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Champions of history remembered

The Yukon Historical and Museums Association celebrated Heritage Day by handing out its annual heritage awards on Monday night at the Yukon Archives.

The Yukon Historical and Museums Association celebrated Heritage Day by handing out its annual heritage awards on Monday night at the Yukon Archives.

The first award was presented by YHMA president, Brent Slobodin, to the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation Heritage Committee for the excellent work that it has undertaken since 1999.

The award was received by MLA Darius Elias on the committee’s behalf for the work it has done to “preserve the heritage, language, customs, values, practices and traditions…” of the Gwitchin people.

I’ve seen some of the products of their efforts and they are remarkable.

The second award was presented by MLA Ted Staffen to Tip Evans, representing the Teslin Historical and Museum Society for its conservation work on the Teslin radio repeater station.

This small log building represents the early transportation network in the Yukon, particularly of air transportation related to the ferrying of aircraft to the Russians via Alaska during the Second World War.

Excellent work was done on this project, and you may hear more about this in a future column of History Hunter.

The third award was given to me.

It was a lifetime achievement award for ongoing involvement in heritage in the Yukon.

It’s an honour to be recognized by your peers. It’s not as though my career was hard work for me; on the contrary, it was fun.

The history of the Yukon is diverse and fascinating.

It consists of many experiences and many people.

Who wouldn’t want to learn more about them, given the chance, right?

But when I was asked to speak about my career in heritage, there were two people I singled out for special recognition because of the influence they had on me.

They are Alan Innes-Taylor and John Gould, and I’d like to bestow upon them the honorary title of History Hunter.

When I first came to the Yukon in the early 1970s, there was no government department dedicated to the protection of heritage.

There was no territorial archeologist or historic sites co-ordinator, nor were there curators, conservators or collections managers.

The archives was opened for business the second year that I came north.

The history of the Yukon was entrusted to the memory of those who had experienced it, and a small crowd of dedicated volunteers who devoted themselves to running the community museums.

I first met Alan Innes-Taylor in 1972.

He was a field representative for the Arctic Institute of North America, and his office, located in the old federal building, where the Elijah Smith Building now stands, was filled with banks of file cabinets full of notes and memories.

Alan was a tall, proud man; he didn’t wear a suit, but rather the garb of someone who was more comfortable out of doors.

He was intense and quiet, but when he spoke, I recall, it was with conviction.

Although he championed the history, he embodied it as well.

Innes-Taylor was born in 1900 and by age 17, he was trained as a pilot in the Royal Canadian Flying Corps.

In 1921, he enlisted in the Royal Northwest Mounted Police, which eventually saw him posted to Whitehorse, where he learned to handle sled dogs, and ran patrols into the Chisana district, northwest of Whitehorse.

His experience with sled dogs landed him a spot on two Byrd expeditions to Antarctica.

Throughout his career, his experiences brought him in contact with the superstars of polar exploration.

He was a miner at Keno Hill and purser on the Steamer Whitehorse. He established an international reputation as a northern survival expert.

In 1962, he was involved in the Festival in Dawson City.

He is credited with saving the Dawson archives from the 1966 flood, and later with the establishment of the Yukon archives.

In later years, he travelled throughout the Yukon, visiting and marking historic sites all over the territory.

I sought help from him on a number of occasions, and when I described the damage to the old settlements of Dalton Post and Neskatahéen, it was Innes-Taylor who told me how he nearly came to blows with the miner who was responsible for the desecration.

He had a profound affect on me, though it is only in retrospect that I realize this.

He converted me from a wannabe archeologist, into a champion for preservation.

The entire course of my life changed because I decided that, rather becoming a scholarly researcher, I wanted to be involved in the management of cultural resources.

As a student, I became involved in nominating the two southwest Yukon sites mentioned above for national recognition.

The nomination was turned down, but the die was cast; I had become a history hunter and, eventually, a Yukoner.

It was Alan Innes-Taylor who opened my eyes to the opportunity.

John Gould is a lifelong Yukoner.

A schoolmate and friend of Pierre Berton, he grew up in a mining family that worked claims on Nugget Hill above Hunker Creek.

He became steeped in traditional mining techniques from an early age, and left the Yukon only to attend school in British Columbia, and to serve in the Royal Canadian Air Force during the Second World War.

After the war, he took up the family tradition of mining on Nugget Hill, but set himself to other tasks.

He delivered mail on the Granville Loop out in the goldfields, and worked on the Cat trains that took supplies to the drilling camps on the Eagle Plains.

After the Palace Grand Theatre was restored, he worked for Parks Canada, and continued to do so until his retirement, at which time, he was the curator of mining technology for Klondike National Historic Sites.

John Gould has remained active in the heritage field ever since.

He has served in so many different capacities that it is hard to list them all, but notably, he published a treatise on mining technology titled Frozen Gold, and has been engaged in a number of historical research projects, including the history of the Yukon Order of Pioneers, and  of Dawson City.

John has also been an active member of the Dawson City Museum Society, where he has been, for years, a resource person and historical consultant.

He was involved in the development of a major gold rush travelling exhibit that was sent on the road during the gold rush centennial.

In addition to all of that, he was an active trustee in the Klondyke Centennial Society, which has been behind a number of major historical projects in Dawson City.

In fact, John is Dawson City’s historical persona.

When I first arrived in Dawson City, I knew nothing about the history of the gold rush and had little understanding of the technology surrounding gold mining.

It was a mystery to me.

John changed all of that.

He did it with patience, and heaven knows, he needed a lot of that to deal with a cocky newcomer such as I was when I arrived in the Klondike.

Eventually, though, he imparted both a love and an understanding of the unique character of the history of the mining.

It fed my curiosity and eventually enabled me to write the book, Gold at Fortymile Creek.

I am a better person for having had the pleasure to know and be inspired by both of these Yukon men of history.

Michael Gates is a local historian and sometimes adventurer based in Whitehorse. Stay tuned for more stories about the Dalton Trail in History Hunter.