World War I conference adds to Yukon history

Every province across the country (except Quebec) has made World War I part of the curriculum; we commemorate Remembrance Day as a national holiday and the poppy is a universally understood symbol across the land.

Every province across the country (except Quebec) has made World War I part of the curriculum; we commemorate Remembrance Day as a national holiday and the poppy is a universally understood symbol across the land. John McCrae’s poem “In Flanders Fields” may be known by more people than any other verse in the nation.

According to scholar and award-winning author Tim Cook, Canadians probably know more about the Great War (1914-1918) than any other event in Canadian history.

Cook should know; as adjunct research professor at Carleton University, and curator for the permanent gallery at the Canadian War Museum, Cook is Canada’s pre-eminent World War I historian. Yet books on Yukon history do not deal with this crucial turning point.

That is changing, thanks in part to the “The North and World War I” conference which Cook opened last week in Whitehorse. Sponsored jointly by the Yukon Historical and Museums Association (YHMA), Yukon College and the International Centre for Northern Governance and Development at the University of Saskatchewan, the conference was a week-long festival of speakers and special events.

The week began with a workshop at the Yukon Transportation Museum on “cultural organizations and traumatic events,” given by Sarah Murray, curatorial manager of the Canterbury Museum in New Zealand, where they recently experienced the trauma of a series of major earthquakes.

While not exclusively focused upon the Yukon, more than half of the speakers at the conference gave talks directly related to this area. Well-known historian and native son, Ken Coates noted that the war was a turning point in Yukon history, after which the federal government pretty much turned its back on the citizens of this isolated corner of the country for two decades.

I provided an overview of the war from the opening chapter in August 1914 to its commemoration after war’s end. Sally Robinson, a historian and the president of YHMA, talked about events that occurred leading up to and during the war years on the home front. Kathy Gates expanded upon that theme, by tracking the patriotic work of Martha Black in the Yukon and overseas during the war years.

Several individuals were singled out for their wartime accomplishments. Professor Emeritus Ted Cowan of the University of Glasgow talked about the wartime poetry of the Yukon’s own Robert Service; and independent researcher Dr. William Stewart tracked the wartime record of Sam Steele, the Mountie who, during the gold rush of two decades before, had shepherded thousands of stampeders safely to the Klondike.

Joe Boyle was the focus of attention by more than one speaker at the conference. Yukon filmmaker Max Fraser championed the remarkable accomplishments of Boyle, the “King of the Klondike.” If Fraser has his way, Boyle’s story will soon be the subject of a documentary film. Fraser also expounded on the personal relationship between Boyle and Marie, Queen of Romania.

Dr. Crina Bud, lecturer of Romanian language and history at York University, revealed Boyle’s diplomatic strategy on behalf of war-stricken Romania, and the enduring influence his actions had on its foreign affairs after the war. Meanwhile, Cameron Pulsifer, a curator emeritus at the Canadian War Museum, traced the path of the machine gun battery sponsored by Boyle from Dawson City to the battle of the Somme.

Former Yukoner Tim Popp gave an informative talk about the badges and medals unique to the men from the Yukon, with special attention paid to those of Joe Boyle.

David Neufeld, retired Parks Canada historian for the Yukon and Western Arctic, talked about “The Great War and the foundation of Yukon tourism,” tracing the voyages of two travellers from the post-war era, and exploring his own family roots. Former Yukoner David Leverton, now the executive director of the Maritime Museum of British Columbia, gave a stirring presentation about the tragic sinking of the passenger ship Princess Sophia, as the centenary of the event (October 25, 1918) rapidly approaches.

The substance of the 24 papers given during the conference are slated to be published online by the Yukon College’s Northern Review sometime this fall, and thus the story of the Yukon, and the North, during the Great War will begin to be unfold.

During the three days of talks at the High Country Inn, delegates were treated to a special presentation of wartime newsreels that were excavated from permafrost in Dawson City in 1978.

The late afternoon of Tuesday, May 10, the Yukon Archives unveiled a new travelling exhibit on “The Yukon and World War I” at the Roundhouse on the waterfront. This excellent exhibit, which was researched and designed by Patricia Halladay, and will tour the territory over the next few months, opened Saturday at the Legion in Dawson City.

The exhibit launch was followed by a Royal Canadian Legion memorial at the cenotaph in front of City Hall, where the names of the nearly 100 Yukoners, who died in service during the war, were read aloud. This ritual was repeated at the cenotaph beside the Dawson City Museum on Saturday morning during the study tour to the Klondike capital.

