“Well, you’d never believe it today, but Haines Junction has a semi-arid climate with only eight inches of rain a year!” said Libby Dulac disgustedly as we watched the mountain view become more and more socked-in while we set up to paint overlooking Pine Lake and the Kluane range.
But it wasn’t so much the scenery as the chance to get to know Libby that I was looking forward to. She met her husband, Claude, who is from France, in her native country, the United Kingdom, and they immigrated to Canada shortly after they were married 47 years ago. They eventually chose to live in Haines Junction because of the beauty of the mountains and Claude’s desire to work as a ranger in Kluane National Park.
Later that evening over a shared dinner, Claude asked me, “Why do you think there are so many artists in the North Country?” “What else can you do through the long winter months amidst such beauty?” I answered, and we all laughed. Libby is an excellent artist who has been painting for years despite very little formal training, having attended only one short workshop many years ago. Her career began because another Haines resident, a trained artist, decided to open a gallery in town. Her friend asked her to help out by painting on “souvenir stuff” for the shop. She was surprised when everything she painted sold and decided to try painting on real canvases.
Living in a small, tight-knit community is both a blessing and a hardship for the couple. This beautiful but rugged part of the country is naturally populated by independent and self-reliant people. Nonetheless, in this isolated region they must also rely on each other. Last year the only grocery store went bankrupt, so they now travel two hours each way to Whitehorse to get supplies. “Because the owner did a bad job of managing his life and his business, all of us in Haines Junction are suffering the consequences,” Libby said. Claude spends significant time caring for his large garden, and his chickens, pheasants and turkeys—which are even more important to the couple since the store closed. The freshly-picked salad they served with the jambalaya I brought for dinner was a delight!
A man of deep faith, Claude has taken over the duties of the priest in the local Catholic church—which is located in a in a small, quaint Quonset hut—since the rector retired last year at 87. But the Episcopal church in town is the local place where Libby hangs her art.
Libby’s income from selling art work helps supplement Claude’s retirement. He became ill many years ago with severe heart problems, from which he has recovered very slowly to about 50% capacity now. Forced to be much less active, the long dark northern winters have become more difficult. They try to make the most of every opportunity, and have managed to visit a Caribbean island for a few weeks each winter. With these warm weather travels, Libby now has many photos of island landscapes and palm trees to paint when winter sets in.
Thank you, Libby and Claude, for your hospitality and the stories you shared. Far more than just the highlight of our Haines Junction visit, our time with you will surely be remembered as one of the most precious moments of our entire journey!