John Kenneth McKinnon (Ken) was born on April 20, 1936 in Winnipeg, Manitoba to Alexander and Catherine (Kitty) McKinnon.
Ken was a bright student, winning debater and active athlete. After graduating from Saint Paul’s College, he continued his studies and played basketball at the University of Manitoba. During summer breaks, Ken traveled west to work, first in BC, then north to the Yukon in 1956, where he worked as a surveyor, lineman and catskinner for the telegraph line. After graduating in 1960 with his Bachelor’s degree in political science, he moved to the Yukon to stay.
Ken became active in Yukon politics immediately. In 1961, at age 25, Ken was the youngest member elected to the Yukon Legislative Assembly. He went on to serve four terms and was always a fierce advocate for responsible government and First Nations rights. His duties in the legislature also included terms as the Chairman of the Financial Advisory Committee, the Minister of Local Government and Minister of Highways and Public Works.
Ken was appointed as the Commissioner of the Yukon from 1986 to 1995. For more than 40 years, he served in many other appointed roles, including as the Yukon President for the Council for Canadian Unity, director for the Arctic Institute of North America, Chair of the Yukon Anniversaries Commission, member of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, Chancellor of Yukon College, and as Chair of the Yukon Environmental and Socio-economic Assessment Board.
Another accomplishment Ken was proud of was working with Parks Canada and Yukon Electric in the 1980s to light the S.S. Klondike with electric Christmas lights, a Whitehorse winter tradition many enjoy to this day.
In the private sector, Ken was involved over a number of years as a manager, shareholder and director at Northern Television Systems, better known as WHTV.
Ken was passionate about sports and a competitive athlete. He played on hockey and basketball teams for many years, and spent a lot of his free time outdoors cycling, skiing, and staying fit. He helped share his love of sport with thousands of northern Youth as the founding president of the Arctic Winter Games and was also a founding member of the Skookum Jim Friendship Centre.
Ken received many and varied awards, celebrating his diverse talents and interests: debating awards, athlete of the year (two times at St. Paul’s College), and Most Valuable Player for the Whitehorse Senior Basketball League.
Ken was also honoured with the Governor General’s Centennial Medal, the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal, and the Governor General’s Canada 125 Medal. In 1994, he was inducted as a Knight of the Order of St. John. He was also considered an honorary chief by the Yukon Native Brotherhood.
Though Ken’s accomplishments are too many to list, his most treasured were moments with his family, peaceful time tending his large garden at Marsh Lake, or fishing in Southeast Alaska.
He may be best known for his great buns and plentiful Yukon gold potatoes!
Ken is survived by his wife, Judy; children, Craig (Amy) and Alexia (Kelly); siblings, Margaret, Joan, Rita, Rosemary and Alex; grandchildren, Douglas, Lauren, Madelyn and Annie; and many nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews.Ken died of cholangiocarcinoma at Whitehorse General Hospital on March 13, 2019.
We are very grateful to the medical teams at the Whitehorse and Vancouver general hospitals.
Our heartfelt thanks also to our friends and family who have shown tremendous love and support throughout Ken’s journey.
At Ken’s request, there will be no funeral ceremony. Half of his ashes will be spread amongst the whales and halibut at Point Adolphus in Icy Strait, and the other half at the confluence of the McLintock and Yukon rivers to flow down the much-loved Yukon.