Skip to content

Local 'angel' earns prime minister's award

When you make your way to Maranatha Preschool Daycare in Riverdale, there are, at first, only subtle signs you are heading towards a daycare.

When you make your way to Maranatha Preschool Daycare in Riverdale, there are, at first, only subtle signs you are heading towards a daycare.

The railing along the stairs is just a little bit lower; the coat rack is in reach of short arms.

The inside is what you would expect: toys and games and brightly-coloured posters on the walls.

In the back room, Joan Berriman is one of two teachers who spend their days with eight infants and toddlers. After more than two decades in childcare, she is as much a fixture in the building as anything else.

Last month the 71-year-old was honoured with a certificate of achievement at the Prime Minister’s Awards for Excellence in Early Childhood Education.

The award is handed out annually to childcare workers from across the country in recognition for their work.

Her co-workers along with parents at the daycare and the Yukon Child Care Association sent in the nomination.

“We felt that she works from the heart for the children,” said daycare owner Gurnam Aulakh. “She’s an angel for children. She’s an angel for babies.”

For Berriman, who looks and acts like everyone’s grandma, her motivation for working with children is simple and matter-of-fact.

“I just love little children,” she said, laughing at the question itself. “I really do love everybody, I’m just that kind of person. I try to look at positive things mostly.”

After spending so much time at the daycare, Berriman has developed relationships with many young people in the city.

“Because she’s been here for a long time, the children who are now school-aged started with her when they were babies,” Aulakh said.

Others are much older. “There’s some boys that are in high school now. They don’t come to daycare,” Berriman said.

Originally from South Africa, Berriman moved with her family to Dawson City in 1990 and began working at the local daycare not long after.

That first summer was great, she said. “We came for the summer and loved it. When we did move we discovered the winter. But anyways, I’m still here.”

Childcare was what Berriman knew, after raising four children as a stay-at-home mom, she was basically a seasoned pro.

“So I guess I’ve always been around children,” she says.

She moved to Whitehorse in 1992 and began working at Maranatha.

She worked with the kindergarten children until 1994. When the baby room opened up, she was the first one to be offered a spot.

Evening classes at Yukon College allowed her to complete her diploma in early childhood education in 1997.

In their nomination letter to the award committee, Berriman’s co-workers praised her work and commitment to the younger generation.

“Joan carries her infants up and down two flights of stairs daily in order to ensure they get playtime outdoors. Until 2012 there was no on-site playground for the children at Maranatha so she would push her children in a stroller (rain, shine or snow) to local playgrounds and parks,” the letter reads.

Berriman also received recognition for the work she puts into listening and respecting the cultural values of the many families that come to the daycare.

Berriman says she considers herself very multicultural. Her programming often includes activities surrounding important cultural events.

“Whatever colour you are, that’s your colour, whatever nationality you are, that’s your nationality. I really try to see people for themselves,” she says.

Berriman said the attention and accolades from the people around her are surprising, but appreciated.

“It was nice to ready the positive comments of the parents and everything. It makes you realize that you are getting watched if you think so, or not.”

At 71, when most people are comfortably settled into retirement, Berriman continues to work at the daycare eight hours a day, five days a week. It’s something she says she still loves.

“It’s like a big family.”

Contact Ashley Joannou at