Change sometimes takes time, even if the change means a return to the familiar.
On July 26, 1978, the Whitehorse Star reported that, “a beautification scheme for downtown Whitehorse which would make Main Street a road for shoppers and the waterfront a historical attraction is approved in principal by the Downtown Whitehorse Businessmen’s Association. The White Pass train station would be upgraded to become the focal point of Main Street and 1st Avenue would be renamed Front Street.”
Thirty-five years later, on the 12th of August this summer, 1st Avenue was officially renamed Front Street.
Keith Halliday welcomed the change. Actually he is used to calling it Front Street.
“My ancestors came to the Yukon during the gold rush and some of them had a store called Taylor & Drury at Front and Main,” he says. “My great grandfather and older relatives always colloquially called 1st Avenue Front Street. We tend to call it Front Street at the MacBride (Museum), as well. So, when the city first tabled the idea to change the name back, the MacBride was supportive of the idea.”
Halliday is a fourth generation Yukoner and chair of the MacBride Museum. He is also the author of a four-book series of historical novels for young readers primarily set in downtown Whitehorse. He learned his Whitehorse history through writing and through his family’s Yukon roots.
The MacBride Museum, which is housed in a circa 1900 government telegraph office,
moved to their current location at 1124 Front Street in the 1960s. They were on the waterfront scene well before waterfront revitalization was discussed.
“Front Street is a historic name that conjures up images of Whitehorse’s past as a river city,” Halliday says. “It’s fitting to rename it, now that the waterfront downtown paths and spaces have been fixed up to be such wonderful places to walk and spend time.”
To help businesses with the transition to the new name, the City of Whitehorse announced that plans are in place to keep mail flowing.
“Those with addresses to be renamed can benefit from a one-year free mail forwarding service by contacting Canada Post,” says a bulletin released by the city.
In the same bulletin, Mayor Dan Curtis writes, “This area was historically significant as the place of arrival into the city by rail and river transportation as there was no road into Whitehorse when it was first settled. Originally surveyed as 1st Avenue, the road paralleling the Yukon River was colloquially known as Front Street for well into the 20th century.”
Mike Ellis, senior planner with the City of Whitehorse, says research is underway to determine why and when the name Front Street fell out of favour.
“The interesting conclusion appears to be – but we couldn’t find out for certain – that because the waterfront was the face, or front, of the City until the highway came, the street was just known as Front Street,” he says. “Even though legal surveys showed it as 1st Avenue right from the start. Furthermore, there were no street signs until the 1940s.”
When street signs did go up they proclaimed: 1st Avenue.
The Front Street name change is part of a much larger mission. With support from Canada’s Economic Action Plan 2013, and a nearly $43 million investment from the governments of Canada, Yukon, the City of Whitehorse, and Kwanlin Dün First Nation, the wharf revitalization project is nearing completion.
It includes the reconstruction of the Whitehorse wharf, public facilities and restoration of heritage buildings at Shipyards Park, a roundhouse train shed, the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre, Whitehorse Public Library, riverbank stabilization, and improvements to Front Street and extension of Black Street.
Last November, Northern Cultural Expressions Society, in collaboration with mentor carver Wayne Price and a core group of 10 carvers, raised a healing totem for people whose lives have been affected by the residential school system. The totem took months to create and the carving was completed on the waterfront near the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre.
Other waterfront initiatives include activities and performances organized by the Old Fire Hall.
“I like it” says Bree-Ann Lucas, assistant coordinator of the Old Fire Hall. “1st Avenue used to be called Front Street. I’m not sure when they changed it to 1st Avenue, but I like that we are going back.”
Lucas spearheaded the On the Wharf pilot program, which saw 35 different user groups — including government, dance, visual art, comedy, and music — make public presentations on the Whitehorse waterfront.
Upcoming On the Wharf programming includes the Northern Lights School of Dance, an Amber Walking Watercolour Workshop, and Yoga with Outside The Cube.
To learn more about the Whitehorse wharf revitalization plan go to www.community.gov.yk.ca.