Summer brings a bumper crop of history books

This summer there are plenty of new Yukon history books to enjoy. Here are some of them that I think will interest you. Herschel Island Qikiqtaryuk: A natural and cultural history of Yukon's Arctic Island Edited by Christopher Burn.

This summer there are plenty of new Yukon history books to enjoy. Here are some of them that I think will interest you.

Herschel Island Qikiqtaryuk: A natural and cultural history of Yukon’s Arctic Island

Edited by Christopher Burn. $34.95 softcover, University of Calgary Press.

This new book, which came out in both hardcover and softcover, was launched on May 9 and is the most ambitious of the new releases. Included within its 242 glossy pages is an assemblage of 30 articles by numerous authorities on natural and human history on the Yukon’s largest and most notable Arctic Island. Look for local contributions by Yukon historians David Neufeld and Glen Iceton, paleontologist Grant Zazula, and biologist Dave Mossop, among others.

Geology, climate, permafrost, and summaries of the various flora and fauna are described in two neatly organized sections on natural history. The human history is captured under two headings, one covering the archaeology, the Innuvialuit occupation, whaling, missionaries, fur traders, police and finally scientists and explorers. The other, smaller section covers modern day conservation and governance.

The book is well designed with numerous sharp colour and black and white photographs, maps and various graphic illustrations. Anybody who wants to learn more about the history of the place will find this eye-pleasing compendium to be a good place to start reading.

At the Heart of Gold: The Yukon Commissioner’s Office 1898-2010

Written by former territorial archivist Linda Johnson, this book was launched in June at the Commissioner’s Tea in Dawson City. On the cover is a colour photograph of several former commissioners assembled to celebrate the official opening of the restored Commissioner’s Residence in Dawson in August of 1996.

The book focuses on the role of the commissioner from the creation of the position in 1898, when it was the most influential post in the administration of the territory, to the present day, and the evolution of the role to one of a figurehead, more like a provincial lieutenant governor.

Johnson conducted lengthy interviews with the 10 most recent commissioners and their families, and combined this with research of records of their terms of office to create fascinating first-person narratives of their lives and careers. The 333 pages are illustrated with 126 well chosen photographs, although the size of some of them and the quality of the reproduction of others take away some of the impact the images convey. At the back are two appendices: one is a list of the senior officials of the territory from 1894 to the present, the other is a map of the territory. There is a selected bibliography as well as an index to make searching the subject matter much simpler for the reader.

The book will soon be available at the Yukon College bookstore for $25.

For the Record: Yukon Archives 1972-2012

The Yukon Archives, which is the primary keeper of historical records for the territory, celebrates its 40th anniversary with this lovely publication produced by archivists Jennifer Roberts, Wendy Sokolon and many of the Yukon Archives staff.

For the Record documents the birth and growth of the Yukon Archives from 1972 to the present day. Within its 74 pages are brief accounts by each of the territorial archivists who helped guide the development of the facility and its remarkable collections in its original and current locations. I was particularly tickled by this book because I have used the archives every year since it opened in 1972, and knew all of the archivists personally.

You will find profiles of some of the more significant events in the life of the archives – the official opening, return of records from Ottawa, acquisition of significant collections and the building of the new archives at Yukon College. Significant events from the past 120 years are featured through documents and the stories they tell.

Maps, photos, newspaper clippings, correspondence and paper documents were carefully selected to illustrate some noteworthy events in the history of the Yukon. My favourites include: The Epp Letter of 1979, which transferred more power from the federal government to the territorial legislature, the Ogilvie survey map of Bonanza Creek from 1897 and gold rush brochures. The photos are fascinating glimpses into the past. The attractive layout on glossy paper enhances the reading experience.

I think the staff must have enjoyed producing this. One of my favourite images is on page 66. It’s a collection of paper fasteners found in the collection. This book is free and available at the Yukon Archives. You could get two books in one trip if you want to pick up the Linda Johnson book, also available at Yukon College.

The Hougen Family in the Yukon: A Pictorial History 1906-2011

Historian and author Helene Dobrowolsky collaborated with the Hougen family to create this intriguing and well-illustrated, privately published account of the Hougen family in the Yukon, starting with the arrival of Rolf’s father in Whitehorse in 1906. He left a few years later, but the family returned to stay in 1941. This account traces the growth of the family and their businesses to the present day.

Photographs are a mainstay of this account and they document the family and friends over the years. Both in colour and black and white, they are found in abundance throughout, with a photo essay at the end of each chapter. The photos are well reproduced, my only complaint is that some of them are a little too small to enjoy fully. There is a scrapbook selection of photos at the end of the book, as well as the family genealogy, and curriculum vitae for Rolf Hougen.

The 233 pages conclude with an index. Priced at $35, The Hougen Family in the Yukon is now available in local bookstores.

Michael Gates is a Yukon historian and sometimes adventurer based in Whitehorse. His new book, Dalton’s Gold Rush Trail, is now available in stores. You can contact him at

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