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The Yellowknife dump and its curious breed of scavengers were highlighted in the venerable New York Times last week.

Yellowknife has trashy international reputation

Andrew Raven
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (July 20/05) - The brain trust behind Yellowknife has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars billing the capital as a centre for diamonds, the northern lights and rugged outdoor adventures.

But apparently the best marketing minds in the territory are no match for a rotting pile of garbage.

Within the last week, three major media outlets have seized on the unique story of the Yellowknife dump and the wildly divergent scavengers who comb through its bounty nearly every day.

"I'm glad we are doing something that is stimulating interest in Yellowknife," said city councillor and acting mayor Wendy Bisaro.

The dump and its freewheeling take-what-you-want policy has grabbed headlines on both sides of the Atlantic. The media flurry began last Wednesday when the New York Times ran an article that called dump fees "the hottest issue going in this territorial capital."

Penned by Canadian correspondent Clifford Krauss, the story highlighted the uniquely fraternal nature of the landfill. "The dump is probably the only place in town where diamond mine managers and homeless native Canadians... rub shoulders and greet each other," he wrote.

The story was carried the following day by the International Herald-Tribune, a Paris-based daily that circulates the globe. The British Broadcasting Corporation followed suit Thursday, making calls to Yellowknife for the inside scoop on the landfill.

"The New York Times is interested in popular culture in all its forms, anywhere in the world," Krauss wrote Friday in an e-mail.

The idea for the story came from an article published in the Canadian literary magazine the Walrus, last year.

That piece - entitled the Last Great Dump City - described the landfill as an integral part of Yellowknife's "frontier character."

Well-known dump enthusiast Walt Humphries, who has a weekly column in this newspaper, was interviewed by the Times and the BBC.

He believes southern audiences have always been intrigued by the open-door scavenging policy at the landfill - something that is completely foreign to most urbanites.

"Our dump is unique," Humphries said Friday, two days after the Times article debuted.

"Not many places in the industrial world allow people to scavenge. You need to travel to a Third World country to see something like that."

While international notoriety as dump-central might be slightly off message, the benefits of free advertising in the New York Times are undeniable, said Doug Doan, assistant deputy minister of tourism with the territorial government.

"The message is perhaps not dead-on what we want to convey," said Doan. "But I don't think this will have a negative impact at all. I suspect it might lead people to other sources (of information) about the Northwest Territories."

Sometimes though, media attention can be a double-edged sword, Bisaro said. The capital's trashy reputation could attract rugged adventure seekers or discourage those with fainter hearts.

Long-time opponent

Humphries is a long-time opponent of municipal attempts to restrict access to the dump, including an on-again, off-again plan to charge scavengers an entry fee.

During interviews, the 57-year-old pushes the landfill as a model of efficiency - a template that could solve the mounting garbage crisis in many southern centres. That message rarely comes across in print, though.

"I think (southerners) like the human interest aspect of the stories," Humphries said.