Students in Yukon University’s housing maintainer program work on one of the two houses provided by the Tr'ondëk Hwëchin for the program. The houses were gutted and retrofitted as part of the program. (Submitted/Simon Vincent)

Yukon University wraps up housing maintainer program

Seven students renovated two homes owned by the Tr’ondëk Hwëchin over seven months

Seven Yukon University students are putting their skills to use both at home and at work.

The housing maintainer program at Yukon University in Dawson City wrapped up in May with seven students renovating two homes owned by the Tr’ondëk Hwëchin over seven months.

The program came about thanks to a partnership between the university and the First Nation.

The beginning

As Peter Marangu, Tr’ondëk Hwëchin’s director of housing and infrastructure, explained in a June 2 interview, there had been discussions with the university (then Yukon College) over the years about the possibility of a program that would focus on training community members for pre-apprenticeships and home building work.

Initially, officials looked at programs elsewhere that saw students train through building tiny houses.

Marangu noted for Tr’ondëk Hwëchin there is a big concern with the energy efficiancy of some of its older buildings. After looking at the possibilities, work began to develop a program that would see students gain skills through a retrofit of two older houses owned by the First Nation.

“It’s a good direction for us,” Marangu said.

As Yukon University officials noted in a statement, such a program is important in Dawson, where there is a housing shortage, as graduates have the sills to maintain and work on existing and new homes.

Through the partnership, Yukon University provided the training to seven students with Tr’ondëk Hwëchin providing the homes and funding for the program.

Skills gained

The program ran from October to May.

Instructor Simon Vincent said the program gave students an opportunity to “try a bit of everything”. While approximately 90 per cent of the program focused on carpentry, there was also some electrical and plumbing work done, giving students an opportunity to try out different trades, perhaps determining a profession in a specific trade they would like to pursue.

“It was a complete retrofit,” Vincent said, as he described work to install new vapour barriers, insulation, roofing work and more.

“It was quite extensive,” he said.

Along with hands-on training students received through the reno work, they also worked to upgrade their math skills during class time held in the mornings for the first five months of the program.

The program was not without some challenges though as it was run during a time when there is shortage of building materials due to COVID-19.

At times, while waiting for certain materials to come in for various parts of the renovations, students would complete a project in their own homes.

“We got pretty good at improvising,” Vincent said, adding students have noted they are pleased to get some work in their own homes done and benefit from it every day.

Vincent noted each of the seven students have moved on to jobs where they are using the skills learned through the course, with some looking at going into trades.

Over the next few weeks, he will be reviewing the program — what worked well, challenges and future improvements.

What it means for the community

Marangu said along with growing skills and confidence within the community, the housing maintainer program is also helping to move the community toward less reliance on fossil fuels.

“(There’s) all-around improvements to the houses and energy performance,” Marangu siad. “For the community it’s very important.”

He also emphasized the opportunities this gives students to pursue careers in the trades.

The two homes will be added to Tr’ondëk Hwëchin’s housing stock to be rented out for the benefit of members.

An ongoing partnership

The housing maintainer program is one of three programs Yukon University offered through the winter in partnership with the First Nation.

The other two included a multi-trades program and office administration program with the First Nation providing student support, building sites and materials for each.

The First Nation and students celebrated the completion of the program on May 28.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at

Yukon University