Ready to bust out: Let’s put more statues of women on Main Street

Existing figures are worthy but so are some conspicuously absent women

Shaunagh Stikeman| Common Ground

Whitehorse’s Main Street is rife with beautiful statues, showcasing some of the brightest lights to have called the Yukon home: Robert Service, Skookum Jim, Pierre Berton. Giants all.

Let’s not forget Jack London, whose bust has even been listed as one of the top five things to see in the Yukon, according to the centre of the universe’s very own Toronto Star.

Much of this is thanks to the generosity of the Hougen family, who commissioned many of these statues. The Hougens deserve our thanks for their wonderful contribution to Main Street.

But looking towards what’s next, I do worry that a visitor from the Outside might mistakenly wonder: are there so few women here? Mothers? Sisters? Daughters?

The Hougens have gotten the ball rolling by moving the statue of Angela Sidney from Rotary Park to Main Street. Sidney was a Tagish elder and the first Indigenous woman from the Yukon to receive the Order of Canada. She dedicated her life to preserving and sharing her Tagish language and traditions through storytelling.

Without the addition of the statue of Angela Sidney, you’d think Yukon women were rarer than the woolly mammoth.

To put it bluntly, I think our Main Street busts can stand to be, frankly, a little bit bustier.

It’s not like we’re lacking for inspiration. Our history is rife with stories of women stampeders, explorers, entrepreneurs, writers and Indigenous leaders.

Here are three who I think would be no-brainers.

Martha Black was a stampeder, businesswoman, author and the second woman to ever be elected to the House of Commons. Tough as nails, she came to the Yukon by hiking the Chilkoot Pass while pregnant.

She ran a sawmill. She campaigned across the Yukon, often on foot, at the ripe young age of 70. She wrote a biography called My Seventy Years and then lived so long she had to republish it as My Ninety Years. She has her face on a stamp and her name on a Coast Guard ship. A statue of her likeness would look wonderful at the head of Main Street, overlooking the river that flows towards her Dawson home.

Edith Josie was the Gwich’in writer of the well-known Whitehorse Star column “Here Are the News.” Her syndicated column on everyday life in Old Crow was translated into several languages and appeared in newspapers around the world, making her one of the Yukon’s most-read voices.

Miss Josie, as she was known, was fiercely protective against “cleaning up” her English, and so her reports were written in the way people spoke. Winner of the Order of Canada and an Aboriginal Lifetime Achievement Award, it seems to me Josie would be very happy on the south side of Main Street, so she could look towards Old Crow to the north.

Another worthy candidate is Laura Beatrice Berton. Yes, Yukon gave us not one, but two best-selling authors named Berton. Driven to the Yukon by a sense of adventure, Berton married and raised a family in Dawson, an experience she documented in her popular autobiography I Married the Yukon. There exists perhaps no better history of everyday life in post-gold boom Dawson than Berton’s. I imagine she would feel most at home at the corner of Main and Second, close to her beloved son Pierre.

If you want to know more about any of these amazing ladies, I’d start at the Hougen Group website, where I found much of this information. Again, their commitment to showcasing the history of the Yukon is second to none.

There’s no shortage of inspiring stories — no surprise, considering women make up half the population. In many ways, Yukon women have been leading the charge. We’re home to some of Canada’s first businesswomen. The first woman premier to win a general election did so in the Yukon. The first woman to lead a major federal political party also hailed from this territory.

There have been many notable First Nation chiefs who were women, many musicians and artists, not to mention the countless women through the ages who have given everything to this land and their community. These stories are worthy of being told, and are worthy of celebration in our common spaces.

So what would it take to get a little bit of balance on this one strip of road? Securing a sculptor, some money and approval of Whitehorse city council should do the trick. I know many of us would like to kick in and do our part.

It sounds like a project for a few spirited, entrepreneurially-minded Yukon women with a knowledge of kickstarter and a drive to succeed.

Knowing the Yukon like I do, I can’t imagine ladies like that are hard to find.

Shaunagh Stikeman is a lawyer, facilitator and community advocate who lives in Whitehorse.

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