Yukon: Black Monday – 1 Year Later: Where are they now and what are they doing

I’m not sure if “Black Monday” will be remembered to the same degree as Paul Henderson’s goal in the 8th game of the 1972 Canada Russia Summit Series, but it is something that will take a long time for many if not most of us, to forget and to get over. I’ll surely remember it come next federal election. It was a day that affected so many to the core, and left us questioning our fundamental beliefs in the organization we devoted our careers and lives to.

 Parks Canada, an employer of choice – – – – – I don’t think so. Countless staff left the PCA following Black Monday. An example of Canada’s Budget 2012, Economic Action Plan in action; and something you don’t see in the government commercials on TV. It was suggested to our CEO by a number of people, that an appropriate PCA “thank you” for staff’s many years of service, would be a Life Long Park Entry Pass. How an organization that routinely touted the value and importance of its staff could not find a way to make that happen was beyond me. The fact that it did not happen, speaks volumes on its own.

Collectively, Black Monday’s cuts affected the park warden service (we will always be park wardens rather than resource conservation specialists) in the Yukon significantly. And while Black Monday affected staff from all functions across the Field Unit, the warden service alone saw more than 235 years of collective service time and 9 people in full time positions leave Parks Canada. While the organization may survive, it will never be the same. Hopefully, some day the pendulum will swing back.

I had drafted several versions of what’s happened to Parks Canada that’s led to today’s current situation, but I’ll leave that soap box speech for another day and future blog entry. I thought our initial Yukon blog, would simply provide a “Where are they now” update, so here goes.

Those who’ve gone out the door directly or indirectly from Black Monday:

In no particular order:

Barry Troke just finished his first year of schooling for his electrical apprenticeship. He remains in Whitehorse and is kept busy with his family of hockey boys and Angie.

Richard Cherepak and his family moved into Whitehorse where he is currently working within the Yukon’s Emergency Measure Organization.

Lloyd Freese remains in Haines Junction. He helped capture bears in the fall as part of an ongoing YTG grizzly bear study. He volunteers with the local volunteer fire department and search and rescue group, and also sits on the Yukon Invasive Species Council. A skiing accident has curtailed his backcountry skiing and snowboarding activities, but he is still getting out on the cross country trails.

Photo of five of the six original participants on the first US/Canada Inter-Agency River Managers trip down the AlsekRiver in 1984. LtoR: Lloyd Freese, park warden retired, Jim Hannah US park ranger retired, Ron Chambers, park warden retired, Don Chase, US park superintendent retired, Rick Staley, park warden retired.

Rick Staley is active and involved in the Haines Junction community with running the local EMS ambulance service, and other volunteer activities such as track setting the local ski trails, and the volunteer search and rescue organization. Rick and Andrew Lawrence have started teaching first aid courses in the Yukon.

Tom Elliot remains in Whitehorse and works as a “temp on call” employee for Canada Post (some suggested he might go “postal” some day) sorting mail in the plant, selling stamps, measuring and weighing parcels in their retail storefront, or delivering mail house to house or community mail box to community mail box (in rain, sleet, snow or 40 below temperatures (and he still has all his body parts).  Tom has a 13 km cross country ski trail network that he’s been maintaining behind his house in Wolf Creek.

Rhonda has spent most of the winter in Central America. She taught English to children and adults in Playa Protrero, Costa Rica through an organization called Abriendo Mentes.  She is currently in Nicaragua and will return to Canada in early April. She is still involved with the TakhiniNorthCommunityGarden, and volunteers for the Yukon Art Centre. What she will do this summer is still up in the air.

Leila Sumi is putting in long hours in front of the keyboard studying the trade of piano tuning and repair at WesternUniversity in London, Ontario. Once done in May, she and Birch will be moving to their 40 acre lot outside of Wells, BC where they will tackle building a log home.  If you know of a piano that needs tuning, give her a call.

Andrew Lawrence keeps busy with his young family in and around Haines Junction. He is a member of the volunteer ambulance service and is teaching first aid courses with Rick.

Kevin Mclaughlin remains busy in and around Haines Junction. He has been seen on the local ski trails on a pair of “misery sticks”. He is a member of the local volunteer fire department. He plans to join Lloyd and Terry Skjonsberg on the YTG bear study this spring.

Kevin singing his Black Monday song at retirement party.

Kevin singing his Black Monday song at retirement party.

Note 1: The Haines Junction crew gathers together every Monday morning for coffee, swapping lies and keeping each other up date on the comings and goings in and around the Junction. Tom plans to get them working on future warden history stories for the Yukon park warden alumni link. Stories such as “Lennie the Chicago Shoe Salesmen,” “Alouette III Cable Rescue”, “Exploring Grotte Mickey,” “Ode to Black Monday,” and “the first 1984 Inter-Agency Alsek raft trip” (or “where are those Lava North rapids anyway –  we’ll know them when we get there[1]”).

[1] The statue of limitations for “what happens on the river, stays on the river” must be over by now.

