Chemainus couple contributes to book about Atlin from its own experiences

Jamie and Helen Stephen lived in the remote B.C. community for three and a half years

There are many facets of the book The Ladies and the Lake Trout: Atlin Remembered that will fascinate readers.

For people who’ve ever lived in a remote community like Atlin in northwest B.C. near the Yukon border, certain aspects of the experiences depicted in the book by Chemainus couple Helen and Jamie Stephen and their long-time friends Christine and David Dickinson and Mike and Sue Morhun, will mirror their own.

For those who have never lived in a rural community and never will but have a spirit of adventure, the stories provide a glimpse into what it’s like for residents to cope with the challenges of relative isolation and unify toward common goals while forming lifelong friendships under often extreme conditions and circumstances.

The Stephens lived in Atlin for a period of three and a half years from July of 1974 to the end of 1977. Helen (nee Lonsdale, whose father Cedric was a well-known educator for many years and a vice principal at Chemainus Secondary School) is a local girl. Jamie was born in Scotland, spent his youth in North Vancouver and did his training as a Conservation Officer at the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Arts and Sciences in Saskatoon.

There were only 350 residents in Atlin when they lived there and scarcely more than that today so it requires a special kind of person to develop an affinity for the place.

The Stephens were raising a young family at the time. Helen was occupied with newborn son David when they arrived in the community and later daughter Alice, who was born in Whitehorse, Yukon in March of 1976.

“Jamie was the first Conservation Officer they had in Atlin,” Helen explained. “People resented the fact they couldn’t go shoot a caribou or a moose whenever they felt like it.”

These people became their friends and it was just a matter of Jamie ensuring the rules were followed no matter what the circumstances.

The other families co-authoring the book included: Cpl. Mike Morhun, the lone RCMP officer responsible for enforcing the law among a sparse population spread over hundreds of square kilometres; Sue Morhun, a regular contributor to the Atlin News Miner newspaper and an active volunteer in community organizations; David Dickinson, an intermediate and secondary teacher at the school of about 80 students; and Christine Dickinson, at home with two kids and eventually another born in 1977.

“We sure made our fun there,” said Helen. “There’s no doubt in our minds they were the best years of our lives.”

All the families eventually departed Atlin – the Stephens for Sechelt, the Morhuns to Oliver and the Dickinsons to Houston, B.C., but the three couples stayed in contact. They eventually conceived the idea to record their stories in book form.

“We made a plan to meet three times a year at each other’s homes,” noted Helen. “We just kept our schedule.”

Completing the project became more important after David Dickinson died.

“We just pushed ourselves,” said Helen. “We did it primarily for our children and grandchildren.”

It’s taken seven years to get through the process of writing, editing and publishing the book.

“It was hard work,” conceded Jamie.

The end result obviously made it worth the effort. It’s a package of stories and photos from a unique way of life that’s completely foreign to anyone who’s grown up in an urban environment.

There was never a shortage of tales to tell. In fact, the couples were hard pressed to narrow down the information into its final form that runs 300 pages.

“I was fortunate because of my work as C.O., I had some adventures that were dropped into my life,” said Jamie.

“I did have an advantage over our co-writers. It wasn’t hard for me to find material to write about.”

The north, particularly in those days, was a haven for colourful characters.

One of them known as ‘Sheslay’ Mike Erickson, a.k.a. Justin Case, Mike Oros and even Sheslay Free Mike, is featured in Jamie’s story Murder on The Trapline.

Chasing an elusive deranged trapper all over the wilderness proved interesting, to say the least.

The book from cover to cover features some compelling chapters about a lifestyle that most people can’t begin to fathom what it’s like.

The book could certainly make a unique Christmas gift, featuring the local authors. The Stephens are offering it for $25 a copy by contacting them directly at 250-246-3592.

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