Pioneer historian Iris Warner dies at 86

Well-known Yukon historian Iris Warner passed away on Salt Spring Island on Friday, January 11. She was a member of the first generation of Yukon history champions.

Well-known Yukon historian Iris Warner passed away on Salt Spring Island on Friday, January 11. She was a member of the first generation of Yukon history champions, along with such notable individuals as Alan Innes-Taylor, William MacBride and Flo Whyard. She was 86.

Warner first came to the Yukon with her husband Al, an aviation mechanic, in 1959. They lived, at various times, in Atlin, Carcross, Inuvik and Dawson City, before settling in Whitehorse. It was in Dawson City that she first distinguished herself in the heritage field. She became actively involved with the Dawson Museum Society, which was recovering from the setback caused when their collection, which was displayed, ironically, in the old fire hall on Front Street, burned to the ground in 1960.

Warner embarked on a campaign to gather a new collection for the museum, with the assistance of such people as Fred Berger and Joe Langevin, and the museum reopened in the Old Territorial Administration Building in 1962. She also continued to curate for the museum until the family moved to Whitehorse. While with the museum society, she was involved in the acquisition of several historic buildings that were later turned over to Parks Canada.

When she arrived in the Yukon, she quickly established herself in the newspaper business, and her writing on Yukon history frequently appeared as articles or items in special issues in the Yukon News, the Whitehorse Star and the Klondike Sun. Notable among these was a series of articles on the North West Mounted Police and a history of the Yukon Order of Pioneers.

During this period she was a regular contributor to magazines such as BC Outdoors, Alaska, and North. She published jointly, or on her own, several small books, including A Boater’s Guide to the Upper Yukon, Old Crow – Perimeter of Paradise, and Herschel Island.

While Warner was a member of the board of the MacBride Museum Society in the early 1970s, she was an advocate for establishing a territory-wide heritage organization. She was a founding member of the Yukon Historical and Museums Association in 1977. Warner was awarded the Yukon Heritage Award for 1979 by the Dawson City Museum.

She was working on a book about Yukon roads at the time, which she hoped to have finished by the end of the year. “But I said that last year,” she quipped. The unpublished manuscript remains in the Yukon Archives. When Warner and her husband retired to family property on Salt Spring Island in 1981, she left behind much of her body of work, which is also held in the Yukon Archives.

Diane Chisholm, former territorial archivist, remembered arriving in Whitehorse to start work in the newly established Yukon Archives. She knew little about the Yukon’s past at that time, and Warner took her under her wing and introduced her to the amazing diversity of Yukon history. Chisholm remembers Warner as an eclectic reservoir of historical data, who took her on many adventures on the back roads of the Yukon and in the back room of the archives.

Palma Berger of Dawson City remembers her as warm, welcoming and friendly – interested in many things, especially history. Her enthusiasm propelled her through her many research journeys and her diverse writing about Yukon history.

Her husband Al passed away in 1997. Warner is survived by sons Marc and Alan, grandchildren Lorne and Sally (Tom) and great grandson Levi.