In the Spotlight:  Bill Dolan

“I’ve got so much going on these days that I can’t keep it all on the plate. Besides the project on the attached poster, I’ve never been busier in my life!  LOL!”

When Leanna Garner sent out an email suggesting an article on Bill Dolan I didn’t know who she was talking about. She said she was going to interview him. Eileen Phillips jumped in and the four way collaborative story began to take shape. Emails went back and forth with ‘copy all’ and a story emerged. I volunteered to get a draft together and Leanna went ahead with the interview. Eileen rounded up the missing ‘back story’ about Bill’s life as an educator.

I needed to go to Mr.Google’s wonderful map collection to find out about some of the places on the tour poster. Where is Fort Nelson exactly? I had an aunt that taught school in Watson Lake, but that was long before I knew her and she had moved down to Ten Mile on the Barkerville Road by then. The North is BIG!

Bill Dolan grew up in The North. He has history here.

“I grew up in Fort Nelson and took most of my schooling here.   Actually, I graduated in Grande Prairie, AB, because I had to take another semester there to get my grad credits: too much playing hockey and driving truck in Grade 12 — not to mention cruising around in my Ford Mach 1 Mustang!  Ft Nelson was really booming then in the mid 70s and there were big bucks to be made, even for a teenager.  School was (unfortunately) just a sideline for me in those years.”

“Just got home tonight & damned if I didn’t find that photo of me in grade 11, clowning around with my 1970 Mach 1!  It got me my first speeding ticket AND an extra half year to finish high school!  Lol!”


This is also a story of the Highway and its people. The tour was called The Alaska Highway Roadshow, celebrating The Trail of ’42. The Alaska Highway, known as the ALCAN Highway, was constructed during WW2 and completed in 1942, all 2700 kilometres. The official start of construction took place on March 8,1942 and the entire route was completed October 28, 1942. It was opened to the public in 1948 after the war. Interested readers can learn more at

Here’s Bill on the people connection:

“Ironically, when I became the local high-school Principal many years later, that experience growing up gave me a lot of insight into how some of our northern kids viewed school !  I could always assure kids with attendance issues that I empathized — but didn’t sympathize — with them regarding their work vs school situations.  I suppose that gave me a some “street cred” in a way ….”.

When the Tour arrived in Fort St John, Bill brought on board Fort Nelson heavy duty mechanic and lead guitarist Justin Michael Taylor to to perform with the show. “After moving to Fort Nelson as a teenager, Taylor spent a fair amount of time in the office of his high school principal, Bill Dolan.” (Alaska Highway News)

Dolan also invited Taylor to join the Alaska Highway Roadshow when it performed in Fort Nelson, saying he wanted to make sure that show was great, and needed Taylor to make that happen.

The pair play music together as much as possible, as part of the growing music scene in Fort Nelson, which comprises of country, heavy metal, and even hip hop.

Bill continues his bio:

After graduating from U of A with a BEd in 1980, my wife Cathy (a newly minted RN) and I had been backpacking around Europe for half a year when I was contacted by SD 81, Fort Nelson, offering me a job.


No cell phones in those days, so I had to call ‘collect’ from a telephone exchange booth in Spain to accept the job offer: a class of Grade 7s.  I was one of the first local students to get an Education degree and come back to teach in our community.

After teaching at the elementary level for two years, I transferred to Ft Nelson Secondary School where I spent most of my career, except for a couple of three-year stints at the District Office as District VP &  District Principal over the years.  I even had a half year as a fill-in elementary school Principal toward the end, which I enjoyed very much.  Ours is a small district (and getting smaller all the time) with high staff turnover and many other challenges — including recruitment and retention.   Whether I was a classroom teacher, Assistant school Principal /Principal or a District Administrator, I always tried to take the approach that it didn’t really matter who did a job if it had to be done.   I carried out District duties when I was a school administrator and vice versa.

When Leanna asked him about the Tour, Bill had nothing but good memories.

“I learned a lot; the combination of the script and the songs became more polished, more professional as the tour progressed.   Our performance peaked at the right time—we were well received.

Hometown shows were the best.  Fort Nelson hosted two shows. The first show was at the Phoenix Theater which was recorded.  BIll said he made a few mistakes, something to do with being in front of a camera!  The troupe received a standing ovation!

The second show was at a 1970s FNSS school reunion; many in the audience were friends from his teenage years.  Most heartwarming!!!!

Interestingly, one of the best times occurred after the tour was over. Performer Allison Tubman’s part of the presentation  focuses on the impact of the highway on the lives of her mother’s family, a small band of Kaska Dena indigenous people living in the Toad River Valley.

Allison’s parents took the troupe, Bill, his story-teller sister and Producer Kathy Jessup, and Allison on a river boat ride on the Toad River to Moose Lake.

There they met an elder who was a child when the road crews first came through surveying the highway.  It was the first time he and his family had seen white or black men. That little boy, today the last elder of that band, is Walter McDonald.

Bill had the memorable experience of accompanying Allison’s father as he took Walter by riverboat to help him catch his horses. A serendipitousending to a fabulous musical journey!

Bill noted that at every stop when the troupe was finished, people came forward and shared their stories that connected to building of the highway.

The tour ended in Whitehorse— to an overflow crowd with standing room only. Two nights before at Watson Lake our audience was only 20 people.  Such is the nature of the highway. ”

It is always intriguing to listen to a retired principal’s story where passions and interest that were there at the onset of an educational career continue throughout and are still there into retirement. Passion, commitment and lifelong learning are all exemplified in Bill’s story!

What’s next for Bill?

The group has been asked to share their presentation at the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa in November, 2017 pending funding to get there.

Update: Bill did go to Ottawa

by Leanna Garner, Eileen Phillips, Bill Dolan and Graham Mulligan