By PATRICIA THERRELL, special to the Tribune
Published November 16, 2016
Profiles of People: Daniel Westbrook's "Yukonality"
Daniel Westbrook in his home workshop in the Fobes Hill area west of Snohomish.
Daniel J. Westbrook sports a jaunty cap, carries a portfolio and speaks articulately,
but his hands tell the real
story of who he is as a person.
Hard and calloused, his hands tell the story of a boy who grew up on 350 acres
near the Village of Mayo in Canada’s Yukon Territory.
The homestead had his parents and five siblings, but not much else for comfort. The site housed an old saw mill stocked with kerosene lamps, cold water and candles. Their home was a remodeled bunkhouse that once housed miners and loggers. The forest provided the wood that gave them heat, and the land itself offered a never-ending natural Disneyland for adventure. Trees became rides, abandoned mine shafts were imagined as haunted houses. Changing seasons and various food “on the hoof or paw” sources gave up endless opportunities to
hone self reliance skills. This story perhaps is Westbrook then and now.
Westbrook’s mother and stepfather were teachers,
so the children were homeschooled. However, at grade nine Westbrook was allowed to attend public school in Mayo.
His graduating class constituted three students, all excited and eager to start their adult lives. I have no idea what happened to the other two young hopefuls, but for Westbrook, the choice was made for him. His parents were adamant that at age 18 one is an adult and needs to go somewhere and act like one. He knew his biological father was in the Seattle area. He also knew that Seattle had been the boom town for the Yukon when the gold rush changed so many lives because of the insatiable desire for monetary wealth.
Wealth has never driven Westbrook.
His desire is to restore, preserve and cherish old buildings. He’s been working at that craft for over 35 years and has no plans to quit any time soon.
“I still love my craft because I step back in time to feeling like those crews who handed the legacy down,” he said. “When I am working I can see the soft cuts done one hundred years ago where a handsaw left marks out of alignment. I can tell the laborer’s arm movement —like an archeologist.”
And in working with his hands, he continually embraces what can be called “Yukonality.”
“Yukonality” is a term his southern California wife coined as a way to describe Westbrook’s way of life, and it is comprised of seven mantras: live in harmony
with nature; respect hard work; live adventurously; celebrate life; keep history alive; be good stewards of this earth; and be earnest.
Westbrook’s mission in life is to restore old homes by solving problems with others. He has a business called “Built to Restand” and lives in the Snohomish area.
When asked about his favorite restoration, he says he doesn’t have one. To him its all about the journey.
He said, “It’s allowing those long gone craftsmen’s work to be seen again, but the way to get there should be filled with respect and maybe even
awe at the old timers’ ability to make dwellings that have honestly stood the test of time because of talent and effort.”
He admits that even though most of the challenges he’s taken on have been quality buildings in need of help, not all old buildings are great.
The old adage,“they don’t make ‘em like they used to,” is not always true.
“They made crap back then too,” he said.
Being introduced to Westbrook and the sincere conversation about his craft might lead to an erroneous conclusion about the man himself. He is quite multidimensional. Five motorcycles and the freedom they provide reaffirm his attitude that one should work to live, not live to work. Storytelling lends another dimension to his overall persona. Moreover, he is currently under contract with Dunn
Lumber to write, produce and host films.
He even has an agent and is writing a book about the
Yukon/Seattle connection. Plus, I imagine the $400,000 hands-on remodel he is currently engaged in requires thorough management because he is a “hands on contractor” that requires he be at the worksite every day.
Seemingly a fairly contented happy person, Westbrook does admit to one strong frustration: the disrespect people have for those who work with their hands.
He asks rhetorically,
”Where is vocational training in our schools and homes? Why don’t people see trades work as real work to be respected? It can pay a lot, but tradesmen is seen as a second class citizen job by many.”
He believes it is an honorable profession and he does what he does because he wants to give back to craft and industry. Westbrook hopes maybe something he says or does will help those who do this work and they will stop feeling second class.
His word of advice to others who feel his way is: “Approach life with my
seven old fashioned values because the buildings we have left transcend time and cultural difference-and we all need to unify and take care of Mother Earth right now.”
Author Patricia Therrell’s column traditionally runs on the third week of the month.
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