Archives uncovers buried treasures

Skookum Jim and George Carmacks won't be prominent in Archival Gold: Favourites from the Vault, but Bugs Bunny, paperclips, and a backpack made from a pair of pants and a duffle bag will be.

Skookum Jim and George Carmacks won’t be prominent in Archival Gold: Favourites from the Vault, but Bugs Bunny, paperclips, and a backpack made from a pair of pants and a duffle bag will be.

The exhibit, co-hosted by the Yukon Archives and Friends of the Yukon Archives Society, includes images from six different collections in the archives. Work began on the exhibit in April. More than 100 items were digitized for it, said Carolyn Harris, a government archivist at the archives. Selected items were then placed on murals, one for each collection.

“It was really about, you know, what are the treasures, what are the surprises we have,” said Harris.

Staff were asked to pick their favourite pieces from the different collections, and some of those will also be on display. That’s how the shadowbox of various paperclips found throughout the years made its way into the exhibit.

The same goes for the Bugs Bunny comic book, and the backpack. It was made based on drawings by Alan Innes-Taylor, a Yukon resident who went on Arctic expeditions and taught about his experiences. His collection included directions about how to make a backpack out of a duffle bag and pants.

One of the staff decided to follow his directions. “It works though. It’s been modelled,” said Harris, laughing.

Harris’ personal favourite came from the estates’ collection. It’s a scrap of paper one wouldn’t expect to find in government records.

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“It just says, ‘Notice’ at the top. And it talks about how he’s weak and he doesn’t know how much longer he has. The darkness is coming on and his heart is weak. And then it kind of trails off, and it’s written in this weak handwriting. Just absolutely moving. And you come across this random note in the file, and you see that it’s, you know, the remaining trace of this person. It’s maybe the only thing left of him and his life here.”

Highlighting ordinary parts of Yukon history is one of the main goals of the exhibit. Prominent parts of the territory’s history, like the White Pass railroad will be featured. There’s photos taken by Rev. Donald C. Amos who travelled the Alaska Highway serving the men and women who built it. Personal diaries show how prominent events shaped individuals. And the archives boasts the earliest depiction of Alaska on a map. The oldest item in the collection, a piece from 1735, details Vitus Bering’s 1728 voyage through the Bering Strait.

But then there are more common things, “traces of ordinary individuals,” said Harris.

Home videos a dentist in Dawson made in the 1920s and ‘30 will be included. There’s meeting minutes and correspondence from the beginning of the Yukon Women’s Christian Association.

Photographs from the John Hamilton collection will also be displayed. Hamilton came to the Yukon looking for the father he never knew. In the 1930s, he worked as a deckhand on a sternwheeler for White Pass & Yukon Railroad. The original photos are creased and worn from when he would show them to his daughter.

“It really gives you glimpses of the social history, the economic history, and even political, a little, too, with government activities and how the government worked,” said Harris.

Material at the archives may also help individuals better understand their own histories. Many people use the archives for genealogical research, she said. A wide range of resources can help people discover their family histories. There’s even a list that a Dawson City postal worker, Benjamin Craig, kept of when and where people died. At the time, it helped him deliver mail. Now, it can be a valuable tool for research.

The archives, located next to Yukon College, is open to the public from Tuesday to Saturday. People are welcome to visit or start their research online at www.yukonarchives.ca.

This exhibit opens on Nov. 2 at Arts Underground in the lower level of the Hougen Centre. It begins at 5 p.m. and ends at 7 p.m. Refreshments will be provided and Minister Scott Kent will be speaking. Archival Gold will be on display until Jan. 26.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at mgillmore@yukon-news.com