Thursday, June 23, 2011

Beer Barge

“Sit up straight. Spit out your gum and take off that hat.”
Imagine that being said while I smack a yardstick against my palm or maybe on the desk in front of me.
That’s my impression of a teacher. Not bad, right?
I actually learned a couple months ago, when I spent two hours teaching Grade 6 students how to write a news story, that I should never be one. But last weekend, I discovered I have the perfect teacher-look.
Well, at least the perfect 1940s schoolmarm-look. It’s so believable I actually won second place in a costume contest at a historical Yellowknife event organized by the NWT Mining Heritage Society.
I know what you’re thinking, “A historical event… boring!” But I have to tell you, this isn’t just any historical event, it’s one dedicated to beer.
That’s right, you heard me – a historical event all about my favourite beverage.
It’s called Beer Barge. Basically it’s an event to pay homage to the days when Yellowknife didn’t have an airport or highway and residents would have to anxiously wait for spring when the ice would break up, float away or melt, making way for a barge carrying supplies.
According to old time Yellowknifers, by the time the barge finally arrived, the city’s remaining beer would be skunky – that’s of course assuming there was any.
To celebrate the good ol’ days, a group of about 300 Yellowknifers, young and old, gathered by the water last Saturday to celebrate the coming of the beer.

To make it more authentic, people were encouraged to come in costumes true to 1940s Yellowknife – hence my schoolmarm get-up, which included a grey 100 per cent wool dress that buttoned up to my neck and hung down past my knees (a thrift store find from a tiny shop in Kelowna). I also had my hair in a tightly pulled bun on top of my head, and I toted a vintage yardstick from Yellowknife Hardware.
I told everyone, who didn’t already guess, that I was Mildred Hall, Yellowknife’s first teacher and the namesake of an elementary school.
I have to say, I took to the role of a stern educator very well. I wielded my yardstick and glared at the camera, of course breaking into laughter as soon as I saw the flash.

It truly was a fantastic evening. I would even rank it in my top five Yellowknife experiences, along with dog sledding, seeing the northern lights, playing hockey at 40 below and snowmobiling on the melting ice.
Now, if there was a prize for the best dressed family, it would definitely have to go to Ian's fam. Check it out:

UPDATE: The NWT Mining Heritage Society has posted pictures of the event on its website. There is a great one of my friend Adrian and me. Without knowing it, he and I dressed up as a couple. He is Jock McMeekan, the editor and publisher of the Yellowknife Blade. We found out upon arriving at the party that in 1941, Mildred Hall married McMeekan. It turned out to be a fun coincidence.

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