This year’s Yukon Historical and Museums Association Heritage Award recipients Murray Lundberg, from left, Jeanne Beaudoin (on behalf of the Association franco-yukonaise), Bruce Barrett, Jamie Toole (for his father, the late Gordon Toole), and Len Beecroft and Marjorie Copp (on behalf of the Yukon Church Heritage Society). (Michael Gates/Yukon News)

History Hunter: Heritage awards honour Yukoners

The week of February 18-23 is designated as Heritage Week across the nation. In several provinces, February 18 is celebrated as Family Day.

The National Trust for Canada states: “As Canadians, we are lucky to have a rich and diverse heritage to celebrate and there are so many ways we can all celebrate heritage.” The trust invites Canadians to enjoy Heritage Week and this year’s theme: Heritage: The Tie that Binds.

Heritage week began in Whitehorse with the presentation of the annual heritage awards at the Yukon Archives on Feb. 18. Sponsored by the Yukon Historical and Museums Association (YHMA), the awards have been handed out by the association for 35 years, and for three years before that by the Dawson City Museum.

YHMA presents these awards to individuals, organizations and businesses that have made a special contribution to the conservation or interpretation of some aspect of Yukon’s heritage in the preceding year.

The evening began with an opening prayer given by elder Dianne Smith, of the Kwanlin Dun First Nation, followed by brief welcoming remarks by Commissioner Angélique Bernard, Jeanie Dendys, Yukon’s minister of tourism and culture, and Kaitlin Normandin, president of YHMA.

The guest speakers for the evening, who focused upon this year’s theme, were J.J., Dustyn and Joshua Van Bibber, who spoke about their great grandfather, respected Dawson City elder, J.J. Van Bibber. The theme seemed appropriate to what they had to say. According to Great grandson J.J., “It is about how our shared heritage, in all its forms, has the power to bring people together and create a sense of belonging. The legacy left behind by grandpa JJ, through his photographs, stories, music and his lessons are at the heart of our family and community.”

Their talk included a short video presentation produced in 2016, titled Pictures Don’t Lie, by Lulu Keating of Red Snapper Films, and ended by reading the dedication from the elder Van Bibber’s 2012 book, I Was Born Under a Spruce Tree, which was for “all the grandchildren, great grandchildren and those yet to come.” Josh Van Bibber concluded by stating that he and his brothers would ensure that the legacy of their great grandfather would not be forgotten.

The Annual Heritage Award this year went to Murray Lundberg, who was recognized for several accomplishments. First, he has published three books, the most notable being Fractured Veins and Broken Dreams, a history of the mining in the Windy Arm region of the Yukon south of Carcross. In February of 1997, Murray opened a “Yukon and Alaska” website, which has grown and evolved into ExploreNorth. With almost 7,000 pages of information and 40,000 files, it is regularly referred to by countless researchers and interested people.

Finally, in November, 2014, Lundberg created a Yukon History Facebook page. Recently made over into “Yukon History and Abandoned Places,” it currently has 12,000 followers and serves as a dynamic forum for interested people to exchange information and share experiences about the Yukon. A self-described history nerd, Lundberg has definitely gone mainstream with his highly popular internet products.

The late Gordon Marvin Toole was this year’s recipient of the History Maker Award. Recognized for his contributions to the development of the territory, he was a founding partner and pilot for Watson Lake Flying Service, the owner /operator of Thunderbird Fishing Camp, a big game outfitter, a trapper and a farmer.

But what he made headlines for in newspapers around the world happened on February 3, 1947. Working as a meteorologist at Snag, near Beaver Creek, he reported the coldest temperature ever documented in North America. The tribute was given by Anne Morgan and the award was proudly accepted by Toole’s son, Jamie.

Bruce Barrett, who has been involved in heritage related events and activities while also working in the heritage field for many years, was recognized for his contributions by receiving the Helen Couch Volunteer of the Year Award.

In his citation, it was noted that Bruce has “generously given his time in a volunteer capacity, whether as a photographer, advocate, or even singer. He has acted as the unofficially official photographer for YHMA, chronicling many of the organization’s special events over the years.”

Bruce has volunteered for the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) Canada. In 2017, he donated his acting talent to an interactive fund raising performance for the Old Log Church Museum.

The Association franco-yukonnaise (AFY) received the Innovation, Education and Community Engagement Award for its project, “De fil en histories: les personnages d’un territoire/Stitches in Time: Yukon History Makers.” Local artist Cecile Girard led a group of 19 community members in the making of 21 handcrafted dolls representing real Francophone Yukoners who left their mark in the territory.

Three bilingual exhibits in Dawson City, Haines Junction and Whitehorse followed, as well as a bilingual website, video, and printed catalogue (the latter item was available for free to those who attended the awards ceremony). AFY is currently adapting this project for use in schools. This project, notes the citation, “…highlights the diversity of Yukon’s history and culture and demonstrates AFY’s commitment to raising awareness about Yukon’s Francophone heritage.”

The Heritage Conservation Project of the Year Award went to the Yukon Church Heritage Society for its efforts to conserve the Old Log Church and Rectory. The buildings were constructed in 1900 and 1901 respectively and are among the oldest surviving historic landmarks in the city.

The church functioned in that capacity until it was converted to its current function as a museum, in 1962. The buildings were designated both as Yukon Historic Sites and a Municipal historic site in 2014. According to the citation, the society “…have shown great stewardship of the buildings through respectful use, care and maintenance, and through various conservation projects.”

Work performed on the buildings by the society conformed to the Standards and Guidelines for the Conservation of Historic Places in Canada. The award was sponsored by the Government of Yukon and graciously accepted on behalf of the Yukon Church Heritage Society by Len Beecroft and Marjorie Copp.

After the Awards ceremony, a group photograph of the recipients was arranged, then everybody retired to the Yukon Archives meeting room, where guests and recipients were supplied with a variety of delicious treats while they socialized.

Michael Gates is a Yukon historian and sometimes adventurer based in Whitehorse. His book, From the Klondike to Berlin, was shortlisted for a national book award. You can contact him at

History Hunter