Keith Halliday is a Yukon history buff.
“In the modern world things are changing so fast, it’s important and interesting to know where you’re from,” says the fourth-generation Yukoner while sitting a downtown café.In a city as young as Whitehorse, Halliday sees signs of the past wherever he looks.
The downtown cafe is the former site of his family’s shop, the Taylor and Drury building, where they sold food and supplies for decades.
Across the street sits the MacBride Museum, whose artifacts — from train engine to telegraph building — Halliday knows well.
Over the past few years, he’s used his passion for the past to write his own version of Yukon history.
Halliday takes historical events and famous figures and adds a little spice to make the stories palatable to young readers.
And he’s has partnered with the museum to bring those stories to kids in the Yukon and around the world.
His latest novel, Yukon Secret Agents: A Boy’s Adventures during the Alaska Border Dispute, is the second in a four-book MacBride Museum Yukon Kids Series.
Halliday calls it a “ripping yarn,” and that’s no lie.
The plot unfolds a bit like an episode of 24 set at the turn of the century.
The historical facts are accurate, but some of the characters and their adventures are Halliday’s creations.
The story begins with an explosion and ends with a spirited battle on a moving train carrying coffins.
In the middle there are coded telegrams, robberies and many narrow escapes from the clutches of evil.
As government officials bicker in Washington and London over the border dispute, the book’s young heroes discover a malicious plot unraveling in the Yukon.
An evil mining promoter is trying to create an international crisis between Canada and the US to help his mine, which sits on the border of the two countries.
The kids must thwart him to avoid a “dustup that would have made the War of 1812 look like Sunday school bickering,” according to one character in the novel, President Theodore Roosevelt.
As a former diplomat, Halliday was immediately drawn to the intricate treaties and political wrangling that came with the border dispute.
But those issues had to be dramatically simplified to make the story a great read for a 10-year-old.
“We had to capture the true facts in a crisp and interesting way that kids would enjoy reading,” says Halliday.
“They love to see a world where kids can do things, but it’s not sugar-coated.
“There’s danger in this book and it’s not preordained that the kids will outsmart the bad guy because he’s a pretty clever fellow.”
Aurore of the Yukon, the first book in the series, was released in 2006.
Now it’s being used as a teaching aid in local schools, and a Grade 5 class at a school in Northern Ontario has picked up the book to learn about Yukon history.
As with the first book, Halliday employed three of his children — 11-year-old Kieran, nine-year-old Aline and seven-year-old Pascale — as editors and illustrators for Yukon Secret Agents.
The trio is also responsible for the book’s overall theme, which came from a long conversation during an afternoon walk.
Everybody knows Yukon’s most famous story about the Klondike Gold Rush, but what about the lesser known events, says Halliday.
“There were a lot of other interesting incidents that happened that have a big impact on how we live today.
“In one version of history Alaska could have been inside the Yukon.
“In another, the Yukon and BC could have been a lot smaller, or, even worse, Roosevelt threatened war over the dispute and we could easily have had military campaigns in the Yukon between Canada and the US, which would have been a disaster no matter who won.”
Halliday plans to release two more books in the series over the next two years and he already has ideas brewing for their plotlines — one involving a haunted house, the other about the Dawson City Nuggets 1905 trip to Ottawa to vie for the Stanley Cup.
Halliday, and others who worked on Yukon Secret Agents, will officially launch the book at the MacBride Museum on June 6 at 5 p.m.
There will be a reading from the book, a talk about the Alaska/Canada border dispute and a tour of MacBride’s new exhibit that documents Whitehorse history in the first half of the 1900s — currently a work in progress.
Yukon Secret Agents is published by iUniverse Inc., and available at Mac’s Fireweed Books, the MacBride Museum and all over the world through Amazon.com.
MacBride will also host a Yukon Secret Agent camp this summer from June 25 to 28, and July 9 to 12.
The Aurore of the Yukon Camp, where kids get to re-enact the shooting of Soapy Smith, will run again this summer from July 23 to 26.