Steins, John & Scott Sheerin
Origin: Dawson City, Yukon
My surname conceals the fact that I have a Latvian background, born in Canada from parents after they emigrated here after the ravages of World War II. I really enjoy peeling back layers of information about that part of my heritage. I speak the language and can read it with a bit of effort. My brother and I were encouraged to speak Latvian at home while growing up in Toronto, Halifax and Ottawa.
Where was I educated? How about the school of hard knocks! I’m one that’s cursed with wanting to know everything about everything. People like that can never decide, while umming and ahhing at the smorg table of life. Having ADD doesn’t help either!
We had a resident art professor at home, namely our father, Ilgvars Steins. He graduated from the Ontario College of Art in 1959 with the Lieutenant’s Award for excellence in drawing and painting and embarked on a very productive career. At eighty four he’s still making art! And he continues to offer guidance and encouragement.
I attended a special 5 year program at Fisher Park High School in Ottawa that was designed to prepare the student for a career in commercial art or further studies at art college. It was a great program. One of my favorites was lettering class where we had to draw perfect letters of a given font by hand using French curves and India ink.
One of our instructors had a mantra that went; “Simplicity, unity and harmony equals good design.”
When our family moved to Toronto I joined Vickers & Benson when I turned 18. They were one of the top advertising agencies in North America at the time. They hired young people who showed promise and groomed them for a future in the advertising game. Of course, I was destined for the art department or creative arm of the company.
Succumbing to youthful impatience I switched horses in midstream and went over to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation taking a junior position in their Information Services Department. Both of those jobs were handed to me on a silver platter but I decided to chase a career in music as a singer songwriter in the late sixties and early seventies. That effort had mixed results. Eventually I landed a great job at the University of Toronto Book Room and I moved into a communal house in the downtown area.
1974 rolled around and a buddy of mine and I decided to leave hot and dusty Toronto for unknown destinations in Canada’s northwest. We hopped freight trains across the vast prairie to the foothills of the Rockies, turned north and ended up in Dawson City, Yukon, home of the great Klondike gold rush.
We hooked up with some other travelers in our age group, built a ‘skookum’ raft and set off down the Yukon River in late June. Huck Finn and Jim would have been envious. It was the perfect raft made from Dawson City boardwalk sections lashed to 45 gallon drums keeping us high and dry for the six week lazy float down to Eagle, Alaska and finally to a town called Circle.
After exploring Alaska via Anchorage and Fairbanks I got on the ferry in Haines for a sailing to Prince Rupert. At this time I was fixated on returning to Dawson and its voodoo magic.
Various exploits kept me employed and active in the mid to late seventies. The spring of 1978 was a highlight because I took delivery of my etching press that came in a huge crate all the way from Ontario. I remember the delivery guys from White Pass Freight grunting and groaning, trying to push the thing through a narrow doorway into my little log cabin. While they were pinching their fingers in the door jamb I prattled on about how their suffering was worth it because it was all in the name of art… if looks could kill!
What a thrill it was to unpack my shiny new press made by Emil Praga back in Scarborough. Little did I know it would be under water the following year during the devastating flood of ’79. The press survived and am still using it today.
To be continued…