Mayor By Default
Politician. Printmaker. Musician. John Steins’ Dawson City studio is plastered with memorabilia from his assorted ventures—wood-shavings and ink crowd the workbench opposite his beloved printing press. Since moving to the North in 1974, there isn’t much he hasn’t tried his hand at, including his part in a movement that brought democracy back to town after bankruptcy saw the local council removed.
How’d you get here? “I came up when I was 23. My friend Jimmy and I decided we were going to sell everything and hit the bricks and go out West and maybe North. We hitchhiked across the Prairies and ended up here in Dawson. We built a raft and piled on and floated down-river. We went all the way to Circle, Alaska and I think we took about six weeks to do it. I couldn’t wait to come back to the Yukon.”
What happened when the Yukon government put in a trustee to manage municipal affairs 30 years later? “We threatened to hold our own elections and of course that lit a fire under the territorial government. I was the mouth over the winter, complaining—so I kind of had to step up and put my name forward. Nobody challenged me and I ended up being acclaimed as mayor.”
Politics as muse: “I always think politically anyway, on a larger scale. I keep thinking, ‘Well I should do artwork that expresses my opinion about that.’ On one hand, I like the idea of poking the hornet’s nest, but on the other hand it’s more discretionary to stay quiet. But the experience on council itself—I’m not sure if it had any residual effect on my creativity. Maybe it sucked it dry...”