Haines Junction college campus celebrates 20th birthday and book launch

HAINES JUNCTION On Wednesday, Yukon College’s 20-year presence in Haines Junction is being celebrated with a supper, slideshow and a book…


On Wednesday, Yukon College’s 20-year presence in Haines Junction is being celebrated with a supper, slideshow and a book launch.

Although the college has had a presence in the town since 1980, it first established a regular campus in Haines Junction in the fall of 1986.

“Community campuses are an essential component of Yukon College’s adult education services,” says college president Terry Weninger.

“The vitality of Haines Junction campus reflects its importance in the community and the college’s territorial network.”

So now the staff and local campus committee are busy preparing a special open house for November 22.

“We’re celebrating history with a look to the future,” says co-ordinator, Stephen Osborne. “We’ve called it our 20-20 vision — 20 years past and 20 years from now.”

At the open house, an ongoing silent slide show will depict campus life. It will highlight students participating in the 20 years of course offerings, seemingly vast for such a small campus.

To further underline the theme of the past, the campus will launch and sell a community history book, From First We Met to Internet.

Stories and photographs from 55 students and other residents of Haines Junction, past and present, were collected.

The book (full disclosure: I edited the book) pieces together a mosaic of memories from the town since its beginning in 1942.

The 70 stories from seven decades include tributes to Southern Tutchone elders and other seniors, as well as recounts of community fun, bear encounters and romances.

Others relate tales of triumph over the elements (or over the neighbours in practical jokes).

The book grew out of an art and technology program designed at the campus.

The generic curriculum could be readily adapted to any of the campuses or communities, including Whitehorse.

The program became the Community History Project, supported by various agencies including the Yukon’s advanced education branch, Haines Junction, Champagne and Aishihik First Nations and the Yukon Foundation.

Local graphics firm, Egli Design, did the layout.

Egli also instructed college students in Photoshop and Adobe PageMaker as part of the project.

From First We Met to Internet is an artistic endeavour, showcasing the spirit of community-minded people.

And it’s a positive sign of community development to have seven local agencies involved.

Haines Junction should be proud.

The book will sell for $22.

To represent the future at the campus’ upcoming birthday celebration, Lisa Robinson’s Grade 5 class at St. Elias Community School is producing a series of drawings to portray what the campus and education might look like 20 years from now.

Haines Junction’s first campus was the fire hall meeting room in the basement of the territorial government building, beneath the liquor store.

For a few years, Adult Basic Education (upgrading) was the only full-time program.

With space enough for just six students at one table, the cement-floored room with noisy fans, was adjacent to the town’s emergency services garage.

Fire trucks, ambulances and diesel tanks sometimes created excitement, noise or even fumes.

Osborne recalls a 1988 earthquake when the water sloshed out of the top of the fire trucks just on the other side of the door. “Through the fire hall was the quickest way out, and we didn’t hang around to watch,” he says.

Despite these inconveniences, many students successfully completed various levels of upgrading and progressed to specialized courses.

In 1993, the campus moved upstairs to a larger room in the same building.

In 2003, major renovations expanded the facility to three classrooms, including a spacious computer lab and videoconferencing capabilities for distance learning and other shared events.

Campus staffing increased from one to one and a half in 1988.

Presently the campus employs two full-time people and three half-timers, including an employment officer for the area.

The campus recruits additional instructors for weekend and evening courses.

The first two instructors, Osborne and Hurlburt, have remained at the campus for 20 and 18 years, respectively.

“It’s been a great 20 years,” says Osborne. “I can’t wait to see what the next 20 years will bring — not that I’ll be around the Campus then,” he chuckles.

Catherine Walton, Terry Berezan, and Patty Moore complete the current staff.

A campus committee of five volunteers acts as an advisory board. Geoff Scherer represents the municipality and sits as committee chair.

“The Campus Committees play an important role in identifying and supporting needed initiatives,” says Miranda Atwood, director of community and extension services. “Their expertise is vital to college and community development.”

Haines Junction campus is a hospitable place — not just at open houses.

Coffee is on first thing in the morning; the aroma wafts through the foyer inviting a person in.

Cookies and homemade muffins often appear on a table nearby.

A large couch outside the main classroom door adds a cozy touch.

 “The campus is well spread out and clean — has everything we need from a campus,” says evening student Janina Kirk. “And the staff that is easy to talk with.”

Both former and present students express their appreciation.

They mention not having to leave home to take courses.

Several note the positive, peaceful atmosphere.

“I just feel good about it,” says newcomer Alena Styan.

“My teachers are great,” says Jamie Allen. 

“It’s a safe place to have fun and learn,” adds homecare student Bonnie Robinson “I love coming down to the campus. It’s inclusive here.”

Robinson explains how she came back to Haines Junction in 1998 and had to work in a restaurant for $8.25 per hour.

Part-time evening courses have now equipped her for home care work.

This affords her much more pay and the satisfaction of “giving back to the community in things I am good at.”

“The staff’s support is encouraging in class as well as after the training is over; they want us to continue to learn and use our skills in the workplace and in life,” adds former student Michelle MacDonald.

“I am thankful to Yukon College for providing opportunities to attend courses in the smaller communities.”

With every expansion of the facility and the introduction of new technologies, diverse programming has developed.

This now ranges from English as a second language to business and employment programs and outdoor pursuits.

Distance learning has become de rigueur. 

Current campus initiatives are land-based learning and the development of a northern outdoor skills program with a strong leadership component.

 “By Canadian standards, we are a very small college with a small operating budget. This fact leads to creative solutions,” says instructor Terry Berezan.

And, while munching on canapés and carrot cake, the public is invited to view a photo display, a slide show, and a storybook demonstrating the results of those “solutions.”

“That’s our thank you,” say the instructors. “After all, it takes a good community to build a good campus.”

Everyone is invited to the open house at the campus from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Wednesday.

Elaine Hurlburt is a writer who lives in Haines Junction.