The opening of Caribou Days in Old Crow this year held special significance with the naming ceremony for the new community centre. Caribou Days was the first chance to gather as a full community due to COVID-19.
The building, now named the Darius Elias Community Centre, held its grand opening on May 20.
Gyde Shepherd, the communications manager for the Vuntut Gwitchin Government, spoke about the importance of the gathering and described how during the course of the long-weekend event, hunters from the small community returned with fresh caribou for community meals.
After two years of not being able to gather, the feeling of community grew as the week went on. A talent show, the final event of the week, lifted community spirits even higher.
The pandemic has been hard on the small community of 261 people (as of June 2021 according to Yukon Bureau of Statistics), the only community in the Yukon north of the Arctic Circle and not linked by a year-round highway. The naming ceremony brought a collective loss to the fore.
Darius Elias died in February 2021. Elias long served his community in several roles — as deputy chief of the Vuntut Gwitchin Government, as member of the Yukon Legislative Assembly, and as a Vuntut National Park warden.
The building that now bears his name is 913 square metres, and contains several meeting rooms, a games room, an elder’s lounge, an exercise room and a full commercial kitchen for cooking traditional foods, in addition to the large community venue space.
According to the Yukon government May 26 press release, the new centre is energy efficient and built to withstand possible issues due to climate change, such as ground shifts or flooding.
Shepherd said the design of the building is designed to evoke a caribou fence in recognition of the importance of the caribou to the life and culture of the Vuntut Gwitchin. The architects, Kobayashi + Zedda, noted on their website that community members felt strongly about maintaining the circular shape and wood finishes from the previous centre.
To that end, Kobayashi + Zedda designed a circular round form, accentuating the circle with an intricate roof structure. On its website, the company that provided the wood beams, Western Archrib, calls the structure, a glulam pin-wheel roof, and that right now it remains one-of-a kind.
The press release highlights that both the Yukon and federal governments contributed to the project with a federal contribution of $10.8 million and $3.6 million from the Yukon government.
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