In the days before there was a TV set in every room and the constant blare of Much Music tormented the ear drums with another pseudo song, those of us lucky enough to live in the Yukon, were entertained by Bill and Rusty Reid and their fancy swing band appropriately called The Northernaires.
With the passing of Bill Reid, a truly important member of the Yukon music scene is gone. But his memory will linger long in the hearts and minds of those of us fortunate enough to swing the sixties away dancing up a storm to the creative melodies of this celebrated Yukon band.
Bill was born in Wallace, Nova Scotia - the last of 12 children in a muscial family. Bill played in his first band when he was 14. Growing up in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Rusty began playing the fiddle at the age of 11.
In 1949, when he was 18, Bill said farewell to Nova Scotia and ended up in Vancouver, where he met Rusty. It was the beginning of a life long love. The pair headed to Whitehorse in 1951 and were married in the old that May.
Soon word got around that Bill could play a mean piano and he was asked to get a band together for a dance at the Elks Hall. He agreed, but only if Rusty would accompany the band with her fiddle. It was the beginning of more than a half-century of entertaining in every corner of the territory. Unique with The Northernaires was their manner and dress. Professional is one way to describe an event staged by Bill and Rusty Reid with The Northernaires.
On time, dressed to kill, short breaks and a musical repertoire to satisfy every dancer's taste. These were the hallmarks of The Northernaires in a musical career that spanned more than 50 Yukon years.
Wayne Smyth joined the band as a 13-year-old high school drummer. His memories of band leader Bill are filled with delightful stories of dedication to the craft and of travels to every Yukon community under often dicey travel conditions to entertain. Never late or unprepared is the way Wayne Smiyth remembers his years with The Northernaires.
Smyth recalls that as the band leader, Bill never talked down to him even though he was just a kid, but rather treated him as an equal with other member of The Northernaires. Smyth said the reliability of The Northernaires fostered by Bill was a big part of the band's success.
But there was more than music that kept Bill Reid busy. The list is long. He was a member of the Whitehorse fire department. With Rusty, he formed and kept the Whitehorse Women's softball league up and running.
Together, they helped form the Yukon Sports Federation. Both were inducted into the Yukon Sports Hall of Fame. The couple was instrumental in organizing the Yukon's branch of the Civilian Aircraft Search and Rescue Association. Bill was the president of the Yukon Flying Club for seven years and sat on the executive for another three years. He was instrumental in getting the DC3 weather vane aircraft placed on a pedestal at the Whitehorse airport. Rusty and Bill flew their own plane, joined air searched and often put on training searches.
Fittingly, their son Dave became an Air Canada pilot.
Bill and Rusty were involved in the Sourdough Rendezvous Fiddle Contest and competed in and judged the contests on many occasions.
In 2003, Bill and Rusty Reid received the Commissioner's Award for public service, one they justly deserved. With his passing, Bill Reid has left a substantial legacy of community involvement that has made the Yukon a better place.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin
The Carcross Desert isn’t. A desert, that is. Rather, it’s a remnant of the last Ice Age; this ‘desert’ is really a sand dune. The sand accumulated during the Pleistocene age when large glacial lakes filled the valleys in the southern Yukon. The Pleistocene period, which lasted almost 2 million years, ended about 10,000 years ago. A good thing too, or most of the Southern Yukon would still be covered with vast glaciers. As the ice receded, it left a huge glacial lake in the region now occupied by Lake Bennett. As the glacial lake dried up, sand from the bottom was exposed. Today active sand dunes like Carcross are rare in the North, many that survived the drying up of glaciers have become overgrown with forests.
Not so with the Carcross dunes, which have a readymade supply of sand from around Lake Bennett. The Carcross desert is a haven for amateur botanists. Most, if not all, of the plants at the dunes would never survive in a real desert, though several of them that do survive are rare species for this part of the world. One of the most interesting species is the Baikal Sedge, a flashy Asian species found only in 4 other locations in North America. It’s also found in the sand dunes near Kusawa Lake. The Yukon Lupin, distinguished by a silvery appearance caused by hairs on the upper surface of the leaves is more common here than any location in the world. Other interesting plants because they are rare or of limited distribution are the Blue-Eyed Mary, Button Grass, and Nelson’s Needlegrass, showy Jacob’s Ladder, common Juniper, and kinnicknick grow on the more stabilized or sheltered areas of the dunes.
Formal protection of the dunes has been the subject of some discussion either as a territorial park, or some other designation. But so far nothing has come of it. Still, the area is a major tourist destination, and a fine spot for local photographers. With just the right lighting and by keeping all those tall trees out of the shots, creative photojournalists can certainly makes the dunes look like the Sahara desert of the far North.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin