Students reveal history at heritage fair

Did you ever wonder what games the Vuntut Gwich'in played before there was hockey? Did you want to learn who Martha Black was and why she is famous? How about the history of an ancestor, or routes to the Klondike? 

Did you ever wonder what games the Vuntut Gwich’in played before there was hockey? Did you want to learn who Martha Black was and why she is famous? How about the history of an ancestor, or routes to the Klondike?

The answers to all of these questions were revealed at the Yukon/Stikine Heritage Fair, held last week at the Yukon Transportation Museum.

This is one event each year that is guaranteed to bring out the smiles in every participant. Adults from the community gladly give up their free time to volunteer as judges. Many of them have told me that it is one of their favourite events. I would agree.

The heritage fair is open to school children in Grade 4 through 9 and the topic has to relate to history, or, more broadly, heritage. The participants are challenged to delve into people, places and events from the past. Using books, articles, photographs and personal interviews, they prepare a panel display based upon their chosen subject.

And what a variety of topics there were this year. Teryn Kassi, a Grade 8 student from the Chief Zzeh Gittlit School in Old Crow, caught my attention while demonstrating a traditional Gwich’in game, the stick pull. Two contestants grip opposite ends of a stick that tapers to a point at each end. The combatants pull on the stick until one loses their grip.

But Teryn’s personal favourite game is a traditional variant on the stick and ring, where the player attempts to swing the ring (in the case of this demonstration, Teryn used a small animal skull) onto the end of the stick.

Rachel Walker, a Grade 7 students from Golden Horn School, chose as the subject of her display, “Growing Up In Fort Selkirk” after a visit to her class by lifelong Yukoner Ione Christensen. Rachel interviewed Ione on more than one occasion and learned about growing up in an isolated community as the daughter of the resident Mountie.

Numerous exhibitors chose family members for their presentations. Take Nigel Charlie for example, a Grade 4 student from Elijah Smith School, who chose to talk about his grandfather, Sam Johnston. Johnston served as Speaker of the territorial legislature from 1985 to 1992.

Jenna Fahr, a Grade 5 student from Christ the King Elementary School, shared what she had learned about Martha Black, one of the Yukon’s most prominent historical characters. Martha, she told me, liked to collect flowers and came to the Yukon in 1898. Nearby was fellow Grade 5 student Wyatt Kapaniuk, who described the various routes that were used to get to the Klondike during the gold rush.

My task at the heritage fair was to act as a judge to award the “History Hunter” award in two categories: grades 4 and 5, and grades 6 to 9. It was not an easy task this year because all of the exhibits were well researched and presented.

One winner of this year’s awards was Aliyah Sprokkrreeff of J.V. Clark School in Mayo, whose presentation on her great grandmother, Mayo elder Alice Buyck, was interesting and informative. Her costume and exhibit were also eye-catching.

Another winner was Jason Symanski, a Grade 6 student from St. Elias School in Haines Junction. His topic, “On the Road Again,” was chosen because of his grandfather, who was a truck driver in the Yukon for more than 40 years. His display was creative and inspired by the truck driving theme. The presentation was enhanced because his grandfather was also there to answer questions.

But they weren’t the only winners at this year’s heritage fair. The other awards recognize many excellent projects. Congratulations to you one and all.

Grade 4

First: “I am Wolf” by Jason McKay of Golden Horn Elementary School (Whitehorse)

Second: “How my Dad got a plant named after him.” By Kalie Bennett of Golden Horn Elementary School (Whitehorse)

Third: “The Haida” by Macy Dewald-Rose of Robert Service Community School (Dawson City)

Grade 5/6

First: “Alice Buyck” by Aliyah Sprokkreeff of J.V. Clark (Mayo)

Second: “Who was E.A. HEGG” by Berkley Malchow of Christ the King Elementary (Whitehorse)

Third: “The Nancy” by Liam Balmer of Golden Horn Elementary School (Whitehorse)

Grade 7/8/9

First: “What did Vuntut Gwich’in play before Hockey?” by Teryn Kassi of Chief Zzeh Gittlit School (Old Crow)

Second: “Growing up in Fort Selkirk” by Rachel Walker of Golden Horn Elementary School (Whitehorse)

Third: “Traditional Tlingit Food” by Donna Jim of Atlin Community School (Atlin B.C)

In addition, the fair offers special prizes and recognition for projects in the following categories:

Genealogy

“On the Road Again” by Jason Symanski of St. Elias Community School (Haines Junction)

Midnight Arts Award

“A Granddad who took Education Seriously” by Callum Weir of St. Elias Community School (Haines Junction)

Graphic design

“The Haida” by Macy Dewald-Rose of Robert Service Community School (Dawson City)

Sports and Recreation: projects related to history and heritage of sports or recreation

“What did Vuntut Gwich’in Play Before Hockey” by Teryn Kassi of Chief Zzeh Gittlit School (Old Crow)

First Nations History and Culture: projects related to First Nations history, heritage, and culture

“Traditional Tlingit Food” by Donna Jim of Atlin Community School (Atlin, B.C)

Explore, create, discover

“Greg Fisher” by Nathan Boulanger of Jack Hulland Elementary School (Whitehorse)

Arts and culture

“Yousuf Karsh Biography” by Olivia Simms of Ecole Whitehorse Elementary School (Whitehorse)

Palaeontology or Archaeology: projects related to palaeontology or archaeology topics

“Fishing Branch Territorial Park” by Jocelyn Benjamin of Chief Zzeh Gittlit School (Old Crow)

People’s choice

Grade Level: 4 -“The Haida” by Macy DeWald-Rose of Robert Service Community School (Dawson City)

Grade Level: 5/6 -“On the Road Again” by Jason Symanski of St. Elias Community School (Haines Junction)

Grade Level: 7/8/9 -“Traditional Tlingit Food” by Donna Jim of Atlin Community School (Atlin, B.C)

Heritage events and figures

“Martha Louise Black” by Jenna Fahr of Christ the King Elementary (Whitehorse)

Yukon Heritage Award

“George Washington” by Mya D. Kinney of St. Elias Community School (Haines Junction)

Michael Gates is a Yukon historian and sometimes adventurer based in Whitehorse. His three books on Yukon history are available in Yukon stores. You can contact him at msgates@northwestel.net