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Management plan will preserve Lansing heritage site

I attended a meeting on Tuesday this week at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre where the First Nation of the Nacho Nyak Dun and the Government of Yukon hosted a public meeting.

I attended a meeting on Tuesday this week at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre where the First Nation of the Nacho Nyak Dun and the Government of Yukon hosted a public meeting. At it, they reported on the progress of the management plan for the Lansing Heritage Site.

The management plan process began in August of last year when public consultation took place in both Mayo and Whitehorse, however its roots are firmly planted in the Umbrella Final Agreement that was signed back in 1993. In chapter 13 of this agreement, provisions were made for the management of the Lansing heritage site, which is on settlement land in the traditional territory of the Nacho Nyak Dun. The site will eventually be designated as a territorial historic site under the Yukon Historic Resources Act.

Together the First Nation and the Yukon government have undertaken an assessment of the historic resources at the site. Now they are jointly preparing a management plan for the site that will be reviewed by the Yukon Heritage Resources Board. The plan will address the protection, conservation and interpretation of the heritage resources at Lansing, which will be managed by the Nacho Nyak Dun.

Where is Lansing, and why is it significant? Lansing Post is located on the north side of the confluence of the Stewart and Lansing Rivers, about 120 kilometres by air from the village of Mayo. The Stewart River is generally speaking navigable between Mayo and Lansing post, with the exception of Fraser Falls, which is located some 40 kilometres above Mayo.

The Lansing River was named after Samuel Lansing, a prospector who explored the area in the 1880s, but it had long before that been on a route regularly travelled for gathering and trade by the First Nation people of the Stewart River and those of the Mackenzie basin.

Some prospectors passed this way in 1898 during the Klondike gold rush, when they travelled from the Mackenzie River to the Stewart River, via which they travelled to Dawson City. Then, in 1902, Percival Nash and Frank Braine established a trading post at the mouth of the Lansing River. Trapping was good in the early years of the 20th century and the traders conducted business with the First Nation people travelling through this country.

Some white men were trapping in the area during these early years, most notably Jim Christie, who served as a guide for geological expeditions through this region around 1905. In the fall of 1909, Christie and his partner, George Crisfield, were in the region when Christie was mauled terribly in a grizzly attack. Crisfield took Christie to Lansing Post, where a new trader, J.E. Ferrell, and his wife Helen, tended to his injuries and Christie survived.

The Ferrells sold the trading post to Jim Mervyn, a trader from Ontario, in 1911. Mervyn and his wife, a native of the Mackenzie region, operated the post for the next 25 years. Though trading was favourable in the early years, the local population of 100 began to dwindle due to disease and out-migration.

By 1929, the local population was one third its former size, and by 1941, only eight people were listed in the census taken that year. A big game hunter who visited the site in 1947 described a place overgrown by tall grass and mostly fallen and rotting cabins. Only Lonny and Norman Johnny maintained cabins at the site.

Trapping was poor during the intervening years, but Bruce Mitford purchased the trapline in 1979, and he and his wife and family have lived at Lansing for the past four decades.

Discussion at the meeting was led by Wendy Shearer and Chris Grossett, from NVision Insight Group, a consulting firm based out of Iqaluit, Nunavut. Shearer started off by stating that the site would be managed as an evolved landscape, that reflects the many events and changes over time, rather than pinning it to a specific event.

She reviewed the condition of the surviving cabins at Lansing, and described the site as a cluster of features connected by an informal network of paths, surrounded by a wall of forest. From the site, there is an engaging vista looking down the Stewart River with mountains in the distance. This is one feature of the site that the plan intends to preserve.

Grosset said that the plan called for development that complemented the historic character of the site. Ways to make the history of the site accessible to the community and keep its memory alive, would include site visits, and bringing the stories of the site to the community in Mayo.

A variety of community cultural programs are considered, and while the site is not easy to get to, construction of tent platforms and installation of interpretive signage for site visitors are identified in the draft management plan.

The draft management plan was not available at the presentation, but a summary of the key actions was provided. They include employing a seasonal caretaker at the site, inventory and condition assessment of all the features at the site to establish priorities for maintenance, preservation work, and accommodating new uses at the site.

Vegetation will be removed from the site to prevent encroachment, preserve sight lines and reduce wildfire risk. Any features to accommodate visitor use will be installed away from existing resources, and built so that they are distinguishable from historical site elements.

Any intervention to the historic resources will “follow best practices for all building conservation work by people trained in appropriate construction and maintenance techniques.” A buffer zone would be established around the site.

Challenges to managing the site include the remote location, shoreline erosion, flooding, forest fires and vandalism.

Questions from those attending the presentation related to assurance that First Nation history will not be overlooked (it won’t be). Members of the community with personal knowledge of Lansing have been interviewed. Trails surrounding the site have been documented and a timeline of occupation has been prepared.

The graveyards are identified as a culturally sensitive feature of the site, and were not included as part of the plan. Assurance was also given that the First Nation does not currently support hydro development at Fraser Falls, which would pose a threat to the historic site.

The steering committee will return to Whitehorse on August 24, to present the final draft of the management plan, following a similar meeting at Mayo the day before.

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.