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White Pass brings future to fast food entrepreneurs

CARCROSSAcross from the health centre, kitty corner to a little old chapel, and next to the souvenir shop known as The Barracks, a little blue and…


Across from the health centre, kitty corner to a little old chapel, and next to the souvenir shop known as The Barracks, a little blue and white wooden trailer that wouldn’t look amiss in Disney’s movie Dumbo is cooking up a dream.

It’s quiet at 2:30 p.m. on a Monday. Another batch of tourists on the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad’s Yukon Adventure package were scheduled to arrive, but the recent heavy rains had washed out part of the track. The scheduled runs had been cancelled for the day.

So instead of facing a hectic barrage of foreign business, teenager Sheena Johns serves a slow but steady stream of locals from her mom’s fledgling business: Diane’s First Nation Bannock Stand.

A tiny toddler with precious coins in her hand gingerly edges forward to the side steps of the food stand and whispers her order (“a hot dog”) to Johns, who has to bend down to hear the girl.

Johns gets to work putting together the order inside while a compact pink and grey boom box punches out pop tunes.

Three local ladies saunter by, and one orders a $2 “sigedi” (a type of pastry) while another spots her teenaged niece and taunts her over an addiction: “Hey smoker! Trying to be cool?”

The smoker walks out from the tented sitting area behind the food stand to see her aunt.

Some of the actors from First Peoples Performances’ production of How Raven Stole the Sun also emerge from the cool of the netted tent and head off to the theatre for the afternoon’s performance.

It’s bright and warm out, and any shade is welcome.

Johns would have applied for the garden leader’s position at Carcross’ community garden this year, but isn’t regretting her decision to work for her mom serving food.

Johns worked in the garden last year, and the excitement of weeding, and watering, and weeding and weeding some more wore off quickly.

“It’s really hot up there,” she says.

“At least here I can sit in the shade.”

Johns leans out of the front window to chat. A silver and black skull-and-crossbones bandana keeps her hair out of her face as she talks about her Tlingit, Tagish, and gypsy heritage and about her mom, Diane, who was off on errands.

“She started this business this summer and she wouldn’t let me apply anywhere else,” said Johns, who is making a tidy sum of $14 an hour.

The stand also sells bison burgers and smokies; but the signature snacks at Diane’s are the deep-fried and lightly sugared long johns that are not unlike Chinese doughnuts.

Diane calls them “sigedi tails,” sigedi being the Tlingit word for beaver.

The bannock stand opened this year with the support and assistance of the local government.

One of the first initiatives of the restructured Carcross/Tagish First Nation, which is in its first year of self-governance, was to provide small business grants to locals with promising new plans.

It’s no coincidence that many of the new and expanding businesses target the tourist market. In May, the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad — the busiest tourist railway in North America — returned service to Carcross after a 25-year hiatus.

This is also Johns’ last summer as a Carcross girl.

Though excited to be leaving small-town life and starting Grade 10 in Whitehorse in the fall (with an elective in carving!), Johns is apprehensive about getting lost in a large school — and about adjusting to dorm life and life away from her mom and younger brother.

“She’s really doing this so we can buy a house in Whitehorse, so we can go to school there.”