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5 Yukoners honoured at 2023 Yukon Heritage Awards

From the Yukon Film Society to the late John Layman, here’s who won what at the Yukon Heritage Awards
John Layman was posthumously awarded one of two History Maker Awards at the recently held 2023 Yukon Heritage Awards. (Courtesy/Rod Layman)

The 2023 Yukon Heritage Awards ceremony was held on Feb. 19 at the Yukon Archives, with five recipients honoured for their role in preserving or interpreting the territory’s heritage.

Ruth Armson was recognized for her efforts to preserve the stories of individual Yukoners, receiving one of two History Maker Awards. According to a press release, Armson, who worked as a teacher for three decades, has helped to produce more than 100 biographies of Yukon women through her involvement with the Pioneer Women of the Yukon Society. She’s also published an autobiography and two biographies for Yukon seniors, among other works.

The second History Maker Award was bestowed posthumously to John Layman, the artist behind many of the sand-blasted cedar signs that welcome visitors and residents alike to Whitehorse’s various neighbourhoods.

According to an obituary that ran in the News last month, Layman passed away on Jan. 9 of this year “after a courageous struggle with his health.” His passion for the arts was eulogized in the obituary, which cites his collection of ticket stubs spanning decades and his work as a calligrapher.

“His vast collection of 30-plus years’ worth of ticket stubs and performance programs speaks to his tremendous support for music and the arts. John attended and became involved in numerous music festivals and devoted many years to the Frostbite Music Festival, as a volunteer and on the board,” the obituary reads.

Yukon musician Matthew Lien accepted the award on behalf of the late Layman. Lien, who was involved in nominating Layman for the prize, told the News that Layman had the “quintessential artist’s heart” and that he was an integral part of the territory’s artistic community.

When asked how Layman would have responded to being honoured at the Yukon Heritage Awards, Lien said he would have “been very, very touched.”

“I think this would have meant a lot to him, you know, to be recognized this way, and we can only hope that, somehow, he was aware of it,” said Lien.

Beyond the History Maker Awards, three other awards were handed out for volunteer work, innovation and restoration.

Harris Cox was given the Helen Couch Volunteer of the Year Award for his work with the Yukon Transportation Museum.

In a statement published online, Tourism and Culture Minister John Streicker noted, “Over the past decade, [Cox] has been a steady volunteer at the museum and has made donations of artifacts to the museum, including a significant collection of Yukon images from the 1950s to the 1990s.”

Since donating the photo collection last year, Cox’s commitment to the museum has intensified as he’s helped museum staffers scan and identify the contents of each image.

According to Lianne Maitland, executive director of the Yukon Historical & Museum Association, the group which organizes the awards, Cox shared close connection to the volunteer award’s namesake.

“He mentioned that Helen Couch was the godmother of his son, which was a nice connection,” said Maitland.

Yukon-based media company Shot in the Dark Productions received the Innovation, Education, and Community Engagement Award for the 2023 short documentary Signal Fire. According to a media release, the 30-minute documentary highlights how researchers and Indigenous communities must base their relationships on mutual respect.

Signal Fire, which is about reconciliation, is an adaptation of an academic paper on how researchers can work with Indigenous communities, and it was really great. They had a lot of their production team there for the evening, as well as a couple of the authors of the paper,” Maitland said.

She added that the team behind Signal Fire was surprised it was being honoured because the documentary only came out a few weeks ago.

“We were right on it. We saw it. We had a committee member who saw the film and said this would be fantastic to recognize,” Maitland said.

The Yukon Film Society was honoured with the Heritage Conservation Project of the Year Award for its restoration efforts at the Yukon Theatre. Whitehorse’s only operating movie theatre has undergone some notable upgrades over the past six months, with the building’s exterior tidied up with a fresh coat of white paint and its iconic neon sign returned to its former glory.

Streicker’s statement notes that the restoration of the Yukon Theatre’s neon sign is what netted the Yukon Film Society the conservation project award.

The awards ceremony was one of the better attended, according to Maitland.

“It was a really wonderful evening; we had quite a crowd out. We had 59 people when we counted, which is great. One of our larger crowds, I would say,” Maitland told the News.

The Yukon Heritage Awards has been running since the early 1980s. Selecting honourees involves a nomination process and then review by a committee.

Contact Matthew Bossons at

Matthew Bossons

About the Author: Matthew Bossons

I grew up in a suburb of Vancouver and studied journalism there before moving to China in 2014 to work as a journalist and editor.
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