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“Northern Journal” – “Shack Tales” / NACC Crossing Bridges Tour / interview

Storyteller Pat Braden shares Shack Tales on tour

By MEAGAN WOHLBERG, Northern Journal Reporter• Tue, Apr 17, 2012

After 27 years, Pat Braden’s 560 sq. ft. “shack” in Yellowknife’s Old Town still has no running water or triple-pane windows, but what it lacks in weather sealing, it makes up for in memories.
Living there as a stay-at-home dad with his wife and daughters since the late ’80s, the musician and storyteller has put together a collection of stories starring the shack as their main character, and is taking them on a tour of the Northwest Territories this week.

Shack Tales, a 75-minute performance, is a mix of stories chronicling the trials, tribulations and humorous moments experienced through 20 years of raising kids and exploring the changing face of Yellowknife’s Old Town since its formation in the ’30s.

“It’s one of the few remaining shacks down here in Yellowknife’s Old Town and, really, it’s sort of turned out to be the vessel for a lot of different stories – not only my own story, but also the different people who have lived here over the course of – the place was built in ’36 – so 75 years ago, or something like that,” Braden said. “So the show sort of weaves brief stories in and amongst my own story in that way.”

Braden grew up in “New Town,” Yellowknife, where his parents moved to during the “Exodus from Saskatchewan” in the ’60s. At the time, he said, kids were divided into New and Old town groups, along with Giant and Con mine kids.

It didn’t take Braden long to become enamoured with the history of Old Town and make his way to the other side.

“Old Town has always had an allure to some people, a history of walking on the wild side,” he said. “After all, this is where Yellowknife began in the ’30s with the gambling houses, the flophouses and the speakeasies.”

The neighbourhood gained another layer of infamy when, later on, hippies moved there, mixing it up with the miners, prospectors, diamond drillers and native fishermen.

“There was a lot of partying going on down here. And so if you were living in New Town, there was always that allure, like Harlem or something like that. If you wanted to find some trouble, that’s where you could go.”

When Braden finally grew up and made it to Old Town, he met the woman who would become his wife – that’s where the shack tale begins.

“When I met my wife, my future partner, she was living in one of these shacks, so I just sort of moved right in,” he said. “It was a pretty easy thing to do. And I just sort of fell right into the lifestyle.”

With all of his girls grown up and moved out, Braden says the show is a way to help him process some of the empty nest syndrome he’s experiencing, and to celebrate the life they shared in their little home.

“My wife and I are still together; we’re still living in this place,” he said. “For some people that would be something to sort of scoff at, but I think it’s a really positive thing. My daughters have a home, they have a place that they grew up in and can still come back to.”

While the show centres on him and his family in Yellowknife, Braden said the human quality of the stories makes them relevant to anyone, regardless if they grew up in a mansion on a hill or a shack on a lake.

“We can all draw our own experiences from the stories that I’m telling,” he said. “I’m sure that people are reliving or remembering their own experiences of raising their kids, or what their parents did, or the sacrifices that their parents made for them. So that is something I’ve really been cognisant of, trying to bring that universality to the show.”

Braden said all places have the potential to shape our lives, no matter how insignificant they may seem from the outside.

“A church cathedral can have a lot of power, or the Parliament buildings, or a palace somewhere or something like that. That’s something I find with this place – that there is a power, a vibe that happens off of this place, and I think in a lot of ways it influences our own lives and forms and shapes us. It’s done that with me and with my children.”

See Shack Tales

Norman Wells
Tuesday, April 17, 7:30
Dennis Droulet Community Hall

Wednesday, April 18, 7:30
Igloo Church

Hay River 
Friday, April 20, 7:30
Riverview Cineplex

Fort Simpson
Monday, April 23 – 7:30
Open Sky Gallery

Presented by the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre