British Columbia, Atlin, May 30 & 31, 2008

13 06 2008

Northern "Graffiti"

 After a long while of the dirt road it turned into paved road, and the “Watch for Wildlife” signs turned into “Watch for Livestock”. Our first impression of the town was how quaint and charming and friendly it was, with old-timey buildings, a huge beautiful good-to-drink lake and a giant snow covered mountain on the other side, a visitor centre that is always open, and a nice shower ‘n’ laundry for campers. Our second impression, as we drove around it, was it was kind of creepy. The only RV park was lakeside and right in town but all gravel. We drove to the campsite a bit out of town that was deep in forest but there was absolutely no one there and it was dark and dank and the stuff B class horror flicks are made of. We decided to go back to the RV park. While we drove through the small town again I figured out it seemed creepy because we hadn’t seen any people in it. A lot of the houses were still boarded up from winter and, like everywhere in the north, some of the businesses were closed down. It was almost 10:30 but that midnight sun made it be almost daylight and you’d think there’d be some people about!

A Float Plane Lands on Atlin Lake

The Pristine Atlin Lake

We pulled into the lakeside RV park and went up some tire stairs to the office door. While we were debating whether to knock or not a man came out and welcomed us. He was Norm of Norseman Adventures. He signed us in and gave us a full colour postcard of his RV park. He also gave us a copy of the Atlin paper. There’s only one edition a year and it was last year’s, but it was still interesting and useful with historical information and a map. Norm was so nice the town stopped being creepy and got charming again.

Atlin was one of the last discovered gold rush towns and had once had a huge hotel and a population of 10,000. It’s burned down twice! Now it’s main industry is hanging around and tourism, although gold mining is still viable and keeping the town alive. For a town so small it still manages to support 2 fully stocked grocery stores and 2 bars, so it’s probably the closest centre for the people who work in the mines and the ranches in the countryside surrounding it.

Step Records the Victrola

The little museum had a lady with a British accent who really liked to talk about Atlin, and for us she played a 78 record on the quirky Victrola the museum has. My favourite part of the museum was the yard. As I’ve mentioned, in the north you see a lot of yards with abandoned vehicles in them, and the museum was no exception. It was hard to figure out what some of the things were, but by far the most interesting was an antique steam shovel made out of wood! And metal. It had been brought in pieces over the frozen lake, and put together without block or tackle, in the early 1900’s when the town was booming. There was another shovel as well, slightly less antique, that some town guys with time on their hands had partially restored.

A Steam Shovel made of Wood

At the museum we purchased a thin booklet about the legendary Lillian Alling (or Ailing). She was a perhaps Russian woman who for unknown reasons walked all the way to Russia (via the Bering Straight) from New York!

Step at Atlin Falls

We went for a fairly long bike ride to “the falls” (beautiful!), and stopped at the Atlin cemetery, which has grave markers that tell stories such as “Found Dead on the Trail”, or “Shot—Mistaken for a Bear”. A lot of pioneering Atliners died young and of course were from elsewhere and had come to Atlin seeking their goldrushin’ fortune, so the cemetery was endlessly fascinating, although all the dead babies were a bit of a downer. A couple of the old-timers graves had propellers on them to honour their WWII air force status, the founder of the town had a giant phallic symbol, and one more wealthy guy had a stone cairn thing pronouncing him a “Gentleman Adventurer”.

We checked out the “Rec Centre” bar which reminded us a bit of the Anza Club at home, but not as friendly. It was a basement type deal with a  hard boiled blond bartender and a few town boozers sitting at the bar. The most interesting thing about the Rec Centre, at least for a gossip hound like me, was the note fight on the wall in which the first (anonymous) note lambasted a local couple for buying the restaurant and “stealing” the Rec Centre staff, and then a (signed) rebuttal note asserting the couple were saving the town by stepping up to the plate when no one else would, and maybe they hadn’t “stolen” the staff, but the staff would rather be there. It then challenged the anonymous writer to be a man, own up to the note and apologise to the couple. It was Atlin’s version of Craigslist Rant & Raves!

Robin Makes Breakfast

Step described Atlin as the Little Sincere Town that Wears It’s Trouble’s on It’s Sleeve. The people of Atlin love Atlin, and so do the visitors, and the businesses do well, but there’s a huge problem keeping it going. The richest person in town must be the Atlin Realtor because about half the town’s businesses are for sale. One of the grocery stores, the Ice Cream Store, the General Store, the Bakery, the Other Restaurant. You want it? It’s available in Atlin. The second day we were there Norm suggested we might want to stay all summer and work in the town café. We had seen it was closed due to lack of staff and once again if it weren’t for Newfoundland we could have been convinced, for I can’t think of a nicer place to spend a summer than Atlin.

Pyramid House

I thought it was funny and touching that the locals would try to enlist the tourists as labour, but later on a plaque I read how when the town was booming there was a little railcar that cost $2 to go 2 miles, and even at this exorbitant price sometimes the passengers were required to get out and push, so it must be an Atlin tradition. Norm also got Step to help him move around hosing for the water system. Rather than being an imposition, this made us feel at home.

On Saturday night we tried to pick up some local colour by hanging out at the restaurant bar at Atlin Inn, but no one else showed up until after-we-were-tired o’clock.

So we really enjoyed Atlin, even though we didn’t do any boating or float planning or glacier hiking, which is what mainly attracts people to there. Sunday we said goodbye to Norm and headed back to the Alaska Highway.

The Grave of a Gentleman Adventurer

Postcard from the Atlin Museum

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One response

18 05 2011
Trond

I love the photo of the Beaver – sweet!!

Thank you Robin for still writing about your adventure – even if it was three years ago! And here I was worried about being nine months behind on our blog. It just goes to show that good writing is fun to read no matter how late it is. Thanks for reminding me.

Big love
Trond

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