Overgrown Tr’ondek Hwech’in history rooted out

Ronald Johnson remembers growing up in a cabin across the Klondike River from Dawson City. Back then, the neighbourhood was known as Lousetown. Johnson didn't realize it was also Tr'ochek - a site traditionally used by the Tr'ondek Hwech'in.

Ronald Johnson remembers growing up in a cabin across the Klondike River from Dawson City.

Back then, the neighbourhood was known as Lousetown.

Johnson didn’t realize it was also Tr’ochek – a site traditionally used by the Tr’ondek Hwech’in.

As a child, the longtime Dawson resident played on a bluff overlooking the river, where he could watch the steamers arrive from Whitehorse. His favourite playgrounds were gold rush relics – abandoned trains, a decaying sawmill – and he remembers his family caught fish in the Klondike River near the bluff, grew vegetables in their garden and gathered berries from the terrace above the confluence of the Klondike and the Yukon rivers.

In the summers, the family would go up the Klondike River to various camps and lived off the land in the traditional manner.

There were times around

freeze-up and breakup when Johnson had to walk up the Klondike Valley to the Ogilvie Bridge, then back down to the other side to town, he said. If he was lucky, he might be picked up by the school bus coming in from Bear Creek.

On Saturday, all these memories came flooding back when Johnson gave the opening prayer at a ceremony to unveil a commemorative plaque marking the site’s national significance.

“It was one of the principle Tr’ondek Hwech’in Han camps, and was an integral part of the annual round … from mid-summer to late fall, the Han harvested and dried salmon, collected berries, hunted moose and caribou, and prepared foods for winter storage,” according to the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada.

Tr’ochek is important because it is representative of the Han cultural landscape of the middle Yukon River Valley: “The site speaks to the Han peoples’ use and understanding of their traditional territories and … the value they place on this landscape is reflected in their oral histories, language, place names and continued use of the site,” says the board.

But for Johnson, it’s also home.

His family came to Tr’ochek during the 1930s and lived there until the early 1960s, when they relocated to the other side of the river, in Dawson.

The site is overgrown now and has been disturbed by mining. And the old railroad and sawmill are practically gone. But Johnson believes that recognition by a national body – and its inclusion in the tentative nomination for UNESCO World Heritage Site designation – will be good for future generations, once the First Nation develops the site for visitors.

With a brief interruption as a result of the gold rush, the site of Tr’ochek has been occupied by First Nation people beyond the reach of memory. However, it went through some turbulent times over the last 20 years, what with land claims and development plans, said former Yukon historic sites manager Doug Olynyk during his historical address.

It’s now owned by the Tr’ondek Hwech’in.

The commemoration ceremony saw close to 100 guests and citizens gathered in front of Dawson’s Danoja  Zho Cultural Centre. There was a Junior Rangers honour guard, while Han singers performed a welcome song and the national anthem.

Yukon MP Ryan Leef said that as a boy growing up in Dawson City, he thought that Moosehide was the traditional home for the Han people. On Saturday, he’s learned a bit more about Yukon history.

“We must learn from our past and guard against neglect to improve our present day and perfect our future,” said Leef, who joined elder Percy Henry in unveiling the plaque.

Michael Gates is a local historian and sometime adventurer based in Whitehorse. His most recent book is History Hunting in the Yukon.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The new Yukon Liberal caucus poses for a photo during the swearing-in ceremony held on May 3. (Yukon Government/Submitted)
Liberal cabinet sworn in at legislature before house resumes on May 11

Newly elected MLA Jeremy Harper has been nominated as speaker.

XX
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for May 5, 2021.… Continue reading

Crystal Schick/Yukon News Premier Sandy Silver, left, and Yukon’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley speak at a COVID-19 update press conference in Whitehorse on Nov. 19. They formally announced that as of Nov. 20, anyone entering the territory (including Yukoners returning home) would be required to self-isolate with the exception of critical service workers, those exercising treaty rights and those living in B.C. border towns
Vaccinated people won’t have to self-isolate in the Yukon after May 25

Restaurants and bars will also be able to return to full capacity at the end of the month.

An RV pulls into Wolf Creek Campground to enjoy the first weekend of camping season on April 30, 2021. John Tonin/Yukon News
Opening weekend of Yukon campgrounds a ‘definite success’

The territorial campgrounds opened on April 30. Wolf Creek was the busiest park seeing 95 per cent of sites filled.

The site of the Old Crow solar project photographed on Feb. 20. The Vuntut Gwitchin solar project was planned for completion last summer, but delays related to the COVID-19 pandemic pushed it back. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Old Crow is switching to solar

The first phase of the community’s solar array is already generating power.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
One new case of COVID-19 in the Yukon

Case number 82 is the territory’s only active case

Flood and fire risk and potential were discussed April 29. Yukoners were told to be prepared in the event of either a flood or a fire. Submitted Photo/B.C. Wildfire Service
Yukoners told to be prepared for floods and wildland fire season

Floods and fire personelle spoke to the current risks of both weather events in the coming months.

From left to right, Pascale Marceau and Eva Capozzola departed for Kluane National Park on April 12. The duo is the first all-woman expedition to summit Mt. Lucania. (Michael Schmidt/Icefield Discovery)
First all-woman team summits Mt. Lucania

“You have gifted us with a magical journey that we will forever treasure.”

Whitehorse City Hall (Yukon News file)
City news, briefly

Whitehorse goings-on for the week of April 26

The Yukon Department of Education in Whitehorse on Dec. 22, 2020. The department has announced new dates for the 2021/2022 school year. (John Hopkins-Hill/Yukon News file)
Yukon school dates set for 2021/22

The schedule shows classes starting on Aug. 23, 2021 for all Whitehorse schools and in some communities.

Letters to the editor.
Today’s mailbox: rent caps and vaccines

To Sandy Silver and Kate White Once again Kate White and her… Continue reading

Most Read