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As soon as I slide into my seat on the Air North morning flight to Whitehorse, I glean a copy of the Yukon News for any stories on the Available Light Film Festival, my destination for the next several days. Sure enough, there's a big feature on the director of the bio-doc on Vancouver's legendary sprinter , Harry Jerome. His name is Charles Officer. His dark eyes stare out from the sizable photo and he's somehow reminiscent of Jerome, the black athlete who broke speed and race barriers, then died too young. As I glance up, I see the same face in the photo, just above me standing in the aisle. I hold the paper up to him, as if to say “hey, is this you?” and he says “Hi, I'm Charles. No, I haven't seen that yet, man.” I offer him my copy.
Joking with the stewardesses behind me is Reggie Leach, the retired first nations hockey star.Ex-Canucks captain Trevor Linden sits up front. At airport security Linden and I met while emptying our pockets, where he told me this was his first trip to the Yukon. He and other hockey greats from across the country are headed there for Hockey Day in Canada, an event that will add more northern light to Whitehorse this week.
When we've landed, Charles Officer has me take his picture with Linden. Charles had pursued a hockey career. He was drafted by the Calgary flames but an injury ended his hopes and he turned to filmmaking. Athletes continue to inspire Officer, who now puts his heroes on the screen. His first feature was Nurse.Fighter.Boy, his latest is Mighty Jerome and he's developing a story on the history of a black hockey league in Nova Scotia.
But in Whitehorse, he's meeting those heroes face to face - on the ice and on the stage. The Yukon has brought two worlds together this week and Charles is loving it. He's skated with Lanny McDonald and bumped into CBC's Ron McLean and coach Pat Quinn at his hotel. “My three loves are film, music and hockey, so I'm in heaven here,” said Charles. Two nights of the film festival are reserved for a special live show that melds hockey with live music and film. Billed as “Stolen from a Hockey Card”, the innovative event mixes short films on hockey – some of them newly commissioned for this show – with the debut of six songs on our national obsession by Sarah Harmer, CR Avery, Buck 65, Dave Bidini, Kim Barlow and The Weakerthan's John K. Sampson. Live hockey luminaries led by Ron McLean introduce the acts, as well as goad each other with raunchy anecdotes. Somehow it all works.
The ALFF and Hockey Day in Canada events are simultaneously creating a new gold rush fever here in Whitehorse. A lineup forms around the Scotia Bank to see Don Cherry. The street is closed outside the CBC for a game of ball hockey. Parents and kids pour into the mega-sized Canada Games Centre to meet players and touch the Stanley Cup. One mom lifts her crying newborn into the cup for a photo and it makes the front page. Hoping to catch more of this fever, I try to exit the elevator to leave the Gold Rush Inn but the lobby is jammed by Don Cherry, resplendent in a pinstriped long suit jacket, and his entourage of wardrobe cases that block the entire lobby. The guy's got to travel in style. Guess I'm going nowhere.