Wilderness home became a work of art

Dinner consisted of thinly sliced beef, marinated and lightly grilled on a Korean barbeque. A large bowl of garden fresh vegetables served as a side.

Dinner consisted of thinly sliced beef, marinated and lightly grilled on a Korean barbeque.

A large bowl of garden fresh vegetables served as a side.

And for desert, there was rhubarb cake with whipped cream and ice cream.

Despite the view outside the living room window of a picturesque mountain-rimmed lake, it was very easy to forget that this meal was being enjoyed in the middle of the wilderness.

John Spurr and Alice Park-Spurr have lived together in this wilderness, off and on, for over 25 years.

Protected by the fickle Tagish Lake, their cabin sits on a modest patch of land cleared of trees, like an island in the forest’s sea of green.

Everything, from the main cabin to the outhouse, is impeccably overbuilt with as much attention given to esthetics as to function.

The heavy doors are made of thick, polished wood and lock smoothly with one-of-a-kind wooden latches that John has created.

John is a mechanical engineer and sculptor and he and Alice have built nearly everything at the cabin, from the large stove, which he welded together himself, to the train track/winch system that pulls their 7.2-metre-long aluminum boat out of the water.

Alice has a master’s degree in fine arts and works as a professional artist, when she’s not busy tending the greenhouse.

“The greenhouse takes a lot of time — it’s constant work,” said Alice.

“But it’s our survival.

“I enjoy it, but it would be nice to have more free time,” she added.

The cabin is only accessible by boat in the summer and snowmobile in the winter.

For long periods in the spring and fall, John and Alice become stranded at their homestead as the ice thaws and melts.

Despite its remote location, the cabin is not without its modern amenities.

Solar panels on the roof collect enough electricity to run a few appliances a couple of hours a day.

Combined with a new satellite dish, Alice and John can even turn their computer on for a few hours a day to check e-mail and surf the web.

But it wasn’t always this way.

Alice and John first came to the Yukon in 1974.

The couple had met while working at Hewlett-Packard in California and in 1980 decided to quit their jobs and move north.

“In the beginning we worked from sun up to sun down,” said Alice, relaxing in the log cabin’s warm living room.

All of the logs were taken from the surrounding area.

Even while working the long hours, they were only able to prepare three logs a day.

At this arduously slow rate Alice and John built their beautiful cabin, a greenhouse nearly as large, a few storage sheds, and a cache (after repeated visits from a hungry black bear).

Most recently, the two pioneers erected a building to serve as a workshop for John and a studio for Alice.

After 27 years, they still consider their home a work in progress.

Plans for a new addition to the main cabin are in the works.

John was originally from Bradford, England, and his father’s work as an engineer led to his own interest in the field.

His father, Edward Spurr developed speedboats for the Royal Navy and at one time held the unofficial water speed record.

His favourite anecdote (passed on to his son) was of meeting T.E. Lawrence, the famous Lawrence of Arabia.

Lawrence enjoyed the new gearbox Spurr had designed for a boat he was testing and the two enjoyed a brief friendship until the famous motorcycle accident, which ended Lawrence’s life.

Edward Spurr was later transferred to South Africa and his family went with him.

John remembers catching snakes and shuffling along cliff ledges to count vulture eggs in the African wild.

Later, his father moved the family again, first to Australia, then to California where John met Alice.

John was drafted into the US Army and was posted to South Korea. There he stared down North Korea’s loud speakers, which spewed propaganda across the demilitarized zone.

When he returned home, he attended Stanford University to study a special program that reunited engineering with art.

“I enjoyed the art portion quite a bit,” recalled John.

“I was even thinking of switching into an art program until some of my professors sat me down and talked me out of it.”

Years later, John made the construction of his Yukon homestead his masterpiece.

This summer, visitors to the property can’t help but notice the high water levels in Tagish Lake.

Many of the neighbours’ docks have been flooded and washed away.

However, despite being submerged beneath 30 centimetres of water, John and Alice’s dock is holding strong.

The structure took two seasons to build, and John wears a proud look on his face as he walks down it in his hip waders.

Later, the dinner conversation switched seamlessly from stories of bears, moose and wolves, to tales of circumnavigating sailors, rough seas, and future travels.

 “When I spoke with my coworkers in California about living up here, they all told me that they’d love to do the same,” he said.

“Many said that they’d never be able to convince their wives to do it.”

He glanced at Alice playfully.

“I’m waiting to see where he will drag me next!” she exclaimed.

“Now he wants to sail across the Atlantic!”