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Yukoners recognized for heritage work

Art and Ione Christensen received the 2013 Annual Heritage Award on Thursday April 17 at a ceremony in Whitehorse. The award acknowledges an outstanding contribution to Yukon heritage.

Art and Ione Christensen received the 2013 Annual Heritage Award on Thursday April 17 at a ceremony in Whitehorse.

Sponsored by the Yukon Historical and Museums Association, the award acknowledges an outstanding contribution to Yukon heritage. To be eligible, the recipient must have performed a single deed that is of such significance, or uniqueness of magnitude that it ranks far above routine or regular acts to the cause of Yukon heritage.

The Christensens received the award for conceiving the idea of a book on the history of Whitehorse, and then, over the following two and a half years, taking it to completion. Whitehorse: an Illustrated History was released in November of 2013. The book celebrates growth of the city on the banks of the Yukon River, and the diversity of the people who helped build it.

All the royalties from the sale of the book will go into a special heritage fund to be administered by the City of Whitehorse.

Art conceived the idea and became one of the board members of the society that propelled the project through the fundraising, research, writing and editing. Ione guided and managed the project, first forming the Whitehorse History Book Society and assembling a diverse board to ensure that the book would tell a complete and balanced story.

Ione was tireless in her fundraising, approaching business and individuals and completing funding applications. She assembled a remarkable team of writers and both she and Art contributed their own recollections and personal photos to the cause. She spoke to a wide variety of organizations about the project, promoting it ceaselessly; she even produced a semi-monthly column in the newspaper entitled Did You Know? to remind the community of the project.

Before presenting the award, Mayor Dan Curtis addressed the enthusiastic audience, telling them that it was about time that the City of Whitehorse had such an awesome book to share with visitors. He has presented copies of the Whitehorse history book to officials visiting from around the world and across Canada. He personally acknowledged Ione Christensen for her service as mayor, commissioner, and as senator for the Yukon, but added that it took many hours and the effort of many others to bring this book to completion.

Yukon Minister of Tourism and Culture Mike Nixon and Mayor Curtis then presented the Christensens with the award in the form of a beautifully framed historical map of the Yukon.

The Lifetime Heritage Achievement Award is awarded annually to an individual, group, organization, society, business or corporation for meritorious service to the preservation, promotion or development of Yukon’s heritage over a period of many years This year, it was awarded to the Tr’ondek Hwech’in Heritage Department in Dawson City, in recognition of its years of work preserving and interpreting the unique and rich history of the First Nation.

Accepting the award on behalf of the First Nation was heritage assistant Erika Scheffen, of Dawson City. “Receiving a lifetime award sounds like our life’s work is complete,” said Scheffen, but she assured the audience that there was much more to come.

A dozen years ago, noted Scheffen, their heritage department consisted of one person and has since grown to 50 staff. During that time, they have organized projects to record their history, language and the wisdom of their elders. They have published a number of books celebrating their heritage, and sponsored many events including the Moosehide Gathering and First Hunt. The Danoja Zho Cultural Centre is a model of public programming with year-round displays, workshops and events.

Mary Bradshaw was presented with the 2013 Volunteer Award by Nixon for her efforts in organizing and hosting the 2013 conference of the Canadian Museums Association in Whitehorse. The event attracted 250 delegates to the Yukon from all over Canada and abroad.

The final award was the 2013 Heritage Conservation Project of the Year Award, given to the Kwanlin Dun First Nation of Whitehorse, for the restoration of two Whitehorse area cemeteries. This award was presented by Barbara Hogan, manager of the Yukon government’s historic sites unit, to Jessie Dawson, who accepted it on behalf of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation.

The keynote speaker for the event was Judy Oberlander, principal of Judy Oberlander and Associates of Vancouver. Oberlander is a fund development consultant in the non-profit sector. Her presentation was titled “Heritage Passed or Past?”

Michael Gates is a Yukon historian and sometimes adventurer based in Whitehorse. His new book, Dalton’s Gold Rush Trail, is now available.