On the trail of a good yarn

For the last 15 seasons, the Gwaandak Theatre Company has been taking to the stage to tell northern stories. Gwaandak means storyteller in Gwitch'in.

For the last 15 seasons, the Gwaandak Theatre Company has been taking to the stage to tell northern stories.

Gwaandak means storyteller in Gwitch’in.

“We’re a Yukon theatre company that showcases indigenous and northern voices, and we really see all kinds of storytelling as being at the utter heart and core of any theatre,” said managing artistic director Patti Flather, who co-founded the company with her husband Leonard Linklater.

On Thursday, the company’s latest event will showcase that early form of storytelling, the kind of off-the-cuff personal tales still heard around a campfire or your family’s kitchen table.

Tales of the Trails at the Yukon Transportation Museum will feature more than half a dozen storytellers spinning their own personal yarns for anyone who wants to listen.

Beyond that, Flather can’t say much about what stories are going to be told that night.

That’s the nature of working with these kind of natural storytellers, she said: you’re never certain exactly what story they’re going to tell.

“Whenever I talk to all these wonderful people even on the phone or in person as we’re just jamming about the night, they come up with so many interesting stories,” she said.

“It’s like, ‘I want to hear that one, I want to hear this one, but you have 10 minutes, so…’”

Flather said she intentionally left the theme for the night as open-ended as possible.

A trail could be anything, she said: maybe a road, or a path, or a river. Stories could be about the trail itself or ones told on the trail.

“I want people to tell stories that connect with them, that they’re passionate about, for them to choose them,” she said.

“I think the impulse first, in any kind of art or storytelling, it has to come from that person.”

Some of the voices scheduled to speak on Thursday will be familiar. Ruth Carroll is probably best know for her years as the host of the CBC radio programs Nantaii and Voice of the Gwitch’in. Carroll grew up around a trail of sorts: the water flowing through the Peel River watershed.

Ellen Davignon lived along a trail of a different kind, in her case the Alaska Highway. She grew up while her parents built a highway lodge at Johnson’s Crossing.

Award-winning Tlingit storyteller Sharon Shorty is also telling a tale. So are Ukjese Van Kampen, a Southern Tutchone artist and storyteller, and historian Michael Gates.

Scheduled presenters also include Pat Joe and David Neufeld.

The night will also feature an open mic portion so anyone can come up and share.

The idea is to create a setting where people can feel connected, Flather said.

“I hope the audience will be enchanted, will be entertained, will perhaps come up with some new perspectives and new knowledge about some of the people who make up our community.”

The Yukon Transportation Museum will be its own character of sorts that night, she said. Storytellers will be able to move to its various nooks and crannies – among old trains, sleds, boats, planes and cars – if they think it better suits their tale.

The entire evening is a fundraiser for Gwaandak’s new play being developed.

Map of the Land, Map of the Stars is still in its infancy, Flather said. When it’s done, it will be a play that explores “Yukon’s past, present and future through different kinds of trails and intersections on those trails,” she said.

The plan is to get it done by 2017 in honour of the 75th anniversary of the construction of one of the Yukon’s biggest trails, the Alaska Highway.

Aside from stories, Thursday’s event will also feature music by Sally Lutchman, appetizers, door prizes, a silent auction and a cash bar.

Tickets are $30.

The show is meant for ages 19 and older. Doors open at 7 p.m. Storytelling starts at 7:30.

Contact Ashley Joannou at


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