Commemorated without controversy

Whitehorse has finally erected a memorial to the man who has put the territory in libraries across the world. A bronze bust of Jack London now sits on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Main Street.

Whitehorse has finally erected a memorial to the man who has put the territory in libraries across the world.

A bronze bust of Jack London now sits on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Main Street.

The art was commissioned by Rolf Hougen, who first decided to commemorate the territory’s “greats” during his honeymoon to Vienna in 1955.

“Jack London is the greatest of all for publicizing us throughout the world,” said Hougen during the opening of a new photo exhibit at Arts Underground that took place after the bust was unveiled.

Sam Steele, Angela Sidney, Robert Service and now Jack London have all been honoured by Hougen.

But London is especially important because he translates well, said Yukon MP Larry Bagnell.

Robert Service’s verse doesn’t rhyme in other languages, but London is a staple in German school curriculum, said Bagnell.

His work generates a lot of publicity and, as a result, draws tourists to the territory, he added.

Over the roar of passing trucks, Hougen echoed those same thoughts before Mayor Bev Buckway and Margaret Hougen, Rolf’s wife, pulled back the cloth on the latest bust.

“The guy was only here 12 months, but 65 of his stories and novels were based on his time here,” Hoguen told those who gathered for Friday’s unveiling, which included Premier Dennis Fentie. “We should use him at every chance we get to promote the Yukon worldwide.”

Hougen furrowed his brow when faced with the mention of Whitehorse’s last attempt to honour the oft-depressed, alcoholic writer.

“That had to do with misinformation to the people who were reacting to that,” said Hougen. “If they had studied Jack London, they would have known that whatever was said was totally out of context. He was a great supporter of First Nation peoples and preserving and knowing and understanding them.”

The attempt to change the name of Two-Mile Hill to Jack London Boulevard in 1997 was shelved after some people protested, saying London was a racist and his work reflected views that were insulting to aboriginal people.

In public statements and in his work, London pushed the idea that some races were dominant and that weaker ones should be subjugated or exterminated.

“But that was every European 100 years ago – before political correctness, “ said Harreson Tanner, the artist who sculpted the bronze bust.

The new statue reflects the many sides of the man, said Tanner.

“I wanted people to look at him and see his life; the angst, the wisdom, the torment. This is a man who lived 100 years in 40,” said Tanner.

The bust was largely sculpted from two photographs Hougen provided Tanner from around the time he spent in the Yukon.

“He’s not really smiling, he’s looking down, kind of quirky. He looks like a mix between JFK and Robert Redford – what a dude,” said Harrison, noting the half-upturned jacket collar and slight, side-smile on the bust.

Dawson author Dick North, penned the small inscription on the plaque accompanying the bust, and the pedestal was provided by Whitehorse.

A photo exhibit, Life in Whitehorse 1946-1969, was also unveiled on Friday. It is a selection of Hougen’s own photographs and can be viewed at Arts Underground until the end of January. After that, the collection will be moved to the second floor of the Hougen Centre so people can always see them, says Hougen.

Also, Hougen’s 1,500-photo collection is available for viewing at Yukon Archives.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at roxannes@yukon-news.com

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