe still practises four to six hours a day and collects and repairs fiddles,” the 98’s 2018 Facebook post says. Loutchan was 80 at the time.

Steve Pedersen told the News he met Loutchan in the 1980s through another Whitehorse fiddler. Pedersen was invited to take up a hobby to help get through his first winter in the North.

“As a young and new fiddler, Joe welcomed me to play with him and his group of friends,” Pedersen said.

“The man was an ‘energizer bunny’ when he was playing and could go all night long, way past my bedtime. I have no idea when he slept.”

Loutchan played by ear, and anyone accompanying had to follow suit, Pedersen explained.

“Joe loved performing and loved to see others play alongside him,” he said, reminiscing about Loutchan’s regular gig playing at Macauley Lodge.

“He had such a special gift of bringing his fiddle to life by creating unique and special sounds. His goal was to put some smiles on the faces of the residents.

“Next time you see the northern lights dancing in the sky, it’s because Joe pulled out his bow. The band is back together.”

Contact Gabrielle Plonka at gabrielle.plonka@yukon-news.com