A Museum Whispers Its Tales

Here, at the height of the long-awaited and yearned-for Yukon summer, it seems a long time until Christmas – but there are all those difficult birthdays in between, as well. Really, what do you buy for those loved ones who have … well, everything.

Here is just the thing: a fine replica of a Euro-American whaler chess piece, from Herschel Island.

Not to worry, you won’t need to travel all the way to Herschel to pick up one of these. Just wander down to one of Whitehorse’s lesser-known specialty shops: the Old Log Church Museum.

While you are there, check out the other goodies, too: woven willow baskets, inukshuk jewellery, stained glass and Robert Service CDs and books.

Do yourself a favour and try to time your shopping visit so that you can tag along on one of their Pioneer Cemetery Walks. This is a spot most Yukoners, at some point or another, have more than likely driven by, walked past or flown over – but never walked through. It is a fascinating spot.

The Pioneer Cemetery is located at the end of Steele Street where it joins 6th Avenue. Many of the headstones are flat, so at first it looks like a park with a carpet of green grass and all the trees nicely pruned.

Opened in 1900 and closed in 1965, a lot of Yukon history is contained here. It is estimated some 800 people are buried in this cemetery. Over time, numerous markers, especially those made of wood, have disappeared, so sometimes only historical records remain.

To accompany all the stories to be told by the knowledgeable, period-dressed Barb Forsyth, you will be given a small, light-brown-coloured publication entitled A Guide to Who Lies Beneath. Though the identities of many of those here are lost, seemingly forever, others are almost household names.

Martin Berrigan built the Log Skyscrapers; Martha Black was the second woman in Canadian history to be elected as a Member of Parliament and took her seat on her 70th birthday; Kate and Otto Partridge built Ben-My-Chree, which, with its two acres of formal flower gardens, became an entrancing spot visited by the Prince of Wales, President Roosevelt, silent-picture movie stars and others.

The sounds of passing traffic, the buzz of overhead planes and the distraction of iPod-tuned pedestrians vie for your attention with the old, cracked marble stones, the moss-embroidered monuments and the persistent breeze whispering in the tall trees.

This is a spot that wants to pull you into the past and tell you its tales.

Forsyth must have sighed or coughed, and somehow we knew it was time to return to civilization. One couple opted to remain at the cemetery, taking seats on a bench and continuing to study their small, brown-coloured books. There are grave markers for people who came from all over the world.

The Old Log Church now operates as a museum. Sometime in October or November, I plan to go back, park myself in front of the video terminal and watch Herschel: An Island of Flowers in an Ocean of Life, a 20-minute production made for CBC’s The Nature of Things.

For further information about their various programs and walks, phone the friendly museum staff at 668-2555.

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