History is on the move this summer

It has been a busy week. In fact, I have been practically run off my feet and still can’t keep up with every historical event that is being offered in Whitehorse.

It has been a busy week. In fact, I have been practically run off my feet and still can’t keep up with every historical event that is being offered in Whitehorse. One expects the occasional speaker, or special event, but through most of the month of June, in fact, for much of the summer, there will be historical events, talks and demonstrations taking place.

First of all, there is Dań Kwanje ʼÁ-Nààn festival (Voices across the water) at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre, which is taking place throughout the month of June. A Canada 150 event, it is filled with talks, demonstrations and workshops.

I dropped in one morning last week to see what was happening under the large tent at the south end of the Cultural Centre, adjacent the Whitehorse Public Library. A crew was preparing to spend the day chopping a dugout canoe out of a large cedar log with traditional-style hand tools. Led by Wayne Price from Klukwan, Alaska, they plan to complete the task of shaping the boat by the end of the month.

Steaming of the canoe will be demonstrated on June 21, after which there will be boat adornment, a ceremonial launch and feast as part of the Adäka Festival June 30-July 6. The following week, it, and several other boats crafted during the month of June will be placed on display at the Yukon Transportation Museum from July 8-20.

Yes, there are other craft being constructed at the Cultural Centre; a traditional lake raft was assembled on June 9. Several other craft, including a copper canoe, Inuit qayaq, moose skin boat and birch bark canoe were started on Monday, and are due to be completed by June 30. Right now would be a good time to visit the site and witness the progress on these traditional watercraft.

Thursday evenings at 5:30 till 7, there will family storytime with stew and bannock in the tents beside the cultural centre. I attended Chris Bartch’s talk about his grandparents, who brought a herd of cows and 500 sheep to the Klondike during the gold rush. What a way to celebrate a honeymoon. Talks about Chief Isaac and Frank Slim will follow on Thursdays until the end of the month.

Lunchtime talks are being given in the cultural centre throughout the month. I attended a talk last Sunday about the Kohklux Map, which was created in 1869. Linda Johnson, accompanied by Frances Woolsey and Bessie Cooley, talked about the history of this famous map, produced by the famous Chilkat Chief from Klukwan.

Bessie Cooley demonstrated some traditional word usages from the Tlingit language, and linguist Doug Hitch connected place names, written onto the famous map by American geographer George Davidson, with known words from the Tlingit language. Talks, films, demonstrations and hands-on workshops will continue until the end of the month.

A program of events can be picked up at the cultural centre, and advertisements describing scheduled events can be found in local newspapers. All of this is worth taking in.

Tied into this, Parks Canada will be telling the story of Frank Slim, famed Yukon River pilot, followed by a tour of the SS Klondike. Talk and tours will take place Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 2:30 in the afternoon.

In addition to the display of the boats currently being constructed, the Yukon Transportation Museum has launched an ongoing storytelling and songwriting series .

Coordinated by Arlin McFarlane with funding from the New Horizons for Seniors fund, the program will take place on Tuesdays from 2-4 p.m. all summer long. Called “Packing Our Stories Over New Trails,” the program includes presentations on dogs, boats, heavy transport, motorcycles, automobiles, aviation horses, and more. A small admission will be charged, but seniors will be admitted free.

The topic of Tuesday’s event was “Bikes,” presented by Peter Hebink, and a large number of people turned out for the presentation. As soon as the crowd cleared out from that event, the Transportation Museum started setting up for the annual Transportation Hall of Fame awards, which began at 7:00 in the evening.

Three individuals were inducted into the Transportation Hall of Fame this year. Garry Doering was the recipient of the Order of Polaris, which is presented to “individuals, groups, or associations who have made a memorable contribution or advancement to the aviation industry.”

According to the citation for his award, Doering was credited with building up an extraordinary knowledge of aviation, Yukon weather and geography, Transport Canada protocols, and individual aircraft performance. This, the citation continues, “has contributed greatly to the safe record of aviation around Whitehorse.”

Gordon “Gordie” Gee was honoured as Transportation Pioneer of the year for establishing an independent trucking operation in the Yukon, and “attending hearings in Alberta and British Columbia to establish the right to haul general freight into Yukon.” The result was that businessmen could truck in goods in two days from Edmonton and Vancouver,’ instead of having to wait three weeks for shipments by boat.

Keith Byram was this year’s recipient of the Transportation Person of the Year Award. Trained as an engineer, Byram was recognized for his long career of road construction in the north.

According to the citation, he established his own company, Pelly Construction Ltd. and other offshoot companies. He was involved in over 200 civil construction projects, most notably, exporting his expertise to Antarctica, where Pelly Construction built a 1,000 metre landing strip on Adelaide Island.

The awards ceremony was well attended this year with 130 present to celebrate the induction of the three new members of the Hall of Fame.

Finally, on Monday night, the new book, “Sharing Our Stories: Oral History Guidelines,” written by historian Helene Dobrowolsky and audio wizard Tim Kinvig, was launched at the annual general meeting of the Hidden Histories Society. After hosting an oral history workshop in 2015, the society commissioned the writing of this volume, which addresses the changing technologies of the digital age. The book is available to anybody interested in conducting oral history for $15 ($10 for members) by contacting the society.

I wasn’t able to attend every event that I would have liked during the last week, but that is because there were too many choices. You too can pick and choose from the tasty selection now available in this summer’s historical smorgasbord.

Michael Gates is a Yukon historian and sometimes adventurer based in Whitehorse. His new book, From the Klondike to Berlin, is now available in stores everywhere

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