Recipients honoured with annual Yukon Heritage Awards

Each year, to honour the territory's unique heritage, the Yukon Historical and Museums Association presents the Yukon Heritage Awards.

Each year, to honour the territory’s unique heritage, the Yukon Historical and Museums Association presents the Yukon Heritage Awards. They are given to deserving individuals and organizations for the contributions that they made to preserving and celebrating Yukon’s heritage in the preceding year.

This year, four awards were presented in an awards ceremony at the Yukon Archives last Tuesday evening before an appreciative crowd of 60 people.

Sally Robinson, the president of the YHMA, welcomed guests, and YHMA executive director Nancy Oakley introduced the keynote speaker for the evening, David Neufeld. From the mid-1980s until his recent retirement, Neufeld had been Parks Canada’s Yukon historian. Growing up in a multi-generational Mennonite home, he was inspired by the stories told by his Groszma (grandmother) of her early life in the Ukraine and ultimate expulsion from the home there that she likened to paradise.

Neufeld presented a short talk about three stories, and the view of the world which they present: one American, one Canadian, and one Athabascan. Each frames the land within a different perspective.

Bryan Clayson, the first recipient of the evening, accepted the Helen Couch Volunteer of the Year Award. Janna Powell, director of the Yukon Transportation Museum, and Angela Drainville, executive director of the Miles Canyon Historic Railway Society, both attested to the hours of volunteer work he committed to keep the running stock of the railway society operating smoothly.

According to the citation for his award, “Bryan has been an integral part of the Miles Canyon Historical Railway Society for many years, and his love for streetcars and his mechanical skills have lovingly kept the 90-year-old Whitehorse Waterfront Trolley functioning for over 15 years. … Every summer, he mentors young staff in the mechanics of the diesel generator and general maintenance and operations in the Roundhouse…This attraction continues to bring smiles to everyone who sees it.  And thanks to the tireless work of Mr. Clayson, it is one that we will enjoy for years to come.”

The Innovation, Education and Community Engagement Award is a new honour. The first recipient is “The Hidden Histories Society Yukon.” They earned it for “outstanding or innovative contribution to heritage education or interpretation through social media, publications, displays, exhibits, or other products or activities that promote heritage conservation.”

Through a series of projects that span 15 years, Hidden Histories has brought to light aspects of the Yukon’s rich social cultural communities through exhibits and special events. It has reached out to people in all corners of the territory to engage and involve them in celebrating the Yukon’s rich heritage together.

Their work has included producing and circulating portable display panels and online exhibits on Black and Asian Yukon history. They have offered oral history workshops, coordinated CBC book discussions, and speakers and films for Black and Asian history months. They have also offered school presentations and cemetery visits to respect Yukon Black and Asian pioneers. They have worked with a broad group of community partners to undertake these activities, from the Yukon Human Rights Commission to the National Association of Japanese Canadians.

In expressing her thanks on behalf of the society, Lillian Nakamura Maguire singled out Peggy D’Orsay and other staff at the Yukon Archives for the special support they have given to the society over the years.

The Diocese of Yukon was awarded this year’s Heritage Conservation Project of the Year. Sponsored by the Yukon’s Tourism and Culture Department’s historic sites unit, the award was presented for the continued conservation and restoration of St. Paul’s Anglican Church in Dawson City. Built in 1902, St. Paul’s Anglican Church is a significant example of frontier mission architecture in the Gothic Revival style. It has been in continuous use as a church since its construction and was designated a National Historic Site in 1989.

The diocese showed tremendous commitment to the preservation of this important landmark through 30 years of conservation and maintenance. In the past year they undertook extensive repairs to the roof, eaves troughs and exterior sidings as well as restoration of the historic wood windows according to the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada.

Though not able to attend the awards, Betty Davidson of Dawson City responded to the award on behalf of the congregation in Dawson in a message thanking many groups and individuals for their financial support. Yukon Minister of Tourism and Culture Elaine Taylor, who attended the ceremony Tuesday night, will be taking the award to Dawson City, where she will be presenting it in person next week.

Pat Ellis received the Annual Heritage Award. For 25 years she has been tireless in preserving, documenting, and presenting some of the lesser-known stories of Yukon’s history. Over the past five years Pat has produced a series of informative small books on different aspects of Yukon history and organized events at the MacBride Museum.

Most recently in 2015, Pat published a book titled The Squatters of Downtown Whitehorse. It was the culmination of years of research and hard work. For two years she scoured the Yukon Archives, City of Whitehorse Archives and the Lands Branch Archives. She drew upon her own memories and collected anecdotes and photographs from former squatters and their families.

In November 2015, she self-published her book, which was launched at a special, well-attended event at the MacBride Museum. The 60-page paperback outlines the political and social events leading up to the squatter settlements and it tells of the personal struggles of the people who lived in Whitehorse at the time.

Ellis’s book brought these and other lesser-known stories to the forefront. People who lived in the squatter areas are now able to see their stories in print, and newcomers who did not know about that part of the history have a valuable reference to turn to.

Introducing Ellis, MacBride Museum spokesperson Leighann Chalykoff said that Ellis has given “above and beyond the call of duty.” Chalykoff went on to describe Ellis, with whom she has collaborated on many special events at the museum, as her secret weapon. Chalykoff said that Ellis frequently gives her ideas that make her look like a genius when she presents them to her board of directors.

Congratulations to all of this year’s recipients for their commitment, dedication, and accomplishments.

Michael Gates is a Yukon historian and sometimes adventurer based in Whitehorse. He is currently writing as book on the Yukon in World War I. You can contact him at