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Northern stories go east

Lisa Scott
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (July 21/04) - Tom Doornbos was a poor, shabbily dressed Dutchman who carried water to restaurants on a yoke for 25 cents in the 1940s in Yellowknife.

NNSL Photo/Graphic

Thirteen-year-old Tyler Heal took stories of mystery and intrigue he found while skimming through Yellowknife's archives to Montreal for a national heritage fair recently - Lisa Scott/NNSL photo

His penny-pinching ways were notorious around town. He would order hot water in restaurants, add free ketchup to it and call it tomato soup. Reusing tea bags was another of his strange ways.

He lived simply, in a 4'x4' shack, eschewing all comforts.

Despite his eccentricities, Doornbos died a rich man in 1981 with $333,253 to his name. - a fortune amassed by buying and selling Yellowknife shacks.

Those who knew him were shocked. Why had Doornbos lived such a miserly life?

Stories like this caught the eye of Tyler Heal while he was flipping through museum archives looking for a history project earlier this year.

The 13-year-old William McDonald student turned this and other stories into "Mysteries and Intrigues of the North," a project that sent him to the National Historica Fair in Montreal, July 5-12.

Heal researched events like renowned bush pilot Chuck McAvoy's 1964 plane crash and discovery of the wreckage 39 years later. He also researched Operation Bulldog, a military exercise that took place in Yellowknife in 1955 to practise for a possible invasion by the Soviet army.

"It was interesting looking through the old files," says Heal.

Why the NWT had more than its share of unusual stories and people escaped Heal, but the vastness of the land and the opportunity to find gold were likely contributing factors, he says.

"It's a big area with a small amount of people in it. It's a mysterious land," he says.

Heal's interest in the history of the North is infectious. Visitors to the national fair were curious about his stories and pictures of McAvoy's plane wreck and other items recovered at the scene in 2003.

Some may even be inspired to visit since Heal and the four other NWT students at the fair ran out of tourism brochures during the day.

Heal and the other students - Christina Castillo, Chloe LeTourneau-Paci and Courtney Northrup from Yellowknife, plus Rhonda John from Aklavi - , made it past regional showcases in April and qualified for the trip at the territorial showcase on May 7.

One hundred and sixty five Canadian students brought projects to Montreal for the week, which included a tour of the city's historic sites.

For Heal, learning about other regions of Canada was a highlight. "It's a good opportunity to go out and see about our history that's been forgotten or unknown over time," he says.