Old Crow’s ‘spiritual leader’ passes away

Every spring Reverend Dr. Ellen Bruce hiked up King Edward Mountain and prayed that the people of Old Crow would have a good harvest and that the caribou would come. Now it's the people in her community who are praying for her.

Every spring Reverend Dr. Ellen Bruce hiked up King Edward Mountain and prayed that the people of Old Crow would have a good harvest and that the caribou would come.

Now it’s the people in her community who are praying for her.

Sunday evening, the 98-year-old, better known as “Auntie Ellen,” passed away.

She was the first aboriginal woman in the North to be ordained as a church minister.

Bruce dedicated more than half of her life to the Anglican Church where she served as a lay reader, deacon and finally a minister in 1987.

In 1991, she received the Order of Canada for her commitment to the Anglican Church.

“Ellen was a natural leader,” said Ron Ferris who was bishop of the Anglican Church at the time.

“She was a really wonderful, wise church leader who really cared about the community and her people.”

Bruce was born in 1911 in Rampart House, a small trading post in the North.

As a child she lived in a tent with her family, following the caribou and moose.

“While growing up, people they move around this country everyday to look for food. Caribou, moose, ducks, rabbit and even just one weasel was good,” said Bruce in an elder’s statement posted on the Old Crow website.

“Meat juice was our juice, bone juice is what I fight over with my siblings – it taste sooo good.”

Bruce’s love for the church was passed on through her family.

Her grandfather was trained in catechism by the first Anglican missionary to visit the Gwich’in people.

He passed the skill on to his son who eventually passed it on to Bruce.

Bruce was the only person in Old Crow who could read the Old Testament to people in the Gwich’in language.

And because of that, she was a hot commodity in other communities in the North, said Ferris.

After Bruce was ordained she travelled to Arctic Village to lead church services there.

“People went in droves, especially young people,” he said.

Bruce first got involved with the church in 1929.

“She dedicated her whole life to the church,” said Robert, Bruce’s son.

“She didn’t do anything else.”

Bruce’s efforts were so well-recognized she was labelled Old Crow’s “spiritual leader,” in a 2003 book, coedited by Margaret Atwood, celebrating inspiring women in Canada.

Bruce worked with the Old Crow women’s auxiliary and was instrumental in passing along the Gwich’in language to young people.

She was a fixture in the community.

“She helped raise me and the other kids in the community,” said Old Crow MLA Darius Elias.

“I have a special place in my heart for her.”

Bruce held a lot of clout in Old Crow.

If someone wanted to hold an event on Sunday, they had to ask Bruce if it was OK.

“If Ellen said, ‘No,’ it was a no,” said Robert laughing.

“She was a really strong woman,” he said, explaining his mother would always take her children out into the bush.

“Even 10 to 15 years ago she was still out snaring and working with skin.”

But in the last couple years she got weaker and went to live with her daughter in Inuvik.

This past August, she noticed her health deteriorating and travelled one last time to Old Crow.

“She wanted to see all her people,” said Robert.

At nearly a century old, Bruce lived long enough to see five generations of her family.

“She was the epitome of dedication,” said Elias.

“She loved her people and it showed.”

A church service will be held for Reverend Dr. Ellen Bruce Thursday, October 21 at the St. Luke’s Church in Old Crow.

Contact Vivian Belik at


Just Posted

Skagway Brewing Co. doubles seating, quadruples production

The new location is on Fourth Avenue, between the hardware store and the Starfire Thai restaurant

Leaders raise expectations for federal election at Yukon Forum

‘We really need to be respectful of the progress that we have made in a short period of time’

New procurement policy set to be up and running this spring

The last major procurement overhaul occurred in 1995, Mostyn said

Yukon hospital workers reach tentative deal to avoid a strike

The proposal will be voted on March 4, the union says

Longtime Yukon lawyer, former federal NDP candidate Melissa Atkinson dead at 45

Atkinson, who served as the territory’s first Indigenous Crown attorney, died the morning of Feb. 14.

German rookie wins 2019 Yukon Quest red lantern

Hendrik Stachnau was the last musher to cross the finish line

Hospital workers are prepared to strike

‘They’ve had enough’

Whitehorse mayor calls tax and fee increases reasonable

Council approved the 2019 operations budget

Team Yukon attends pep rally before heading off to Canada Winter Games

The Games are taking place in Red Deer, Alta., from Feb. 15 to March 3.

This year’s Sima Cup medals were delicious

A local bakery provided the prizes

Mushers of all sizes come out for the Babe Southwick Memorial Sled Dog Races

As the leading Yukon Quest mushers were nearing the finish of their… Continue reading

History Hunter: Mining on Dublin Gulch has a long history

A new gold mine is being developed north of Mayo that will… Continue reading

Yukonomist: Yukon carbon tax decisions

With the carbon tax coming into effect on July 1, you now… Continue reading

Most Read