We are so lucky in Yellowknife to have wonderful people like Dr. Hassan Adam and his wife Charlene.
Every year, their downtown businesses are all lit up at Christmas and in the summer, they sprout thousands of flowers. Thank you, Hassan and Charlene.
The area I’m talking about is Adam Dental Clinic and the Quilted Raven on the corner of Franklin Avenue and 53 St. It’s such a delight to walk or drive by that area, in winter or summer.
Hassan is originally from Malawi, Africa and Charlene from South Carolina, USA. They were both going to school in Sheffield, England, when they met. They moved to Yellowknife in March 1980 when they took jobs with Mackenzie Dental Clinic.
They stayed because they loved it here and have three daughters and a son.
Their 35-year Christmas lights tradition started when Charlene put lights under the trees in front of the clinic one winter. People liked them and asked if they were going to do it again, so they did and added more lights.
Hassan fondly says Robert Fabian was invaluable to the work. Around 1988, Robert asked if Hassan needed snow shovelled. Robert gradually did more chores and with his assistance, they started adding more lights every year. Today, it takes three months to get things ready and installed.
Robert was around so much that Hassan’s children called him Uncle Robert. Unfortunately, about five years ago, Robert was struck by a vehicle and the injuries forced him to retire. It’s obvious that Hassan developed a special bond with Robert. He mentioned several times his affection and gratitude for Robert.
Hassan said, “I miss Robert. He was with me for 30 years and helped me a lot, along with his friends. Made me realize that I didn’t have to do the lights and gardening alone. He would be outside cutting the grass and looking after the flowers and people would stop and talk to him. The staff and I called it Robert’s Corner.”
Jessie Griep took over after Robert left. Jessie’s mother is from Baker Lake and he came to Yellowknife in the 1980s. Hassan also has a horticulturist named Leslie Creed who oversees the gardening.
The bright lights
The work is said to be “a labour of love.” The lights are brought in from storage in September and burned-out bulbs replaced, cracked wires repaired, and new lights and cords purchased. In October, they start putting lights on the roof and in November do all the rest.
Three trees are also decorated, and the largest one took Jessie and another guy 14 hours to put over 10,000 lights on it. Usually, everything is lit up for display in time for the Santa Claus parade.
They start taking things apart in mid-January: washing, cleaning and putting them away. Everything has to be sorted so it is easy to get at next fall.
Lots of people compliment the boys and it brings a sense of pride. At age 72, Dr. Adam works with them every day, using the Bobcat, repairing lights, basically involved with all of it.
Hassan says, “I enjoy doing this stuff and it keeps me from aging as quickly. It’s a wonderful way to give back to the community. People enjoy it and it makes it worthwhile for me.”
Blooming flowers everywhere
Gardening is basically a year-round job. In the summertime, Leslie plans for what will go in the garden next year. The garden is usually in themes: last summer was red in front and back of the clinic. Leslie picks plants she knows will survive, having learned through experimenting.
Mid-March, she starts plants in the greenhouse across from the Arnica Inn, now called Spruce Bough Shelter, and practically lives there for two months. The greenhouse switches to vegetables after the flowers are planted.
Flowers are usually planted after the May long weekend. It takes a week for the whole team to plant close to 4,000 flowers. Upkeep includes deadheading, fertilizing once a week, watering six days a week, repairing damaged stakes and fixing vandalism.
The community takes pride in it too. Last summer, a row of flowers was pulled out and RCMP officers replanted the flowers.
Other people have also stopped vandalism and/or replanted flowers as well.
After Thanksgiving, the team takes out the plants and someone picks it up for composting. Then Leslie orders cuttings and seeds for next summer through Arctic Farmer.
The hardworking team
The team doing much of the work are mostly the under-housed, except for Leslie. When I asked how that came about, Hassan said, “When we needed extra help, Robert would bring in a homeless person. I would meet them and found them to be hard workers, often with lots of skills in trades like carpentry. They were good people and we learned to trust them.”
“It amazes me to see them work. Jessie wired up all of the lights himself this year, without help of an electrician and not one breaker went off.”
They use five or six guys for snow removal and four for regular work, which is available seven days a week, three to four hours a day. They can come in at 7 a.m. and often start without Hassan telling them what to do.
The guys have been doing this for a while and know the job well. They do snow removal at two businesses, two parking lots and two houses. They also help moving things in the clinic.
When it snows, they call it “pennies from heaven.” Usually, they remove 47 loads of snow and have already removed 42 loads to the snow dump. Hassan uses a Bobcat and hauls it with a trailer.
Hassan says, “It’s a good group. I take them out for lunch once a week. We enjoy different ethnic restaurants: Filipino, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indian. Surprisingly, they like spicy food.”
Both Dr. Adam and Leslie said the work, “is a labour of love.”
My brother Ron said, “It beautifies the area, brings a better frame of mind, and it lifts people’s spirits.”
I agree! Robert’s Corner is a real delight! For years, I’ve wanted to write this feel-good story to tell Dr. Adam how much this project means to myself and to countless others who truly appreciate this beautiful gift to Yellowknife. Mahsi cho!!!