Knitting the past together, one interview at a time
Joel Krahn/Yukon News
Across from the Old Fire Hall, a colourful, oblong trailer sits in the rain.
Every half an hour or so, a person comes out, and another goes in.
In that tiny trailer, time stops.
Old-timers and young Whitehorse residents alike dig into their memories to relive the history of Main Street as it used to be.
There are those who remember the first Sourdough Rendezvous gatherings.
Others remember the Capital, a bar on Main Street that has been rebranded many times, most recently as the Dirty Northern Public House.
Some recall the “Sixty Milers,” those who lived inside the 60-mile zone of paved streets within city limits, easily recognizable by the lack of cracks in their windshields.
Despite having been in Whitehorse for only a couple of days, actor and playwright Lisa Marie DiLiberto has heard all of this.
That’s because she and her partner, Charles Ketchabaw, have been recording pieces of the city’s oral history. DiLiberto is a theatre and live performance artist. Ketchabaw used to work for the CBC and specialized in radio and sound design.
The trailer has been transformed into a mobile recording studio complete with seats, microphones, and a Canadian flag.
They’ve been going across the country for the past two years, recording as much as they can about the downtowns and main streets of more than 200 communities.
It all started during one of DiLiberto’s performance tours. She noticed Canadian downtowns were losing their vigour.
Joel Krahn/Yukon News
Big chain stores on the outside of town slowly drove away business from the historic cores of many cities.
“That made me feel quite sad and frustrated,” she said.
So she embarked on the “Tale of the Town” project with her partner and her two children.
So far they’ve gathered more than 2,000 stories. During the spring and summer, they interview local residents. Come winter, they retreat to their Toronto studio to work on radio pieces.
In Whitehorse, the plan is to interview between 50 and 80 people.
Once the interviews wrap up Friday, the couple will start working on a play scheduled for Sept. 15 to 18 in Whitehorse.
The play will be accompanied by performance elements from music to live videos and archival videos, DiLiberto said.
“We’ll marry them together to create different scenes to bring back the past.”
The show will start in the trolley, where the audience will listen to some of the interviews put together.
The main show will be at the Old Fire Hall, followed by the “finale” on Main Street.
But before that can happen, DiLiberto wants to hear from people in Whitehorse.
She has already booked many interviews, but wants to hear from as many people as possible.
She insists she wants people’s living memories, their point of view.
She doesn’t want to have a historical book.
“Often (people) remember times when everybody got together: people dancing at bars, the person behind the counter,” she said.
“As we get more and more voices around them we start seeing a story come through, a collective experience.”
In Cape Dorset, Nunavut, she heard about the pool halls closing down.
Because of the community’s remoteness, everything in the halls was re-used, including the pool tables.
When it came to the metal slates, a local resident had the idea to use them to make prints — an improvement over the tools in use at the time.
Today Cape Dorset still relies on print-making as a major economic activity.
The project, DiLiberto said, created a sense of nostalgia in people’s hearts.
“We reflect on why those times are so nostalgic and so exciting: that’s because people were together downtown,” she said. “Hopefully the project will encourage people to continue to go downtown.”
To hear soundbites from the communities DiLiberto has travelled through already, visit thetaleofatown.com.
A podcast including interviews done in Whitehorse will be released in October.
Contact Pierre Chauvin at