The Yukon Archives has just turned 40 and its greatest hits are available for a limited time only. The exhibit “Archival Gold: Favourites from the Vault” is only on display until January 26 in the Hougen Heritage Gallery on Main Street in Whitehorse.
The exhibition is an overview of the best of the Archives, which opened in 1972 in the building now known as the building formerly known as the Whitehorse Public Library. The show features an overview of the various categories of materials, as well as some special picks by Archives staff.
These files may not be the most used at the Archives, but as archivist Carolyn Harris explains, “They’re not necessarily hidden. Some collections like the White Pass and Yukon Route collections are pretty familiar to many researchers, but there are definitely some things that don’t come to light very often.”
Because so many users of the Archives are researching family histories, genealogical records are particularly important.
“So many different nationalities, ethnicities, and religions came to the Yukon, but many of those people scattered, so now we get people from all over the world using the Archives,” says Harris.
Estate files are another source of family history. They can include birth and death notices, wills, and other administrative documents, but can also include personal items such as letters and photographs.
Diaries are another important area of the Archives. They give an interesting, first hand account of Yukon history from a variety of perspectives. Diaries were kept by all kinds of people, in many languages and formats, even in shorthand, the analog precursor to texting.
The Archives also collects any publication having to do with the Yukon, or sometimes the North in general. Many of these are government or scientific publications, but the Archives also contains a substantial fiction collection. In addition to obvious selections from Robert Service and Jack London, there are adventure novels, historical romances, and children’s books written about the Yukon.
The exhibition is an opportunity for staff to draw attention to their favourite acquisitions in the Archives. All staff were invited to put forward their favourites and six were chosen for display with first person narratives by the staff.One of these panels features the Archives’ oldest artefact, a map of Vitus Bering’s 1728 voyage through the strait named after him.
“A record created yesterday has the potential to be just as valuable as a record created in a past century,” says archivist Jenn Roberts. “That said, there is something undeniably powerful about a map that was created more than 250 years ago.”
Another staff pick is the collection of Alan Innes-Taylor, a Yukon explorer and historian who was known for his work in survival training. The collection consists of lecture notes and manuals on survival techniques, accompanied by intricate and compelling drawings.
One of the unique illustrations is of Innes-Taylor’s “overall pack” — a pair of pants cleverly tied up for use as a backpack, should you ever find yourself in need of extra luggage. Archives researcher Daintry Chapple happens to be a costume designer, so she crafted a fully functional backpack using a pair of heritage brown pants for display at the exhibition.
Finally, for a glimpse of Whitehorse’s more recent history, archivist Lesley Buchan selected the YWCA records. The YWCA made its first appearance in the mid-1950s in response to a housing shortage for the growing population of female workers. The four-storey residence, now known as the High Country Inn, was opened in 1971 after several years of fundraising.
“As an archivist, I appreciate the YWCA records because they document an exciting time in the Yukon’s history. The role of women in society was evolving and the records portray this time of upheaval,” says Buchan.
The Hougen Heritage Gallery is open Tuesday to Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. White gloves are not required.