“People Say You Are a Certain Way Because That’s What You Were Like When You Were Five”

Jolie Holmes, a 17-year-old from Dawson City, Yukon, on the worst—and best—parts of growing up in a small town in Canada’s North

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Jolie with flowers and a mountain in the background
Photo illustration: Ka Lee and Joel Louzado

The only school in Dawson City is kindergarten to Grade 12, so we’ve known our teachers our whole lives. There’s no going into school and meeting your teacher for the first time.

Sometimes, I worry about the relationship people who act out here have with their teachers. It could be as simple as being in grade two and acting out, getting your name on the board and sitting in the time-out chair. As silly as it sounds, it’s easy for that reputation to follow you through high school. Teachers and friends say you are a certain way because that’s what you were like when you were five.

I haven’t struggled with that as much, but I do see adults around town labeling people like that.

But it’s not just about school. The social scene here is really difficult, too. In elementary school, I didn’t really fit in the friend groups that [already existed]. I really struggled with the fact that there are no new people. All the friends that I have and everybody that’s around me, I’ve known since I was four. And when you know somebody for such a long time, it can be hard to stay friends—friendships can only last so long, I think. But, it got better when I started high school. I was being influenced by TV shows; I thought it was important to have a huge group of friends. When I got older, I realized sometimes it’s okay to have just a few close friends.

I know that’s not unique to Dawson. But some things are specific to growing up here; being a young person in a place where there are lots of places for older people to go can be pretty difficult. When you’re 17, where I am now, you’re just waiting it out until you’re able to go into all the bars. I would definitely consider it a party town, especially in the warmer months—I find a lot of people in their 20s and 30s come here in the summer, and there are a lot of places to have fun. But the bars wouldn’t worry me as much if there were more places for youth. The ratio is way off. There’s one youth centre here, but every hotel has a bar and then there are even more.

After I graduate, I’m hoping to head to Vancouver with my big sister. We both share the same passion for makeup and are hopefully going to apply to the best makeup school in Canada. When I was younger, I was intrigued by how makeup made your face so different. I love painting, and it’s like painting your own skin. When my sister came home from the University of Victoria, she started practicing on me and I got into it. She really helped me learn the basic steps and find my passion.

I would definitely love to return to Dawson eventually. Yes, in the summer it’s a party town. But it’s different in the winter. Then, I know I’m safe. It’s all locals. You can leave your sweater on the playground and two weeks later it’s still there. It’s a safe feeling, a feeling of community. And Dawson is really beautiful. Sometimes I catch myself [taking it for granted] and it’s kind of sad, because I’d become used to it. I look around and there’s tons of mountains and flowers—and the sense of community is awesome. We pull together when there’s a problem. It just really makes my heart warm.

I don’t think I want my kids to go to school here, though. I feel like it’s easier to go from the big city and learn how to navigate a town like this rather than being from a town like this and learning how to navigate a big city. —as told to Raisa Patel

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