Beth Mulloy, the executive director of the Yukon Literacy Coalition, works in the learning garden the coalition has developed outside its literacy centre at Shipyards Park. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)

Beth Mulloy, the executive director of the Yukon Literacy Coalition, works in the learning garden the coalition has developed outside its literacy centre at Shipyards Park. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)

Learning garden established in Shipyards Park

The garden is operated by the Yukon Literacy Coalition

A plethora of flowers, veggies, berries, traditional healing plants and more are taking root next to the Pioneer Hotel in Shipyards Park thanks to the Yukon Literacy Coalition.

The coalition runs its family literacy centre out of the Canada Games Centre through the fall and winter and at the park each summer, providing a place where youngsters and their families can enjoy books, crafts, toys, puzzles and learning programs.

This summer the coalition added a learning garden to provide family programming, workshops and teachings about gardening and plants in the summer of 2022.

“It all happened really fast,” Beth Mulloy, the coalition’s executive director, said in a July 27 interview about setting up the garden and flower beds.

In the first week of June, fencing came in and was installed, gardening beds were set up and seeds were planted. It’s resulted in the flourishing garden largely full of greens many have noticed as they visit the centre or while taking a stroll along the Millennium Trail as it winds through the park and next to the Pioneer Hotel and the garden.

While the set up took a week of intense work, the effort to get there was about a year in the making.

The planning

The coalition had already worked with the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations on a learning garden project in Haines Junction, which proved a success.

“We realized the need was even bigger,” Mulloy said.

Darby MacWilliam, the coalition’s program manager who also worked on the Haines Junction garden, noted there was a big upsurge in interest in gardening in 2020 when more people were home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Carrie-Anne McPhee, the Yukon Literacy Coalition’s program and community outreach coordinator, and her daughter Esmé Klassen look over some of the veggies growing in the new learning garden at the Family Literacy Centre in Shipyards Park. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)

The coalition began looking at ways to develop a similar project in Whitehorse, visiting a number of community gardens in neighbourhoods like Valleyview, Takhini and Whistle Bend among others, eventually working toward developing a learning garden next to the literacy centre in Shipyards Park.

That work saw the coalition seek the guidance of local master gardeners Agnes Seitz, Bertie Scharrer, Randy Lewis and Marc Boulerice.

Their knowledge about permaculture, soil and how to develop the gardens were all factored into the plants selected and their placement, along with the history of the Pioneer Hotel.

As MacWilliam described, the garden is somewhat of a heritage garden, loosely replicating what would have grown in similar gardens around Whitehorse in the early 1900s: cabbages, potatoes, leafy greens and more.

As noted on the Yukon Historical and Museum’s Association website, that’s when the Pioneer Hotel was moved from the east bank of the Yukon River, where it had been called the Savoy Hotel, to Front Street and renamed the Pioneer Hotel. In the 1950s, it was dismantled and moved to what was then known as Moccasin Flats (now Shipyards Park) and divided into three parts with the current building being the portion that featured the original front facade.

Now as the family literacy centre, the building sees a number of visitors each summer.

The garden

Both Mulloy and MacWilliam noted they’re grateful the literacy coalition was able to have its lease with the City of Whitehorse altered to also include the garden space.

The pair also had high praises for the city compost they’ve been using in the garden that has helped see many of the plants flourish over just a few weeks.

They also highlighted a number of donations like rhubarb plants and flowers from local gardeners including Joan Oram, Diana Mulloy, Miriam Kazami and Shawn Verrier.

More formal programming around the garden will begin next year, with MacWilliam describing the 2021 season as a chance to focus on getting things set up and becoming comfortable with the gardens, learning what works well and what doesn’t.

A few of the gardening beds at the Yukon Literacy Coalition’s new learning garden. (Stephanie Waddell/Yukon News)

“So far the wind has been the biggest challenge,” she said, also noting the high level of the Yukon River as a concern.

Families visiting the literacy centre or even just walking by are excited to see the new garden, Carrie-Anne McPhee, the coalition’s program and community outreach coordinator, said.

“It’s just so much fun,” she noted.

While the programs haven’t formally started, McPhee has been able to take some visitors through the space.

A group from the Multicultural Centre of the Yukon’s summer day camp program was among the recent visitors.

McPhee said that not only was she able to share some of the Yukon’s plant life with the group, but she also was able to learn about gardening in other parts of the world thanks to the children sharing their own experiences.

“I think we’ll be learning a lot,” she said. “Really, the sky’s the limit.”

The literacy centre already provides activities that focus on plant growth and the garden will provide an opportunity to expand on that.

“This will be a natural extension,” McPhee said.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at