Yukoners honoured with heritage awards

The annual heritage awards were handed out Feb. 20 to an impressive and deserving line-up of recipients.

The annual heritage awards were handed out Feb. 20 evening to an impressive and deserving line-up of recipients. The Yukon Historical and Museums Association, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year (I have been a member since its inception in 1977), has sponsored the event since 1982, when the Capitol Hotel, Bruce Harvey and the White Pass and Yukon Route received the first awards.

The award ceremony, which was held at the Yukon Archives, began with an illustrated talk by Molly Shore, the World Heritage Status Project Assistant for the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in in Dawson City. The project has recently submitted a nomination to UNESCO in Paris for designation of the Tr’ondëk-Klondike heritage site as place of outstanding cultural value, not just to the Yukon, but to the world.

Shore summarized the statement of outstanding universal value (OUV) this way: “Tr’ondëk-Klondike is an exceptional cultural landscape that illustrates the story of two cultures with two very different relationships to the land, who are bound together by the Klondike Gold Rush. The landscape shows tangible evidence of intersecting indigenous and mining landscapes and their continuity from the gold rush to the present day.”

If the nomination is successful, and there are still several hoops to jump through, Tr’ondëk-Klondike will join only a thousand or so heritage sites around the world deemed to be of importance to all humanity.

After the talk was finished, the award presentations began. Sid van der Meer of Beaver Creek was given one of the two History Maker Awards handed out this year. Sid has spent 57 years in the Yukon. For many of them, he resided at the Mountain View Lodge at Mile 1128 on the Alaska Highway. According to the program handed out at the event, “Sid has combined his knowledge of ‘lodging’ lifestyle with more than 50 years of collecting antiques and vintage cars to make his Bordertown Garage and Museum a memorable experience.” Sid was unable to attend; his daughter Janet accepted the award on his behalf. Personally, I am looking forward to visiting his museum in the near future.

The recipient of the second History Maker Award was Ruth Gotthardt. As co-nominator Norm Easton pointed out that for 40 years, Gotthardt has conducted archaeology in practically every part of the Yukon. Twenty-eight of those years were spent working in the archaeological program of the Yukon government. Most notable among her many accomplishments was her pioneering work in establishing community-based archaeology, where communities become involved in the investigation of their own past. “Archaeology can no longer be undertaken in the Yukon without community involvement,” he noted.

Co-nominator and fellow archaeologist Greg Hare added that she took the archaeology program of the Yukon government from “…a single desk, a typewriter and a telephone in 1989, to the internationally-known and respected program that it is today.”

Of particular note is the series of regional history and archaeology pamphlets her department has produced over many years. These publications were designed to be both informative and understandable, not just by scholars, but by community members as well.

The Helen Couch Volunteer of the Year Award was presented to the organizing committee for “The North and the First World War” conference that was held in Whitehorse and Dawson City in May of last year. The committee consisted of co-chairmen Ken Coates and Brent Slobodin, as well as Marius Curtenau, Dan Davidson, Max Fraser, Michael Gates, Piers MacDonald and Joanne Lewis. For two years, the committee planned and organized a successful three-day conference, which was both regional and international in scope, followed by a two- day study tour to Dawson City. Guest speakers attended from across Canada, the United States, Great Britain, Romania and New Zealand. One of the lasting products will be the forthcoming special edition of the Northern Review, which will contain many of the papers presented during the conference.

Peter Long is a well-known trail enthusiast and has created a website dedicated to the hiking trails around Whitehorse. Last May, when walking along the west side of Miles Canyon upstream toward the American laundry, he encountered vestiges of the old Hepburn Tramway. Why hadn’t he seen it before, he pondered in his brief acceptance speech. He then turned his attention to finding old historical photos and maps, and slowly assembled a detailed reconstruction of the route and its appearance through time. When he contacted me last year, I was drawn into the adventure of walking the tramway and discovering it for myself. I wrote about my experience in my History Hunter column of June 17, 2016.

The product of his efforts is the document: Forgotten Trails: Walking the Hepburn Tramway, and it was for this and his efforts to inform the public, that he was nominated for the award by Kim Rogers. Introducing Peter Long, Rogers noted that her own copy of the document has become “worn, stained and dog-eared” from use. “Forgotten Trails,” she said, “demonstrates clear leadership in history preservation…Peter feels it is important to have what remains of the trail preserved and developed as a historic walk that locals and visitors can enjoy.” Rogers presented Long with the Innovation, Education and Community Engagement Award.

The Mable McIntyre House in Mayo was the first building to be designated (in 2003) as a territorial historic site under the Yukon Historic Resources Act. Built of logs in 1921 as the mining recorder’s office, it was occupied by Mayo resident and Nacho Nyak Dun member Mabel McIntyre between 1946 to1981.

Using funds from Yukon’s Historic Properties Assistance Program, the village undertook foundation and lower wall replacement, installed a new floor and commissioned an architectural conservation plan. Last year, the doors and windows were replaced and the shed repaired and reattached to the building. It is now slated for interior renovation so that the building can be used for seasonal staff housing.

The Heritage Conservation Project of the Year Award, which is sponsored by the Historic Sites Unit, Department of Tourism and Culture, was presented by the Honourable Jeanie Dendys, Minister of Tourism and Culture, to former Mayor of Mayo, Shannon Cooper, who accepted on behalf of the village.

All of these individuals and groups deserve hearty acknowledgement for their commitment and dedication in discovering and preserving Yukon’s heritage. Congratulations to you all.

Michael Gates is a Yukon historian and sometimes adventurer based in Whitehorse. His new book about the Yukon during World War I, titled From the Klondike to Berlin, is due out in April. You can contact him at msgates@northwestel.net.