More than 100 people, including six former commissioners, attended the ceremony this past Monday, dedicating the Taylor House to its new role as office of the commissioner of the Yukon.
The featured guest was His Excellency, Governor-General David Johnston, who is in town for a conference of provincial and territorial vice-regal representatives. Johnston was joined on the dais by Commissioner Doug Phillips and Yukon Premier Darrell Pasloski.
For those unfamiliar with the Taylor House, it is the imposing two-storey log building enclosed by a fence and lawn across from the Gold Rush Inn, at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Main Street. Taylor House was constructed in 1937 by Bill and Aline Taylor when Whitehorse was a sleepy little town of only a few hundred, and Fifth Avenue was at the outer limits of the community.
Bill Taylor was the son of Isaac Taylor, a founding partner of the mercantile business known as Taylor and Drury, or T&D. The logs were procured locally and the inspiration for the design and the distinctive gambrel roof selected by Mrs. Taylor came from illustrations in magazines. Fixtures, materials and furnishings were all purchased from the family business.
Daughter Marilyn Taylor and son Vincent, who both attended the dedication ceremony, grew up in this house just as the community was transforming. By 1968, the home had been engulfed by the hustle and bustle of an expanding downtown core, so Bill and Aline Taylor relocated to Riverdale. Their new home never seemed the same as the “old house” on Main Street.
The building was purchased by the Yukon Chamber of Mines, which operated from there for nearly 30 years. According to Brent Slobodin, a former president of the Yukon Historical and Museums Association (YHMA), the chamber decided to sell the building in the late 1990s. YHMA was concerned that the building, one of the rapidly vanishing assemblage of structures that predate the Second World War, would be demolished. The association became involved in a campaign to save it.
Many officials in the community saw it as a waste of effort to save such a building, said Slobodin. Having failed through other avenues, YHMA eventually approached Dave Keenan, then minister of tourism, who saw its potential. Dave Sloan, then minister of government services, had the building examined for structural soundness – and it passed the test.
The purchase of the building raised the hackles of the opposition, who expressed concern that the purchase had set a bad precedent. How, the government was asked, would they be able to say no to anyone else who comes forward with very similar heritage houses for sale?
Also, they asked, what use would be found for this building? They found a use – and a tenant – for the building, which was occupied for 14 years by the Yukon Heritage Resources Board, until the board was evicted last year.
In his speech, Phillips told the audience that when he was appointed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, he was asked by Harper where his office was located. Phillips explained that it was rented corner office space in a senior citizens complex, with street parking. The prime minister seemed puzzled by this. That got Phillips thinking, and he started looking around for more suitable accommodation for the territory’s vice-regal representative.
He zeroed in on the Taylor House. Renovations occurred during the past winter, and the commissioner recently moved in. In his address to the attending crowd, Governor-General Johnston described the building as one of a kind. Just as his official residences in Ottawa and Quebec say “Canada” (a quick investigation revealed that Rideau Hall is nearly seven times the size of the prime minister’s residence), said Johnston, the Taylor House says “Yukon.”
Phillips noted that a member of the Taylor family has purchased the former commissioner’s residence in Riverdale, while the commissioner now occupies the former Taylor family home on Main Street.
After the speeches were complete, Johnston, Phillips and Pasloski moved to the front entrance of the building for a ribbon cutting ceremony, a first for Phillips since being appointed to his office.
After the official functions were completed, the building was opened to the public for tours.
According to Marilyn Taylor, the building looks on the outside much as it did when she lived there, but the interior has been modified beyond recognition. She has fond memories of living here; her parents were very family oriented.
Taylor and her brother Vincent, accompanied by various family members, inspected the building from bottom to top. For them, the house was filled with memories. The basement, they remembered, was set aside as a special place for them to play as children. A large fireplace (there was another on the main floor) added warmth to the space. It is still there today, though no longer functional.
When the Taylors lived here, there was a ping pong table and a record player in the basement. Vince remembers shooting hockey pucks at the subterranean cement wall. One year, their mother even arranged for ballroom and square dancing lessons. And friends were always welcome.
Marilyn Taylor remembers that when they weren’t inside, they were over at a rink in the mounted police parade square that was kept snow-free in the winter, scaling the clay cliffs to visit the airport, or skiing across the river to take advantage of “bowls” in the sand hills behind where the hospital stands today. Brother Vincent was involved in hockey. Mostly, they created their own entertainment.
Upstairs, things have changed dramatically. Brother and sister were able to identify where their respective bedrooms were located by the position of the windows. Marilyn pointed to where her desk once stood. Vincent, the younger of the two, remembers how his older sister would frighten him by telling scary stories, or turning off the lights when he was coming up the stairs.
Talking of his dreams for the new building, Phillips revealed plans for numerous events to take place in and around Taylor House. He added that it was great that the building has been preserved as it is and where it is. Moving into this restored historic building is the best thing that has happened to the office of the commissioner since it was relocated from Dawson City, he said. I think that the community will agree that preserving this old building was the right thing to do.
Michael Gates is a Yukon historian and sometimes adventurer based in Whitehorse. His three books on Yukon history are available in Yukon stores. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org