To wrap up the proceedings in Whitehorse on Thursday evening, May 12, conference delegates, joined by the public, packed the convention centre for a historically-themed dinner-theatre. Titled “Dawson to Berlin: A Romanian love story,” the theatrical portion of the evening consisted of a three-act performance of music and dance, themed around the romance of Joe Boyle and Marie, the queen of Romania. Featured artists included Dale Cooper, Grant Hartwick, Shauna Jones, Grant Simpson, Steve Slade, the Frantic Follies Dancers and the Roma Swing Ensemble from Vancouver, with a special guest appearance by Yukon troubadour Hank Karr.

The study tour to Dawson City that followed the conference included tours of the museum (where a short presentation was given on the link between artifacts and the story of World War I), Dredge No. 4 National Historic Site (built in 1913 by Joe Boyle), Bear Creek (where Boyle lived while in the Yukon), and St. Paul’s Church (where various memorials from the war are on display).

The Royal Canadian Legion of Dawson City sponsored a lunch for the study group on Saturday May 14, and the IODE hosted a tea in the afternoon on the verandah of the commissioner’s residence under post card perfect skies. Dawson was opening for the season, so there was plenty to do in the evenings, and everybody who participated had a marvelous time.

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

Just Posted

Yukon paleontologists Grant Zazula (left) and Elizabeth Hall (right) examine mammoth fossils in Whitehorse on June 10. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Mammoth bones discovered at Dawson mine site

“So this is just a start, hopefully, we’re going to be learning a lot.”

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker plead guilty to offences under the Yukon’s Civil Emergency Measures Act for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
Couple who broke isolation rules to get vaccines in Beaver Creek fined $2,300

Crown and defence agreed on no jail time for Rod and Ekaterina Baker

X
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for June 16, 2021.… Continue reading

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Yukon News file)
COVID-19 outbreak surges to 50 active cases in the Yukon

Officials urge Yukoners to continue following guidelines, get vaccinated

Team Yukon during the 2007 Canada Winter Games in Whitehorse. (Submitted/Sport Yukon)
Whitehorse will bid for 2027 Canada Winter Games

Bid would be submitted in July 2022

Jonathan Antoine/Cabin Radio
Flooding in Fort Simpson on May 8.
Fort Simpson asked for military help. Two people showed up.

Sarah Sibley Local Journalism Initiative, Cabin Radio Residents of a flooded Northwest… Continue reading

Two participants cross the finish line at the City of Whitehorse Kids Triathlon on June 12 with Mayor Dan Curtis on hand to present medals. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)
2021 Kids’ Triathlon draws 76 young athletes

Youth ages five to 14 swim, run and bike their way to finish line

Lily Witten performs her Canadian Nationals beam routine on June 14. John Tonin/Yukon News
Three Yukon gymnasts break 20-year Nationals absence

Bianca Berko-Malvasio, Maude Molgat and Lily Witten competed at the Canadian Nationals – the first time in 20 years the Yukon’s been represented at the meet

For the second year running, the Yukon Quest will not have 1,000 mile race. Crystal Schick/Yukon News
The Yukon Quest will be two shorter distance events instead of a 1,000 mile race

After receiving musher feeback, the Yukon Quest Joint Board of Directors to hold two shorter distances races instead of going forward with the 1,000 mile distance

It’s been a long time since most Yukoners have seen downtown Skagway. (Andrew Seal/Yukon News file)
What Canada-U.S. border changes could mean for Alaska travel

The federal government is expected to make an announcement on Monday

A rendering of the proposed new city hall/services building and transit hub. (City of Whitehorse/submitted)
City building plans move forward

Council approves procurement going ahead

Western and Northern premiers met this week to discuss joint issues. (Joe Savikataaq/Twitter)
Premiers meet at Northern Premiers’ Forum and Western Premiers’ Conference

Nunavut Premier Joe Savikataaq virtually hosted both meetings this year

The sun sets over Iqaluit on Oct. 26, 2020. Nunavut’s chief public health officer says two COVID-19 cases at Iqaluit’s middle school came from household transmission and the risk to other students is low. (Emma Tranter/Canadian Press)
Iqaluit school’s contacts and classmates cleared after two COVID-19 cases

With an outbreak ongoing in Iqaluit, the Aqsarniit middle school has split students into two groups

Most Read