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Girl guides celebrate a century in the Yukon

It started out as a chance for girls to develop leadership, and self esteem. Guiding in Canada began in 1910. Four years later it had made its way to Dawson City.

It started out as a chance for girls to develop leadership, and self esteem.

Guiding in Canada began in 1910. Four years later it had made its way to Dawson City.

This year marks the 100th anniversary in Yukon. To celebrate the milestone, an exhibit of pictures, items and stories is on display at the MacBride Museum.

The show was supposed to wrap up at the end of the month. But the level of public interest led the museum to extend it to early April.

The Dawson City girl guide group was started by a priest in the area who brought together 25 girls between 10 and 12 years old and asked a local nurse to be their leader.

“They wanted their kids to get out, develop skills, outdoor skills, being active, healthy and breathing fresh air,” said Leighann Chalykoff, the museum’s project manager.

From those original 25, guiding in the Yukon has ballooned in the last century.

In its heyday, the 1980s and ‘90s, there were more than 500 members spread across almost all of the Yukon communities.

Right now, about 100 girls and 40 adults take part every year in units around Whitehorse. Organizers say they’re hoping to have a unit or two starting up in Dawson City this fall.

Units now range from the youngest Sparks at five and six years old, through Brownies, Guides and Rangers.

“When you put together a show like this you really hope that people see themselves reflected in there,” said Jennifer Moorlag with the Yukon chapter of Girl Guides of Canada.

“So that was part of the fun for us, watching people go through it and see ‘that’s my aunt’ or ‘that’s me’ or ‘that’s my grandma.’ They see a piece of themselves reflected in the history of the organization and the history of the Yukon.”

A look around the room displays evidence of the leaders who have come out of the guiding program: there’s former MLA Joyce Haden’s camp poncho, and former premier Pat Duncan’s blanket.

A quote on the wall from current MLA Elaine Taylor credits knocking on doors to sell cookies with helping her prepare for her career.

“If you look at the history of guiding, it was a way to build community, to bring girls together. Throughout the whole history of it are these great stories of these girls forming friendships and connections and building skills for leadership that they go on to use in other parts of their lives,” Chalykoff said.

While the skill set may have stayed the same, the uniforms - likely to everyone’s relief - have changed.

Lined along the walls of the exhibit are examples of uniforms ranging from a 1910 white skirt for the youngest girls to the more modern SEnD and likely more practical - blue sweat suit.

Items on display come from Yukon Girl Guides’ own archives, local guiders in the area and even the Yukon government’s permanent art collection.

One display case holds a detailed hand-beaded purse made for 19-year-old Lena Tizya by her mother.

Tizya was originally from Old Crow and joined the unit in Dawson City when her family moved. She was chosen to be one of a few Canadian girls chosen to attend Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation in 1953. The flight would be her first trip away from home and the purse came with her.

Tizya would grow up to be a leader in her own right. She was one of the first aboriginal students to go to public school in the Yukon. She was also the first to graduate from high school, Chalykoff said.

The skills girls learn in guiding continue long after they hang up their badges, she said.

“Over and over again, that’s what I heard from these women when we were talking to them. (We heard about) taking those skills and applying them to everyday life. Whether that’s work or your personal life.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at