2023 will be a year of renewal at the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre.
The centre, which focuses on the Yukon area of the Beringia land mass that connected Alaska and the Yukon with Siberia during the last ice age, will see some big changes in the Great Hall — the centre’s main exhibit hall. The centre will be temporarily closed beginning in January and is expected to reopen in the spring.
Many are familiar with the Great Hall as the main space that greets visitors when they walk into the centre where a cast of a hebior mammoth is an iconic feature. Also featured are other animals that once roamed the Yukon and other Beringia lands during the last ice age, a children’s area and information about the first people of the Yukon. While there have been some updates to the centre since it opened as the Beringia centre (after the building was originally used as a territorial visitor reception centre) in 1997, many of the displays in the main hall were part of the original exhibits.
As Beringia’s executive director Christie Grekul and paleontologist Grant Zazula explained, over the last couple of years work has been underway to plan a new exhibit space that’s more interactive and has a bigger focus on the Yukon.
“The new space will have a lot of different components,” Grekul said.
“It’ll have an interactive welcome exhibit, a new functional reception area [and] a large hand-painted mural that will bring the last 1.5 million years of the ice age and the Yukon to life, so we’re excited about that. And a big thing that we’re going to be doing is really updating the exhibits to focus on telling the Yukon ice age story. And to do this, we are going to exhibit more Yukon fossils and stories about the Yukon.”
As Zazula explained, there have been some significant fossil discoveries in the Yukon that have been housed at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa. The plans for Beringia will see some of those fossils return home to the territory, giving Yukoners an opportunity to take in more of the Yukon’s history.
At the same time the centre displays the territory’s ice age past, it will also showcase change that happens over time.
“When most people think of ice age, they think of blowing snow, cold temperatures, and big furry animals,” Zazula said.
“But, that wasn’t the case the whole time during the ice age. We also had warm times in the ice age where warm-adapted animals migrated to the Yukon.”
The new display will feature animals that changed in response to environmental and climate change, something Zazula pointed out is very relevant today.
“Changes have been such a huge part of the story in Beringia for hundreds of thousands of years,” he said. “So we want to put that complete story about environmental change together.”
Both Zazula and Grekul stated their excitement with the plans. Interactive displays, a showcase of the huge diversity of animals that lived in the North, opportunities for visitors to view microscopic pollen grains to learn about ancient vegetation, as well as the DNA of ancient species, will be among some of the features. It will also give visitors insight into how scientists do their work to learn about the past.
The plans will mean bidding farewell to many of the displays Yukoners have come to associate with the centre, though some pieces will be recycled and refurbished into the new exhibits. While it will mean not seeing the complete skeleton of the ice age creatures, Zazula said visitors will get a more accurate view of how scientists have learned about the animals.
“Some of those iconic things that you’ll remember from the centre will still be in here, but just configured in a very different way,” he said.
Efforts to plan for the new exhibit space began in early 2021 and have involved First Nations, other Yukon government departments, researchers from the Royal Alberta Museum, consultants and others.
While the centre will be closed while work is underway, Grekul said officials will be staying connected to Yukoners by taking what they learned when COVID-19 restrictions saw the centre closed to in-person visitors for a time.
“Our interpretive guides are currently planning and creating some fun and educational take-home programs for families and kids,” she said.
“That was something we got used to doing when the restrictions were quite tight during COVID. They became really popular and we want to do that [again].”
As was the case during COVID-19 restrictions, Grekul said the centre will invite participants to post photos and provide feedback about the take-home kits.
Online science talks will also continue to be part of the centre’s offerings and available to anyone with an internet connection.
Dec. 29 and 30 will mark the final days the Beringia centre will be open to visitors before it closes to begin work on the new exhibits. It will be open each of those days from 12 p.m. until 5 p.m.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org