Dawson City, Yukon Friday, April 19, 1996


Spring pastimes in the Klondike nclude making snowmen ... er people. The Matchett sisters are hard at work in this shot by Madeleine Gould.

Feature Stories

Hän Speakers Aim For Their Language to Survive

by Dan Davidson

A new book from the Yukon Native Language Centre is intended to help the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in First Nation keep its language alive.

One of the special features of the annual Christmas Eve Service at St. Paul's Anglican Church was the inclusion of a First Nations Choir among the groups leading the worship. They sang an adaptation of that most famous of aboriginal Christian hymns, "The Huron Carol". It was just one more indication of how seriously the local members of the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in people are taking this project.

Another would be the opening ceremonies of the March Cultural Day at the Robert Service School where the Moosehide Singers and Dancers played a vital role.

Edward Roberts is a part of this movement, along with Doris Adair and Angie Joseph-Rear, who teaches the Hän language up to the grade 4 level at the school and to adults in the community several evenings a week.

Roberts serves as a Hän Language Specialist to the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in and is one of the key figures in the movement to revive the traditional language, dances and songs. It didn't come to him naturally. Two years ago, his sister, Doris Adair, got together with his other sisters and ganged up on him.

"We put the heavies on him," Adair says.

Roberts became thoughtful: "I got to thinking if I don't do this what the next generation going to learn?"

So Roberts got busy.

One of the tangible results is the creation of a book called Hän Language Listening Exercises, which was published last month by the Yukon Native Language Centre.

The book, as YNLC Director John Ritter notes in his introduction, is organized, around sounds and sound contrasts that are peculiar to the branch of Athapascan which is spoken in the region. A similar book was published last year in Eagle, Alaska, which is also part of the traditional Hän territory, and has been adapted to this region by Roberts and others.

In a press release accompanying the book, Ritter, who has been studying the Hän language with elders since the late 1970's, notes that the language seems to be making a come-back.

"There's an extraordinary amount of dedicated work going on in the community. There's a realization that much is at stake, and so people are pulling together to rescue something precious that might otherwise be lost."

The role of the Yukon Native Language Centre is to assist the people in accomplishing the goals they have set for themselves. One of the ways to encourage this job is to hold regular workshops to develop materials. The listening exercises book grew out of such a workshop, which was held in Whitehorse from February 13 to 15.

Another literacy workshop is planned for Dawson City for June of this year. At this time fluent Hän speakers, and those who hope one day to become fluent, will meet to review and add to the growing repertoire of carols, hymns and traditional songs which have already been collected. This is really just the beginning. There is a lot of work left to do.

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History in the Re-Making

by Timothy Sawa

Michael Gates strides into the Canadian Heritage library and slams four, three-inch binders down on the table.

And there're plenty more where they came from.

Each binder is one section of one part to each of the four phases of the restoration project at the Commissioner's Residence in Dawson City. A quick glance over Gates' shoulder reveals at least a dozen more binders lining the shelf.

Most people don't understand how complicated and tedious a project like this can be, says the Cultural Integrity Specialist for the Yukon District. But, after just a few minutes of flipping through one of his precious black binders, it becomes clear that this eight-year, million-dollar Heritage Canada initiative is no walk in the park.

"If you make airplanes they've got to fly," says Gates. "If your in the history business the same standards apply.

"We've got to be as historically accurate as possible."

* * *

The Commissioner's residence was constructed in 1901.

Over the next 95 years it tolerated a host of physical alterations, out-lived a fire, survived the flood of '79 and housed some of the most important people in Yukon History.

The original residence was a simple box-like structure - without the elaborate verandahs that surround it today - designed by renowned architect T.W. Fuller.

(Fuller was also responsible for designing the Old Post Office, which is rated second in historical importance only to the Legislative Buildings in Ottawa, which were actually designed by his father.)

In 1906 the building was gutted by a fire, but refurbished shortly after, bringing it to its current appearance.

Between the years of 1912 to 1916, marking another important time for the residence, Yukon famous George and Martha Black made their home there. After they left, the residence stood empty for 34 years, until the Sister's of St. Ann took over the building while they ran their hospital next door. In the early '60s the sisters moved on and the residence fell into the hands of Parks Canada, and has been under the watchful eye of Gates since he came to Dawson in 1978.

* * *

The idea of restoring the Commission's Residence has been batted around by Parks Canada for some time. It was suggested in 1980, again in 1985 and then a third and final time in 1989.

"The first task was to get all the ducks lined up in a row," explains Gates. "We had to get (the top brass in Winnipeg) onside, and that took a little bit of time."

Now armed with the necessary approval, a plan of action and more enthusiasm than a child off to his first day of school, Gates embarked on his eight-year mission to restore the residence.

To launch Gates' four phase plan -- structure, landscape, furnishings and interpretation -- it was necessary to enlist the help of a few co-workers. Actually, more like a few dozen co-workers from across Canada. So far, his team has included historians, a restoration architect, an archeologist, conservators, curators, craftsmen, an engineer, a visitor activity planner, a photogrammetrist, interpretive staff and, of course, a host of contractors to do the work.

