Fireside Merry Christmas
Welcome one and all and I do hope you are having a great time during the holidays. Maybe a huge dinner, guests over and fun and games.
Just listening to the road reports keeps one at home. Far to often we hear of the painful and unexpected death in the family. I feel for these people as they suffer in silence.
I go back as far as 2005 and even though Dad made it through Christmas and New Years he slipped quietly away at the age of 93 on January 2nd.
Mom slipped away in May 2014 and both are certainly missed.
So for all who are remembering I pass along a special hug...
You may ask why I have decided on writing on some of the people I ran into over the years while living in the Yukon here in northern Canada. Why would I call them the colourful 5%. Well truth be known they were people whom either society had left behind or as often as not they left society behind and became their own people.
After dealing with them on a regular basis I decided to write a series of article in one of the local papers. For me it was a case of gaining their trust and allowing them to tell their story. Sadly and far to often we categorize people by sliding them into a pigeon hole, even worse we give them no voice. All of these people put a little something extra into my life and I decided I would share and rewrite some of their stories as many are now gone.
So gather around and settle in for a sometimes comical look at them or really allowing their voice to be heard. So speak away Harry you were without a doubt a man with a great deal to say through your actions... Thank my friend.
After a few years I felt I had the addictions under control yet they were always going to be with me. Addictions of drugs, prescription or otherwise, now toss in well established alcoholism and I think you get the picture... I was a mess.
People became more interesting to me, over the years I made contact with many people who were like minded. Each person who came along planted seeds of healing in me. Yes some certainly could classified as the colourful 5%. They would often spend their days in search of the next drink or drug to dull the pain of addiction. Well known characters with names such as Wigwam Harry, Queenie, Whiskey, Quigley and many others would come and go. Each one was unique in their own way.
Wigwam Harry stood out as being one of the most colourful people on the streets of Whitehorse. He arrived in the Yukon from Ontario in the early 1900’s. Harry hired on to the building of the Alaska Highway, he was known as the best heavy equipment operator with no fear of sinking into the muskeg with a Caterpillar and working on steep slopes were no match
for Harry. Harry would take it in stride and complete his tasks. If he stood in agreement Harry would complete the job, should he not then Harry had his own way of settling the score.
Stories would fly rampant about some of his antics. Harry was an uneducated man and willing to do what ever it took to make a small living. His home was no more than a tar paper shack along the river in a place called Whiskey Flats. It was rumoured that one time he had been hired to dig a basement for a new house for an agreed price of 60 dollars and a bottle of his favourite beverage. When he arrived to get paid the husband who he had made the deal with was not home. The wife took it upon herself to reduce the price to 40 dollars and there was no bottle as she did not agree with the deal. In typical Harry style it was all done by hand, the digging and in this case the filling in with old dead trees, scrap metal and bed springs. Harry was a man who believed in fair pay for work done.
Yet another story was that Harry had been hired by White Pass and Yukon Route to dig several post holes for a fence. Upon completing the job he went to the office and insisted on getting paid in cash. The young lady in the payroll department said his check would be in the mail soon. Harry in his typical fashion went back and filled all the holes with large rock and packed them again with dirt.
Harry had a distrust with any form of banking and had his own method of banking. He once buried 200 dollars in cash under a tree stump. A few weeks later early in the morning a piece of heavy equipment was clearing brush for a new home next door. Harry was said to have jumped onto the machine stealing the keys. The project was held up for several hours while he and the operator looked for the money, it was never found.
Harry’s first home was built with a tarp wrapped around a telephone post forming a Tee Pee. Thus his name Wigwam Harry. His more permanent home was built with old piano shipping crates he had salvaged as payment for one of his jobs. Harry had an old wood stove in his home, I can attest there was more smoke that stayed inside than went up the stove pipe. I would come from there covered in soot and smelling like heavy wood smoke.
Harry had some bad habits as some would call them. One such was chewing tobacco. It was always disgusting to watch him. He had a small jar in his pocket he would spit into. Almost daily Harry would take his prized spit jar and pour out its content on tin foil and dry it out for a second time around. A new tin of tobacco was like a gold mine to him.
I recall once sitting in the restaurant in rge hotel where Harry woud clean up papers and cigarette butts to earn his morning coffee and toast. The cigarette butts well Harry would keep them. Harry as far as I know never wore his dentures. Unbeknownst to Harry one morning myself and a few police officers were sitting when he came in. I decided to treat Harry and ordered him a steak sandwich. When it arrived Harry never said a word but sat and ate the whole thing, then wrapping the bone in a napkin. I asked him what his plans were for the bone he just laughed. "Make some great soup, you know toss in a little veggies and well you have soup. The next day boil it again and add ketchup then you have another meal." He smiled a toothless grin around the room and spoke softly. "Thank you to whom ever bought me tgis wonderful meal... God bless you all." He slowly turned and walked out. I think it was the last time I saw Harry.
At the time of his passing it was learned that Harry had amassed a small fortune in stocks and bonds even though he chose to live as he did. As far as I know he had only one sister in upstate Minnesota who suddenly became very wealthy.
Today Harry’s grave stone sits atop of a place called Grey Mountain. Several people pooled their resources and gave Harry a fashionable funeral which was followed by 3 days of a drunken wake in his honour.
By telling the stories of the forgotten people in society I found people changed and were more excepting. People would often move over to the other side of the road to avoid people like Harry. It is sad really as Harry was an amazing man in so many ways. The thing which stood out in my mind was once you had been accepted by him you had a friend. Harry Fieck was his real name and he lived for 77 years leaving a rich legacy of hard work and becoming one of the best known in the Territory.
A few writers have attempted to get Harry’s real story out there. Truly there was very little you could say about Harry. Harry had a special way of making his coffee in a large pot. Each day he would drop several spoons of fresh coffee into the pot. I can laugh now but I had to strain through some of the strongest coffee known to man. The extra grinds were a bonus in his mind.
© Rolly A. Chabot
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