• Johnny Canuck illustration by Ray Fawkes

    (Illustration: Ray Fawkes/Canadian Geographic)

I’ve seen a lot of sights in my time. My adventures have taken me across Canada and all around the world. I don’t think there’s a country on the map that I haven’t stuck a “visited” pin in. But when I have a scant moment of peace and think of what home really is, what I see are the northern lights over Eagle Plains in the Yukon.

The first time I saw them there was during a reconnaissance flight with my old pal Leo Bachle, late in the summer of ’43. I was on leave from battling those nefarious Nazis over in Europe and Leo and I had decided to fly up to the Yukon for some peace and quiet and to do a bit of fishing. Well, when I saw those lights roll out over the crimson forest and dance across that wide sky, I was filled with awe and a calm pride. I’d never really believed the lights actually existed when I was a kid; I thought they were just something you’d read about in storybooks. But once I saw them, I knew I’d never forget it because there was nothing that could ever match that sight.

I don’t fly as much nowadays, so when autumn is on its way around, I’ll drive halfway up the Dempster Highway and find a place to hike out, breathing in the cool, clean air and waiting for the sky to darken and unfold. I’ve never seen the lights the same way twice — they change from moment to moment and from night to night. Maybe that’s what keeps me coming back.

— As told to Ray Fawkes