Life in a town of 900

A few days ago, I travelled through the town of Skagway, Alaska on my way for a day of horseback riding and canoeing in the Yukon. Our bus driver, Mark, settled in the sea-side, shipping town fourteen years ago and proudly showed us around before we got on the highway. He explained, in very concrete terms, the sociology of life in a very small community.

A wintertime population of about 900, none of them there all at once, he explained, absorbs to up to 10,000 people every summer day when the cruise ships arrive.  The town’s summer population is swelled also buy the in-migration of commercial operators, happy to sell amethyst, gold and jade to the summer crowds. Others come looking for seasonal work. The summer time resident population swells to 2 – 3,000.  Many of them are housed in trailers at the edge of town – which Mark said residents called their “ghetto”, probably, I thought because of the poor quality of the housing, distant from any services.

Because of the small size of the town, Mark explained the importance of a strong sense of community in a hostile and changing environment. “It means,” he said,”that we don’t all necessarily like each, but we have to look out for each other.” For example,  fundraising benefits are regularly held for those facing medical or other life crises to help defray the unexpected and exorbitant costs.

Mark also amazed us when he explained why the border guards were so friendly. The social networks in a small town are dense, he explained, because everyone does a lot of different things. They have to if they want things to go.

“I’ll be back here at the border in a few hours to work. I keep their mechanical systems running. But that’s just what I get paid for,” he said, launching into another spiel. “I also do a weekly show on the local radio station and I am on the volunteer fire department.

“Because there’s is work to be done and if we don’t do it, who’s going to?”

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