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History Hunter: The Yukon/Stikine Heritage Fair returns

Five-year interruption comes to an end

The Yukon/Stikine Regional Heritage Fair made a live comeback last week after a five-year interruption because of Covid-19, during which it was cancelled or held as a virtual event. Dozens of young students from Whitehorse, Haines Junction and Faro took a dive into history at the Yukon Transportation Museum with projects including Canadian, Yukon and family history.

The students arrived and set up their project displays in the main exhibit gallery early in the morning, and the place was a hive of activity as the judges buzzed from one display to another. The organizers divided the exhibits into two groups. While half of the students remained at their displays, the other half went to the nearby Beringea Centre for activities. Then they changed places.

The students chose a diverse selection of topics for their projects, including family genealogy. Among these, I found the project titled “Aishihik” by Neveah Joe-Carlick especially interesting. Other displays included Viola Desmond (who is currently featured on Canada’s ten-dollar bill), Insulin, Julian Byng, the Sixties Scoop, Canada and the World War, and the history of Canadian Candy.

Almost half of the projects focused upon Yukon history, including the Klondike gold rush, the Alaska Highway, communities such as Carcross and Faro, the White Pass, mining in the Yukon, and notable Yukoners like Ann Smith, a master weaver, and Emily Nishikawa, a Yukon cross-country ski champion and Olympian, as well as the Yukon Quest.

While the students were on a lunch break, the public had the chance to explore the projects before the awards were announced early in the afternoon. Behind the scenes, judges were comparing notes and debating. Who was to be the most deserving recipient of an award? The quality of the well-thought-out projects, and the enthusiasm and knowledge of the students who prepared them, made for some tough decisions.

The History Hunter Award was given to non-contemporary Yukon-based projects, which showed extraordinary curiosity about the subject. The student(s) had to go beyond internet sources to derive their information, and show enthusiasm and passion for the topic.

There were too many displays for one person to handle, so a special thank-you goes to Angelique Bernard, who helped me judge the History Hunter Awards. We looked at all the Yukon-based projects and talked to the students who prepared them. After much deliberation (it was difficult deciding who had the best projects), we determined the winners of the History Hunter Award for The grades 4 and 5, to be Charlie Mason and Taryn Frizzell (Jack Hulland Elementary School) for their project on Charlie’s great grandmother, Irene Crayford.

The winner of the History Hunter Award for Grades 6, 7 and 8 was Benjamin McFadyen (Del Van Gorder School), for his project, “Highway of Revolution.” Living four hours away from Whitehorse means a lot of travel back and forth from Faro. Benjamin wanted to learn more about the road he travels so often. Congratulations to the three deserving winners! Each received a copy of Angelique’s new book, “From Forty Cudahy to Taylor House.”

The overall first place winners for the Heritage Fair were: in the Grade 4/5 category, Azaria Smith from Elijah Smith Elementary School for: “Ann Smith, Master Weaver.” For the Grades 6, 7 and 8, the winner was Samantha Larocque (Del Van Gorder School), for her project on the “Sixties Scoop.”

Second place winner in the grade 4 and 5 category was Ben Warshawski for his project, “Insulin. The grades 6, 7 and 8 winner was Margaret Kinna (St. Elias Community school), for her project, “Yukon Quest – “The Race That Was a Little Bit Longer.”

Third place in the grades 4 and 5 category went to Bradley Burton (Elijah Smith Elementary School) for “My Great Grandpa’s Great Escape.” The award for grades 6, 7 and 8 went to Lilou Lefebvre and Olive Passmore (Del Van Gorder School) for “The Faro Mining Disaster.”

The award committee handed out many other awards. The Best Graphic Design Award (sponsored by Patricia Halliday Graphic Design) went to Ewen Wheeler of St Elias Community School for “The Great Discovery.”

The Best Research and Writing Award (Sponsored by Helene Dobrowolsky and Rob Ingram) went to Margaret Kinna from St Elias Community School.

The Canadian Heritage Award, sponsored by the Yukon Historical and Museums Association (YHMA), went to Dawson Drummond (St. Elias Community School) for “National Park Wardens–Then and Now.”

The Genealogy Award, sponsored by Maggie Leary, went to Charlie Mason and Taryn Fraser, in the grades 4 and 5 category, for “Irene Crayford,” while the recipient for grades 6, 7 and 8 was Meghan Allaway (St. Elias Community School) for “Grandma and Grandpa.”

The Indigenous History, Heritage and Culture Award, sponsored by Linda Johnson and Lori Eastmure, went to Azaria Smith (Elijah Smith Elementary School) for “Ann Smith–Master Weaver.” The Oral History Award, also sponsored by Johnson and Eastmure, went to Abby Johnson (St. Elias Community School) for “Yáwatá–Snow Daddy.”

Finally, Azaria Smith (grades 4 and 5) won the People’s Choice Award, sponsored by Parks Canada, for “Ann Smith – Master Weaver.” The award in the grades 6, 7 and 8 category was shared by Ewen Wheeler (St. Elias Community School) for “The Great Discovery,” and Samantha Larocque (Del Van Gorder School), for “The Sixties Scoop.”

Because of the five-year interruption, a lot of extra effort was required to get the event up and running this year. Maggie Leary served as both Fair Coordinator, and photographer for the event.

Cathy Hines was the Head Judge, overseeing the 24 willing volunteer judges. Many times, I heard the judges comment on how much this event meant to them. Kate Alexander, from Parks Canada, served as the Master of Ceremonies.

And don’t forget the effort of the teachers/chaperones (it wouldn’t have been possible without them), and the 41 students and their 38 projects. Five Schools took part this year, three from Whitehorse, as well as Faro and Haines Junction.

Special note should be made of the dignitaries who attended. Ruth Massie, Grand Chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations, gave the opening prayer, and both Mayor Laura Cabott and Minister of Education Jeanie McLean, offered opening remarks. Commissioner of the Yukon, and patron of the YHMA, Adeline Webber, gave the closing address.

The Yukon Transportation Museum and the Beringia Centre both made their facilities available, and special thanks to YHMA and Lianne Maitland (executive director), whose involvement was crucial to organizing the event. The support of Parks Canada and Yukon Heritage Resources Board was also instrumental to the success of the day.

It took many volunteer hours, and the involvement of over 100 participants, to make it work. Congratulations to one and all. As has always been the case, the Heritage Fair is one of the highlights of my year.

Michael Gates was the Yukon’s first Story Laureate from 2020 to 2023. His latest book, “Hollywood in the Klondike,” is now available in Whitehorse stores. You can contact him at