Those with one foot in, and one foot out of the agency:

Jeni Rudisill; instead of working for Parks Canada this winter, Jeni has started her own business – Uptrack Consulting, and has taken on work as the Project Manager for the Yukon Avalanche Association.

Lloyd Freese: demonstrating you can still fit into your ceremonial dress uniform after 39 years of dedicated service; and passing the “fight the good fight” torch onto the next generation likes of Jeni Rudisill. Jeni illustrates she has the best shaped “Stetson” of all the northern crew, although Kevin's hat gives her a good run for the money.

Lloyd Freese: demonstrating you can still fit into your ceremonial dress uniform after 39 years of dedicated service; and passing the “fight the good fight” torch onto the next generation likes of Jeni Rudisill. Jeni illustrates she has the best shaped “Stetson” of all the northern crew, although Kevin’s hat, gives her a good run for the money.

Christine Aikens: on parental leave from parks until October 2013, and is being kept busy with her twins. She left her position as Chilkoot GT-4 supervisor when position disappeared in “renewal” and accepted the Partnering and Engagement Officer position (formerly held by Rhonda) for the Yukon Field Unit.

Scott Stewart: is being kept busy this winter as one of the 3 Avalanche Technicians forecasting in the White Pass for the Canadian Avalanche Centre and Yukon Avalanche Association. Scott is returning to Kluane next spring in one of the new (down sized from year round) 10 month “seasonal” EG-4 positions.

Those leaving before or from elsewhere and still in Yukon neighborhood

Terry Skjonsberg: retired since summer of 2010 and kept busy with his passion for hunting, and bird work with Julie. Terry worked on the YTG bear study last summer.

Bruce Sunbo: has recently relocated to Haines Junction from Invermere.  While  here, he is busy finishing up his B&B accommodation (don’t worry, Gloria is doing the cooking Bruce says). Gloria continues working in LLYK until retirement in a few years, and will then join the crew up here. In the meantime, Bruce and Gloria are taking turns traveling between Invermere and Haines Junction.

Ron Chambers; is busy in the summer with his Kruda Che boat guiding business on KathleenLake. Ron is also a board member on the Yukon Salmon Sub-Committee.

Jim McIntyre: seen from time to time in and around Whitehorse where he’s been retired from YTG Parks for several years now.

Chuck Hume: like Jim above, seen from time to time in and around the Yukon i.e. in a couple of episodes of TV’s Mantracker series, involved in the Parks Canada’s Aboriginal Leadership and Development program, and in curling and hockey rinks in Whitehorse and Haines Junction.

Sean Cox: gave up his Parks Canada position a couple years back for work in the YESAB shop. He’s currently working as a Natural Resource Officer with Yukon Government – doing compliance and enforcement for lands and forestry activities in the Southern Lakes. He’s also a volunteer Deputy Conservation Officer with Environment Yukon as well, helping manage wildlife conflicts and assisting with fish and wildlife enforcement.

Yukon seems to be a landing ground for those from afar.

Mike Etches: moved up from Ottawa and working for YTG as the Director of Community Protection, which includes Wildland Fire Management.

Mike Suitor; moved over from FortSimpson in fall and working as a wildlife biologist and trying to stay warm in the winter in DawsonCity. He and Carrie are busy raising their young family.

Carl (and Kathy) Cibart and Family have moved north to DawsonCity from the Banff Fire Management shop. Carl was successful in obtaining a Resource Management Officer Position in Dawson.

Note 2: The PC footprint is spreading far and wide in the north. I think some people are discovering what many of us did back in the 70’s i.e. that Yukon is the place to be for fishing, hunting, hiking, canoeing, rafting, mountains, wildlife, warmest temperatures in Canada during the summer (and vice versa sometimes in winter – although we were warmer than southern locales on several occasions this past winter) – just don’t tell anyone.

Those left behind trying to hold things together

Craig Mckinnon: last of the old guard standing in Kluane. In one of the few remaining year round positions. Doing a bit of everyone’s job until new seasonal positions are staffed up and running. He is also building his house in his spare time, and is a member of the volunteer fire department.

Carmen Wong and Ian McDonald are busy trying to staff vacated positions in Kluane and Vuntuat and still do their EI monitoring work.

Christine Hedgecock; heading into her 36th summer on the Chilkoot.

Rene Rivard: continues his summer employment on the Chilkoot, and work as an auxiliary staff member for Environment Yukon on various wildlife projects during the winter.

Kim Schlosser: Arrived from Nahanni with her family a while back, and acted as the GT-4 on the Chilkoot last summer. Recently accepted the renewal based seasonal PM3 supervisor position on the Chilkoot.

Birch Howard:  working as one of the LawEnforcementPark Wardens for the Yukon Field Unit and Ivvavik National Park.  Except for the days when he is glued to his computer (far too often according to him), he can be found patrolling the Chilkoot Trail or in Kluane, giving people a hard time about leaving their T-Bone steaks and garbage outside for the bears.  He is expecting a new addition to the family and will be taking parental leave starting in late April.  Birch divides his time between volunteering for the Haines Junction Fire Department, clearing the property in anticipation of horses, and fine-tuning the moat (there’s still a few drainage issues).

