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He was called Wigwam Harry... By Rolly A. Chabot
Hi again all and welcome to the Fireside, a place where I hope you find some peace and well deserved rest. We are chilly here this morning at -5 degrees Celsius. Now if you are in the US which many are that is 23 Degrees. No matter where it is chilly. We are closing in on October soon. The snow came the 31st last year and never left till mid April and looks like we are heading in the same direction this year.
Hope you are bundled up and after you warm just toss your gear over in the corner, settle in while we look at another of the colourful people of the Yukon. Be sure and get a coffee or tea, help yourself to the cookies. Sorry they are the store bought ones.
Please understand and know for sure that you are all dearly loved.
Wigwam Harry was the name most knew this man as. His story was told many times over because of his character we all came to love. Harry was different from most of society, he did not need anything fancy, never had anything fancy. Simple was all he wanted, and simple was all he had.
Over the years, I heard many a story about Harry. If you were lucky enough to get close enough to Harry he would tell you some stories that would make you, laugh and stories that would touch your heart. Harry was a very private person and little was ever known about him except for the stories we heard.
I owned a Security Police firm at the time, and part of my duties was to deal with traffic violations and keep the peace on the streets. I was also licensed to carry a sidearm, and Harry was fascinated with the weapon. One glance and he told me one night the make, model and calibre. I questioned him of his knowledge, and he just looked at me and smiled. "Some day I may tell you." Harry was a peaceable when he was sober or when he had a few too many.
After some time and once trust was established. Harry would allow me to drive him home. Harry lived in a small one room shack he had built from materials he had salvaged. No power, no washroom, just the essentials and all very well used. His wood stove was an old 45 gallon barrel sitting in the middle of his shack with the stove pipe poked through the roof. "Good enough for me, I have all a man needs," He would say.
Tannis and Harry
Tannis came into my life by accident one night, and after a rough start we became the best of friends. Tannis was actually a registered American Cocker Spaniel but cared not for all the primping. No sooner have it done, and she would find something sticky to roll in like a dead fish just to let you know she was the boss.
Tannis had a sixth sense about people. Some she instantly hated, and others she would just love in a quiet way. Harry was one of those people, Harry would make a fuss over her, and she would turn away like it was not needed and yet she would climb all over him when he climbed in my cruiser or my old van.
In hindsight now, I can see just how similar they were. Caring but from a distance, reserved with a calm resolve knowing whom they were. Independent and could do just fine alone if need be. Harry would call her darling and kiss her, and she would turn away with the most undignified look on her face. It was comical to watch.
Harry would take pride in his city, he never drove that anyone knew. His mandate as he walked about town was to pick up the trash people would just toss. Candy wrappers, cigarette butts, papers etc. He took it upon himself to do that small but necessary job most people overlooked. Anyone who drove past would see Harry doing what he called his job. I can well imagine over the years he must have picked up a great deal of trash.
One hotel restaurant in town gave Harry his morning toast and coffee for the cleaning he did on their property. One particular morning there were several of us sitting in uniform went Harry came in. I called the waitress over and ordered Harry steak and eggs. He sat and grumbled about his toast not being ready. When they set the plate in front of Harry, tears rolled down weathered cheeks and he proceeded to gum that entire steak down. You see Harry had no teeth.
I offered him a ride home and just as we pulled up to his shack he turned and looked at me and smiled and spoke two words, "God provides." Maybe another peek into Harry's life he would someday tell me about.
Two old stories about Harry that I recall was someone needed a basement dug. Harry decided he could make a dollar or two and took on the task for the better part of the summer. Word has it the fellow keep putting off paying Harry so the following night he went back and filled it all in again.
Yet another story is on the location where the SS Klondike a restored riverboat sits today was the location for one of Harry's more elaborate homes. You see it was a crate from a grand piano. He had converted it into a home. Yes, Harry was a character, the day I was leaving the Yukon I stopped in to say goodbye at his graveside. Harry had lived a good life, simple but good. Thank you Harry for all you taught me and others.
It was not uncommon to see Harry dancing in the streets, sometimes a jig other times a Fox Trot, Two Step or a slow waltz. He never had anyone in his arms but it was easy to see that Harry had been a gentleman at one time. It would have been a lucky lady to have been guided across the dance floor by this man.
Who Was Harry
I do not think there were many people who knew Harry by his real name. To most he was just "Wigwam Harry." There are not many left like him. Harry was indeed a special character.
In all the years, Harry lived in the north no one ever heard his real story of where he was from, what brought him north, if he had ever married or had family. Research as much as you like and I doubt you will find anything but a few stories passed on.
Today Harry lies high above the city of Whitehorse overlooking the river valley he so loved. It is an appropriate place for him to be. He earned a place high above most of us who knew him.
The inscription on his tombstone reads
This old timer was unique/It's not the same in Whitehorse without "Wigwam Harry" Fieck
The Yukon will never be the same without you Harry. You are dearly missed and thank you for opening the door to your life, even just a crack. Thank you for all the years you helped keep the city cleaned. Rest well my friend... rest well.
© Rolly A. Chabot