Years of research have led to the construction that finally began last summer. The excavations necessary to recreate the landscape were completed, a fire protection system was installed and a bathroom facility was built in the back.

The third phase of furnishing the interior is now in full swing.

* * *

From one of his binders Gates pulls a two-inch thick bound book. This, he explains, is the plan for furnishing the interior of the residence.

Over the years, dozens of curators in the Yukon, Winnipeg and Ottawa have been searching for original furniture and other period pieces to fill the grand hall and adjoining rooms of the first floor of the residence.

Any furniture that couldn't be found was reproduced by local and Ottawa craftsmen.

Wallpaper to match the original wall covering was brought in from various parts of North America, and what couldn't be bought was specially made. Carpets came from all over the world. Each carpet for each room was created from scratch to match the original. Some could be made as close as Montreal, while others had to come from Thailand.

The fourth and final phase of interpreting the history behind the residence will kick-off at the opening ceremony on August 16.

The ceremony will headline many other activities on the 100th anniversary of the discovery of gold, and is expected to attract some important people from south of the border.

"It won't be so much exciting," adds Gates, as he shuts the last binder, "but, for me, it'll definitely be gratifying."

"It's been a long haul."

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The YOOP Fishing Derby

by Jack Fraser

The YOOP would like to thank the General Store, Farmers Market, the Westminster and the Eldorado, for once again supporting the Annual Ice Fishing Derby. This year the fishing arena was relocated to the west bank, where it enjoyed a 100% harvest increase. It is hoped this dramatic upswing {from one fish to two} will nor raise eyebrows within the fish management circles.

There were some thirty odd young anglers registered, accompanied by at least as many adults, so it was a success from the participants view as well. With perseverance, expertise, good luck and even seniority, the two successful fisher--ladies were, Amy Taylor and Peggy Kormendy. Fresh grayling being on their supper menu. For dogged stick-to-itive-ness, Esther Mendelsohn earned the fisher person of the day award. Five other youngsters more successful on the draw than on the ice, also won modest prizes.

It being Easter Sunday the Easter bunny had put in an appearance affording the younger anglers a pleasurable diversion. There was the usual fine bonfire where the wieners could be charred to ones' individual taste, and the resulting hot dogs, with desired trimmings were washed down with cocoa, coffee or pop.

The YOOP and supporting businesses feel that it is rather nice to have a family affair for the community, where the parents and others are not continually having to delve to the depths of their pockets.

In any case, the weather was great, the fishing was challenging, and a fine time was had by all.

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Break-up Rumours Predict Problems

by Dan Davidson

The annual IODE Break-up Ice Pool is back again for 1996 and people are having no trouble believing that this year's event might be one to remember. Scuttlebutt around Dawson is that the dyke may get its first serious test. Authorities are taking regular measurements of the Yukon River's depth and posting them on the community cable t.v.

While the intense cold experienced here during December and January was certainly good news earlier for those using the ice bridge, it's this time of year when a winter with long cold spells and not a whole lot of snow begins to be worrisome.

Up around the creeks people are saying that many streams are frozen to the bottom, which increases the chance of ice jams and rising waters once the melt really sets in.

Duff Felker, with Community and Transportation Services, confirms that the ice is thick this year.

"Certainly in spots on the Klondike River it's frozen right through. Probably in some places there's ten feet of ice."

The crews measuring the Yukon River crossing are finding an average of six feet of ice. While this is much thicker than last year's thin covering, Felker says it seems to be normal in terms of the historical record.

Overflow is a problem, however. There are numerous places where melt water is running on top of the ice and then freezing again at nights.

Felker says the weather is a big factor now.

"If we get a slow melt it will cut a channel through the ice. It won't take long. The potential (for flooding) exists where we have ice anchored to the bottom. Then ice could come down and get jammed there."

Current conditions, with cool nights and warm days, would be the best ones for avoiding a crisis. A quicker melt would increase the potential for high water and related problems.

"It'll all depend on how some of these spots that are frozen to the bottom cut. If we get some decent water running before its gets to be too much it'll cut a channel and clear a path."

Felker sees real potential for problems out by the Dempster Corner where there is a lot of overflow. Rock Creek may have problems as well, though he isn't sure that it looks much different than other years.

"There tends to be problems when there's little or no snow and thick ice -- just not enough water to float everything up and get rid of it."

On this day of this interview Felker had just drive the Hunker-Granville creek loop to see what changes had occurred while he was on holidays. To his surprise places that had seemed relatively clear now had close to two metres of ice.

"A lot has built up in the last three weeks, when it warmed up and then turned cold again."

Felker is looking to help nature along by cutting some channels in what look to be a few of the key trouble spots. It would be a fairly easy procedure, but also fairly costly, at 10 to 15 thousand dollars, so he is looking for funding from the Emergency Measures Organization. Preventative maintenance now would be better than cleaning up later.


Gymnast Kirstan Kobayashi gets ready to compete in the Yukon championships by practicising her bar routines.  Photo by Timothy Sawa

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