Also on display Meghan Hildebrand: Look at All the Things We've Found and Nunavut's Culture on Cloth


Artist Statement:

Over the past decade films, reality shows and TV dramas have led to a resurfacing the North and it's iconography in popular culture. This, as well as the economic development and the financial opportunities of Northern Canada have brought the Territories into the spotlight and have sparked daydreams of a romantic last frontier where life is more rugged, slightly anarchic and much simpler.

Yellowknife, like Whitehorse, has its share of large chain stores, government offices, and expensive pre-fabricated houses. Certainly different to southern towns of comparable size, the capital cities are none the less only distantly related to the fantasies of lawless frontier towns they are imagined to be.

In Yellowknife, a tiny parcel of swampy land known as the Woodyard is the town's last holdout from the era of shacks, honeybuckets and general disorder. Long after the city had morphed from a frontier mining settlement to a modern government town, the Woodyard continued to offer an affordable housing alternative to those who chose to live differently. For years, the Woodyard was home to an eclectic mix of young and old; aboriginal and non-aboriginal; owners and renters; traditional and not so traditional cultures. From some 30 odd shacks still standing in Yellowknife's Old Town in the mid-eighties, only a handful exists today. Though it's impossible to say for sure, it seems highly unlikely that even this little sample of frontier living would be around today were it not for jurisdictional confusion.

The eighties and nineties saw an effort by the city to crack down on “squatters” and to gentrify Old Town. As of 1984, when the famous “Squatters Policy” caused an uproar and many a heated debate, it seems like every second year welcomed a new development plan or policy that would see the end of alternative styles of living. The fact that the area known as the Woodyard is on Commissioner's land and is not under the jurisdiction of the City has saved the last remaining shacks until now, but the threat of this line of defence eventually collapsing is a perpetual sword of Damocles over the heads of Yellowknife's last shack dwellers.

“They call us squatters” aims to draw a portrait of the Woodyard; of its past fights and of the form it takes on today. The exhibition presents a series of fibre based snapshots of an ever fading way of life. It's about the quirks and the contradictions of living in a shack 5 minutes from Yellowknife's downtown core : it's about living in a modern city and needing to come home at lunch to throw a log on a fire, it's about having a smart phone and not having a flush toilet, . This exhibition reflects on the last little scraps of 'frontier living' that remain in our Territory's capital. As yet another enhancement plan is to be revealed – and put into action – in the year to come, it is time to once again dwell on what makes our young Northern cities unique and on what can be considered heritage.