Shortly after moving to Yellowknife three years ago, I complained to a coworker that I was unable to afford furniture for my bare apartment and was having to serve candlelit dinners on the linoleum floor. My newspaper reporting paid too little and –- owing to the diamond-mining boom in the North -– my substantially mediocre apartment cost far too much. The solution, my coworker said, was obvious: I could pick up free furniture at the city dump.
Yellowknife, I soon learned, has enjoyed a long history of dump salvaging, a heritage driven by the revolving-door transience of its workforce. Many Yellowknifers -– returning to the “South,” but faced with near-criminal shipping costs -– simply throw up their hands and drive their belongings out to the dump.
Consequently, everything from decent furniture and appliances to nearly-new TVs and computers are up for grabs.
Even so, when I went seeking my furniture, I was hardly prepared to see prominent businesspeople, a well-known lawyer and a member of the legislature strolling earnestly among the trash as if through a hobby garden. Nor did I, for some reason, really expect to find a real dump, thousands of screeching seagulls clouding the landfill and an unbearable stench scorching the nostrils. This all took a sensory backseat, when I spotted what looked to my amateur gaze like a new pine chair.
“That's bird's-eye maple! Quite the find, that is!” piped up a nearby woman, who proceeded to praise the merits of furniture built with this rare kind of wood. Though I noticed it was missing a rung or two, I decided to take it, and soon felt that I couldn't have done better had a plaid-afflicted salesman sold me the chair.
After several visits, my apartment featured a table, two chairs and a recliner, all more or less immaculate. The furniture made for an ensemble that strictly observed the principles of dump decor: it was wildly mismatched. But now my girlfriend and I could clink wineglasses without bumping the dog dish.
A half-year later, my girlfriend decided to take a job down south and, like so many other Yellowknifers, we prepared to move. I drove the furniture to the dump and, on a whim, left it roughly where I'd found it. When I returned with a last-minute load, a man who looked to be in his early 30s -– like me -– was working the bird's-eye maple chair into his station wagon. He may even have thought it the perfect chair to give his candlelit dinners that little extra something.