For as long as he can remember, Eric Foster has always had a special place in his heart for the Yukon.
“When I was a boy, I used to read quite a bit about the north — mounted policemen and trappers and Indians — I was always fascinated by the people who could stand those rough conditions and terrible winters and hardships,” he recalled.
As a young adult, Foster would get the chance to experience the Great White North after accepting a job on a geological survey crew 350 miles from the Alaska Highway in 1954.
Facing harsh winter conditions up to 70 below, the isolation of the landscape and the spectacular scenery, Foster would spend a combined total of about five years living, teaching and working in the Yukon.
His experiences are now forever chronicled in two self-penned books, Mile 1202: Life Along the Alaska Highway, and B.C.-Yukon Sketches: A Collection of Stories and Verse, fresh off the press last month.
Foster said the book is a compilation of random thoughts and recollections inspired by life in the Yukon. Some of the verse was penned as far back as 40 years ago.
“I’ve always had a flair for writing,” he said. “But it wasn’t until I got to the Yukon that I figured I had something to write about.”
Mile 1202 is an autobiographical telling of life in a small isolated town, while B.C.-Yukon Sketches contains a number of poems and short stories. The verses range from being pure descriptions of nature to political banter and events current to the time.
“I thought it would be interesting to tell other people what it’s like to live in a very small community far up the Alaska Highway,” Foster said. “It’s still an interesting place because of the distances and the climate and the interesting people that have made their homes there and brought their families up there. If you’re 300 miles from a hospital, and you’ve got a serious illness, you’ve got to be on the ball to overcome things like that.”
One of the sketches, titled Prospect Trail, tells the story of Foster’s journey into the bush to establish a geological survey camp.
“It took us 12 days to get there,” Foster said. “We had a [First Nations] guide and about three horses.”
The book also includes a long poem about the Sudbury, a tugboat called out to rescue a Greek ship.
“On the way back, there was a storm, and the cable broke and they had a heck of a time snagging the ship again, but eventually they got back safely,” said Foster. “It was a seven- or eight-day rescue.”
Now a resident of Saltair, Foster first came to Canada in 1941 as a seven-year-old boy during a time when the British government was sending its disadvantaged or orphaned children overseas to places like Australia, New Zealand and Canada to start new lives. Foster was sent to the Fairbridge Farm School in the Cowichan Valley.
“We lived in what we called a cottage, and there were 15 of us in each cottage,” he said.
Foster graduated from Cowichan High School in 1952 and left for the Yukon a short time later. He also studied English and philosophy with a minor in science and zoology at the University of British Columbia, where he graduated in 1957.
In 1968, Foster returned to the Yukon, working as a teacher at the Whitehorse Vocational School for a year. He spent the next three years in Beaver Creek, absorbing the lifestyle.
“In winter time, if it gets down below minus-40, unless they really have to, they don’t do anything outside,” he said of the residents. “If it gets close to 50-below or beyond, usually you have to wear a scarf over your face just so you don’t breath in the air that could freeze your lungs.”
He noted that the residents participate in curling bonspiels, snowmobile races, dances and hunting trips to occupy their time
“They keep themselves busy with community events.”
Foster said he first began compiling his writings for the books back in February and recommended them as light historical reading.
Mile 1202: Life Along the Alaska Highway and B.C.-Yukon Sketches are now available through Salamander Books in Ladysmith and on iTunes.