Matt Garnett: working as a Park Warden for the Law Enforcement Branch in the Yukon Field Unit and Ivvavik National Park. In addition to regular duties in Kluane and the Chilkoot, Matt’s role as a firearms instructor and a Police and Public Safety Instructor keeps him busy providing training to Park Wardens across the country. In his spare time, Matt is clearing his acreage, picking bluegrass tunes, and planning for hunting season.

Sarah Chisholm will be starting work in Kluane in early April as second .8 seasonal  EG-4 Resource Management Officer II. She worked previously for Keji and parks in the Nunavut Field Unit so shouldn’t need too many of her southern experience corners rounded off re northern way of doing things.

Pete Smillie; arrived up here from Revelstoke with his spouse and hired into Chilkoot’s .6 EG-4 Public Safety/Fire Management position.

The one that got away

Ray Breneman: retired to Vernon with Louise in the fall of 2009. Kept busy with skiing and tennis (sometimes both in the same day), traveling the world or rafting the Colorado River, and as grand parents. Rumor has it, a Yukon sojourn is in the works this summer to see Carrie, Mike and grand children in Dawson.

Many of the crew above at “send off” for Lloyd, Rick and Tom. Who do you recognize? 

Front Row (L2R): Bruce Sunbo, Richard Cherepak, Scott Stewart, Terry Skjonsberg, Andrew Lawrence, Craig McKinnon, Tom Elliot, Walter Wellingham (RCMP, Dave Morin (RCMP)Back Row (L2R): Larry Harbidge, Jeni Rudisill, Christine Aikens, Lloyd Freese, Ron Chambers, Ken Putnam, Rick Staley, Jim Hannah (USNPR Park Ranger, retired), Kim MacKellar (RCMP), JF (RCMP), Kurt Gale, Kevin McLaughlin

Front Row (L2R): Bruce Sunbo, Richard Cherepak, Scott Stewart, Terry Skjonsberg, Andrew Lawrence, Craig McKinnon, Tom Elliot, Walter Wellingham (RCMP, Dave Morin (RCMP)
Back Row (L2R): Larry Harbidge, Jeni Rudisill, Christine Aikens, Lloyd Freese, Ron Chambers, Ken Putnam, Rick Staley, Jim Hannah (USNPR Park Ranger, retired), Kim MacKellar (RCMP), JF (RCMP), Kurt Gale (RCMP), Kevin McLaughlin

In Summary

In reading this over, what strikes me is how we’ve all survived Black Monday. We are leading productive lives and contributing to the local community and the Yukon at large. Sadly, it is Parks Canada’s loss. Fortunately, it is external organization’s gain. It might not have been our first choice, but given the current PCA situation and direction, many of us are happy with where we are today. If nothing else, we aren’t muzzled and can speak freely without fear of loosing our jobs. We wish our remaining colleagues the best of luck in these difficult and challenging times. Keep up the good fight. Here’s to the pendulum swinging back to an effective, efficient, and meaningful resource protection first, warden service and PCA once again at some point.

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6 thoughts on “Yukon: Black Monday – 1 Year Later: Where are they now and what are they doing

  1. Glad to hear most everyone has made out okay. It is still disappointing how such a wealth of experience and talent was cast aside a year ago and I agree that it was Parks Canada’s loss. Thank you for the update, it is good to see where everyone has landed. All the best, Sean.

  2. Not sure how I managed to be included in the circulation of this blog – but I an sure grateful!!! Although I left in 1994 (!!) the Yukon is a big part of my soul. (And my current life with most of my best friends expat Yukoners and my son returned and happily settled back in Dawson as an adult.) And – I am still with Parks Canada after all these years and have been fortunate to have met almost everyone spoken of. It is almost a touchstone to get this “news”. In Calgary – where I work now – almost half the people there just kind of slipped away and there were few chances for a farewell and fewer for keeping up. So – thanks for this! And let Ray know I will keep an eye open for him in Dawson this summer as I will be up there for my son’s wedding! Thanks for the update!!

  3. Hey Tom, thanks for including me in the circulation of your blog. This is the second time I have read it and I sure get nostalgic reading it. I know a lot of the people you talk about having been in the north for quite some time myself, 6.5 years in Wood Buffalo and 6.5 years total in Inuvik and the WAFU. I was still working in Inuvik on Black Monday and without question it was the single worst day of my 31.5 years in Parks Canada. I have retired recently and moved back to our home near Christopher Lake Saskatchewan. I look forward to numerous trips back to the north in my retirement and hope to run into some of the Yukon crew on those trips. Thanks again Tom and I look forward to your next installment. All the best to current and former Parks Canada staff in the Yukon or wherever you have ended up.

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