Whitehorse’s tour guides may soon be history

Up until last summer, most of what Liam Campbell knew about the Yukon came from school lessons. This pretty much limited the 18-year-old's knowledge to the Klondike Gold Rush. But not so anymore.

Up until last summer, most of what Liam Campbell knew about the Yukon came from school lessons. This pretty much limited the 18-year-old’s knowledge to the Klondike Gold Rush.

But not so anymore.

Last year, he took a job as a tour guide with the Yukon Historical and Museum Association’s historical walks through downtown Whitehorse.

It was a perfect fit for the young man who is considering a career in education. “I like history. I like talking,” said the 2012 Vanier Catholic Secondary School graduate.

He admits the Yukon doesn’t have a very long recorded history to relate.

Just over a hundred years ago, when larger cities were established, this place was just tents and trees, said Campbell. Indoor plumbing? It didn’t arrive in Whitehorse until the 1950s.

“There’s not very many people that have lived here,” said Campbell. But the small cast sure has been colourful.

People either come here because they’re running away from something, or looking for something, said Campbell.

He’s particularly fond of T.C. Richards, the man who helped start Klondike Airways to bring mail from Whitehorse to Dawson. And while the business never owned a plane, its legacy continues. The Klondike Airways building is now home to Klondike Rib & Salmon.

Campbell’s favourite buildings are the old log skyscrapers, with their origins in a bet that Martin Berrigan couldn’t build anything taller than two storeys.

“Most of the buildings here are a result of bets and gambling,” said Campbell.

But talking about them takes time and money the association may not have.

Come the end of this month, these tours may not exist, at least, not the way they do now.

This could be the last season the association runs them. The walks, which occur from Monday to Saturday at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m. and 6 p.m., take up a lot of time and resources the association doesn’t really have, said executive director Nancy Oakley.

Salaries for the two summer staff come in at $13,000, said Oakley. Most of that is covered through federal funding, but the association doesn’t always know when, or if, it will receive that cash. This year, Oakley was interviewing students before she even knew if there were jobs she could offer them, she said.

She considers it a good year if the tours – which sell at $6 per person – make up the rest of the costs, said Oakley. And participants don’t always show up for every time slot. In the slower times, the summer students are organizing files and records, she said.

The association’s mandate is to inspire and encourage a passion for Yukon history, said Oakley. And it may be time to consider if other organizations or museums can start operating the tours so it can redirect its time and resources, she said. The board will decide this fall about whether or not to continue the tours after this summer, said Oakley.

The way historical interpreters do their job has changed a lot over the years. Technology is playing more and more of a role, said Sylvie Binette, the association’s treasurer.

Binette is a certified interpreter planner. She spends most of the year helping interpretive centres develop plans, but in the summer she works at the Beringia Interpretive Centre. And she’s spent 20 years doing interpretation about natural history, at places like Swan Haven or the Yukon Wildlife Preserve.

There’s an art to interpretation, said Binette. The interpreter needs to relate to the audience, to reveal the story of a specific place and send the listeners home with a message or impression, she said.

And technology may be able to offer up a lot of information, but it can’t deliver personality, said Binette. It gives a “‘wow’ factor,” she said. “But it doesn’t replace a human being.”

Oakley agrees. The association offers free podcasts on its website so people can take their own self-guided tours. And Campbell recently gave a tour of sorts over the phone to a group of seniors in Manitoba. They wanted to learn more about the Yukon. Campbell described a bunch of photographs to them.

But these services won’t lessen the need for in-person tour guides.

“You’re always going to have a certain type of person who just wants to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth,” she said.

And there’s good reason for people to want to hear the stories of this place. Every place is special, said Oakley, but not everyone realizes it. Yukoners do.

“Up here, to a certain extent everybody gets how special this place is. You can’t take that for granted. I’ve been to a lot of different places where people don’t get how important or special where they’re from is.”

But Campbell does. He wants to teach overseas – he recently completed training to teach English as a second language. But he thinks Robert Service summed up the Yukon best in the final lines of The Spell of the Yukon: “It’s the beauty that thrills me with wonder / It’s the stillness that fills me with peace.”

Campbell would add another word to describe this place. “It’s very privileged, as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

Contact Meagan Gillmore at

mgillmore@yukon-news.com

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Members of the RCMP’s traffic services team examine police markers on Range Road after a six-year-old boy was struck by a vehicle near the Takhini Arena in Whitehorse on Oct. 25. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Six-year-old hit by vehicle near Takhini Arena

Police were called to the scene around 12:15 p.m. on Oct. 25

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, speaks to media at a press conference about COVID-19 in Whitehorse on March 30. Two new cases of COVID-19 were identified in Watson Lake over the weekend. The cases are connected to three others in the community previously announced by officials on Oct. 23. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Two additional COVID-19 cases in Watson Lake bring total up to five

Individuals with symptoms and connections to the three other cases were tested over the weekend

Dr. Brendan Hanley, Yukon’s chief medical officer of health, speaks to media at a press conference about COVID-19 in Whitehorse on March 30. The Yukon government announced three new cases of COVID-19 in Watson Lake on Oct. 23. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Three new COVID-19 cases identified in Watson Lake

The Yukon government has identified three locations in town where public exposure may have occurred

Teagan Wiebe, left, and Amie Wiebe pose for a photo with props during The Guild’s haunted house dress rehearsal on Oct. 23. The Heart of Riverdale Community Centre will be hosting its second annual Halloween haunted house on Oct. 30 and 31, with this year’s theme being a plague. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Plague-themed haunted house to take over Heart of Riverdale for Halloween

A plague will be descending upon the Heart of Riverdale Community Centre… Continue reading

The Yukon government is asking for all claims in a lawsuit over the Takhini elk herd be struck by the court. (Mike Thomas/Yukon News file)
Yukon government asks for Takhini elk lawsuit to be struck

The Yukon government is asking for all claims in a lawsuit over… Continue reading

The Yukon government has filed a reply to an outfitter’s petition challenging the reduction of its caribou quota to zero. (Yukon News file)
YG replies to outfitter’s legal challenge over caribou quota

The Yukon government has filed a reply to an outfitter’s petition challenging… Continue reading

The Yukon government is encouraging people to get the flu vaccine this year, saying that with COVID-19, it’s “more important than ever.” (Black Press file)
Get flu vaccine, Yukon government urges

The Yukon government is encouraging people to get the flu vaccine this… Continue reading

Benjamin Munn, 12, watches the HPV vaccine in 2013. Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine will be available to all Yukoners up to, and including, age 26. Currently the program is only available to girls ages nine to 18 and boys ages nine to 14. (Dan Bates/Black Press file)
HPV vaccine will be available to Yukoners up to, including, age 26

Beginning Jan. 1, 2021, the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine will be available… Continue reading

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

asdf
COMMENTARY: Me and systemic racism

The view from a place of privilege

asdf
Today’s mailbox: Electricity and air travel

Letters to the editor published Oct. 23, 2020

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: Irony versus Climate

Lately it seems like Irony has taken over as Editor-in-Chief at media… Continue reading