The year was 1967. Everyone in the country was celebrating a big birthday. Canada was 100 years old. It seemed a fine time for giving, and sharing the bounties of the big land. In Whitehorse, City council was not so much in the mood for sharing as for taking. It seems that parking was becoming a problem in the growing frontier town of about ten thousand. Taking a page from really big cities, the city council decided to install parking meters on Main Street. What would they think of next? Traffic lights, no doubt.
By the spring of 1968, the meters were ready to accept a nickel for a half-hour stay. The meters did not produce much revenue until 1972, when Whitehorse hired an energetic local woman, Valerie Matechuk, to patrol the meters and hand out two-dollar tickets to overtime parkers.
Hot-footing it around her circuit at least twice an hour, Valerie issued thousands of dollar's worth of citations. Soon downtown merchants were crying foul - that the meters would drive business to the boondocks, wherever they were. The dreaded meters were here to stay, and the complaints rolled in.
The meter controversy seemed as endless as ice fog at fifty below. So in 1972, Bob Erlam, publisher of the Whitehorse Star, whose storefront was on Main Street, decided to take matters into his own hands.
He said the city's meter maid was being over-zealous. Erlam claimed that the meters had already paid for themselves, were driving away business and were no longer needed to solve over-parking and traffic problems. Maybe he was right. City income from the meters during the first nine months of 1972 was more than $ 40,000.
Bob took an ad out in his paper. It was for a job. Twelve people applied for the position of "anti-meter maid", who would make the same circuit as Valerie, the meter maid, and feed the "almost expired meters" with nickels, instead of issuing tickets. The salary of $ 90 per week, plus expenses, would be paid by Erlam, and Hougen's Ltd., along with contributions from grateful non-ticketed motorists.
Twenty-year-old Joanne Schrioch got the job and soon became the town's newest heroine. She started work on November 8, 1972, armed with a supply of nickels and leaflets explaining her job to vehicle owners, and suggesting donations. At one point in her career, she had put coins in 900 nearly-expired meters. To avoid any conflict with the law, she didn't touch the fully expired ones, leaving those to Valerie's mercy.
Joanne's anti-meter activity got a warm reception in frosty Whitehorse. She even got along well with Meter Maid Matechuk. Often the meter and anti-meter maids were seen having lunch together.
How much was accomplished in this meter stage may never be known, but Whitehorse did get a lot of outside publicity, including a lengthy story in Time Magazine in the summer of 1973.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin