Jun 12, 2010 - Canada, Travel, Yukon    2 Comments

Pierre Berton Home and the Robert Service Cabin

After touring the Jack London cabin, I ambled a block down 8th Avenue, plunked myself down on the boardwalk in the sun, and enjoyed my picnic of a sandwich, apple, and iced tea. I made some notes about London and contentedly waited the half hour or so before the start of the 1:30 Robert Service program. It had rained, hard, during the London presentation and more dark clouds were rolling in, so I savoured the brief moment of sunshine.

Lunch finished, I took some discrete shots of the Berton home. Pierre Berton is Canada’s best known writer of Canadian history, with his most famous books being Klondike and The Last Spike. He spent some of his childhood years in Dawson and had that home opened up and turned into accommodation for Dawson’s writer in residence. The unassuming green and white structure can be seen across from the Robert Service cabin and one block from the Jack London cabin, but there is nothing to visit.

Robert Service is known as ‘The Bard of the Yukon.’ A Scottish banker of English origin who came to Canada to be a cowboy and retired in the south of France a millionaire poet, he had an incredibly colourful life. While his best known poems, such as ‘The Shooting of Dan McGrew’ and ‘The Cremation of Sam McGee’, are about the Klondike gold rush, Service did not come to the north until a full decade past the rush.

After being transferred to the CIBC bank in Dawson, he quit and became a full-time writer. He spent some time living in a cozy log cabin on 8th Avenue. The cabin is just as it was back then and in the same location, and it is only the roof and birch steps which are not original. Or so our interpreter claims. 🙂

The program lasts an hour and is a mixture of fanciful retelling of Service’s life mixed in with a recital of his poetry. Our interpreter was perfect for the job. He was funny, obviously knew his stuff, and delights in it. This attraction is well worth the admission cost and makes for a fun afternoon.

Here’s my favourite Robert Service poem, which could have been written for me if you take the word ‘man’ as meaning ‘people of both genders. 🙂

There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,
A race that can’t stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will.
They range the field and they rove the flood,
And they climb the mountain’s crest;
Theirs is the curse of the gypsy blood,
And they don’t know how to rest.

If they just went straight they might go far;
They are strong and brave and true;
But they’re always tired of the things that are,
And they want the strange and new.
They say: “Could I find my proper groove,
What a deep mark I would make!”
So they chop and change, and each fresh move
Is only a fresh mistake.

And each forgets, as he strips and runs
With a brilliant, fitful pace,
It’s the steady, quiet, plodding ones
Who win in the lifelong race.
And each forgets that his youth has fled,
Forgets that his prime is past,
Till he stands one day, with a hope that’s dead,
In the glare of the truth at last.

He has failed, he has failed; he has missed his chance;
He has just done things by half.
Life’s been a jolly good joke on him,
And now is the time to laugh.
Ha, ha! He is one of the Legion Lost;
He was never meant to win;
He’s a rolling stone, and it’s bred in the bone;
He’s a man who won’t fit in.

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  • Thanks for that poem!

  • Welcome! I imagine it suits you quite well also. 🙂

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