Whitehorse celebrates six decades as a city

Whitehorse may be known as a 19th century stop for gold seekers, but it's time to fill the city with yellow diamonds, the traditional 60th anniversary gift. Yukon's capital is celebrating six decades as a city.

Whitehorse may be known as a 19th century stop for gold seekers, but it’s time to fill the city with yellow diamonds, the traditional 60th anniversary gift.

Yukon’s capital is celebrating six decades as a city. A municipal government was formed in 1950, with Gordon Armstrong as the city’s first mayor.

Back then, Whitehorse Mayor Bev Buckway was just starting school.

“When I think back to 60 years ago and what I was doing, I believe I was a Grade 1 student at Whitehorse Elementary School, never ever dreaming that one day I would be mayor of the city. I probably didn’t even know what a mayor was.”

Although she was too young to remember Whitehorse’s birth, Buckway has fond memories of her childhood in the city.

When Sixth Avenue was paved, her parents told her, “Whatever you do, don’t ride your bike on the fresh pavement,” she recalled.

“So, of course, what we did was rounded up all the kids we could find and went up to Sixth Avenue and we all rode in the fresh pavement and made little tire tracks.”

Since then, the city has seen many changes – including the repaving of Sixth Avenue.

The S.S. Klondike paddlewheeler became a national historical site in 1966.

The city’s population reached 5,075 in 1970 and 10 years later it was the most expensive place to live in Canada.

The Yukon Arts Centre was erected in 1992, providing a large venue for theatre, music and visual arts.

In 2007, the city hosted the Canada Winter Games.

Before it became a city, it was “really a shack town in every sense of the word,” said Rolf Hougen, a Whitehorse resident for almost 70 years.

The houses weren’t built from the ground up, he recalled. Instead, residents would add on to homes as they could afford it.

“For instance, we bought one of those homes at one point and when we demolished it, the centre of the home was a tent, which had been the first building on the property,” said Hougen.

The sidewalks were boardwalks, there was no sewer or water system and no paving, he continued.

In honour of the city’s growth and achievements, Whitehorse will host a celebration at the Canada Games Centre.

“Just to look and see how our city has grown over the years … it’s such a feeling to see this progress and change take place,” said Buckway.

The “family fun” will offer free face painting and crafts, pool and field games, cake, a dance and a fundraiser barbecue, said Buckway.

Ryan McNally will provide live rockabilly tunes during the dance, from 7:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.

“It’s nice to be playing for the town,” said the Montreal-raised musician who has lived in Whitehorse for almost three years.

Buckway is excited to take part in the celebrations, she said.

“It’s a wonderful thing to be the mayor of Whitehorse when we’re celebrating the 60th anniversary.”