Circus on wheels may soon roll into a town near you

Yukon clown Claire Ness’s travelling circus dreams are being built one bolt at a time.

Professional clown Claire Ness's goal is to bring a travelling circus to all Yukon communities

Pascale Dugas and Claire Ness are re-building a 1957 school bus in hopes of bringing a circus to Yukon communities. (George Maratos/CBC)

Twenty minutes south of Whitehorse, a Yukon clown's circus dreams are being built one bolt at a time.

Claire Ness, a Yukon-born, professionally trained clown, and her husband Pascale Dugas are the couple behind the bold endeavour being carried out in a garage in the McCrae subdivision.

Ness can barely contain her excitement when describing the project that is now in its fourth year.

"It's a circus bus, it's a clown bus and the bus is the main clown in the show," said Ness, who studied circus in Toronto and is the founder of The Yukon Circus Society.

"It's being built to bring joy to the communities in the form of circus touring, circus workshops and circus education."

This bus is being rebuilt from the bottom up and once complete, will bring the circus to communities across Yukon. (George Maratos/CBC)

Just trying to build the bus has been a circus itself for the couple.

For one thing, the vehicle is over 50 years old and finding parts for a 1957 GMC classic school bus are hard to find in most places, let alone Yukon, especially since the shop that built those school buses burned down.

It's the clown-iest bus they'll ever see.- Claire Ness, Yukon Circus Society, bus builder

The bus was also completely stripped when Ness and Dugas started the project.

"We've met hundreds of Yukoners from all over the place while we looked for parts — great people, such characters," said Dugas, as he takes a break from welding the left rear side of the bus.

"It's simple stuff, you would think, but not so simple when it's parts for a bus built in 1957 ... It's been a process, the whole thing, but it's been great," he said.

"It's been an amazing thing."

Ness and Dugas married 2 years ago, and they admit the bus project has tested their relationship at times. (Claire Ness)

Both Ness and Dugas admit the project has been a test on their marriage.

"Maybe a little too many hours and not enough patience and not enough money," said Dugas. "Your wife can get stressed out when you are out of money and still working on the bus."

All the stresses of such a bold project are further complicated by the fact they are also raising a toddler — three-year-old August. In fact, Ness was nine months pregnant with August when the bus's interior was first gutted.

"We got married two years ago in the middle of building the bus, and we still got married — so that's a testament to the fact that it's fine ... but it is a test," said Ness.

Pascale Dugas welds part of 'Stove Bolt Jimmy,' the circus on wheels. (George Maratos/CBC)

Still, their immense desire to bring the circus to Yukon communities has quelled any thoughts of giving up on their mobile circus dream.

"Circus is such a great and fun way for people, especially kids, to develop their creativity, their teamwork and their community skills," said Ness. "It's really a way to build skills that you can use later on in life."

There is no timeline for "Stove Bolt Jimmy" the bus to be complete, but Ness says you can bet that when it's ready, the circus will soon roll into a Yukon community near you.

"I want to get the old people excited and the young people excited because it's the clown-iest bus they'll ever see."

'It's being built to bring joy to the communities,' said Ness. (George Maratos/CBC)

About the Author

George Maratos

Associate Producer

George Maratos is a reporter and associate producer at CBC Yukon, with more than a decade of experience covering the north.

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