For the past four years, as the executive director of the Yukon Historical & Museums Association, I have visited the museums repeatedly to take part in as many events as possible.
However, I am ashamed to say that I had never had the pleasure of visiting the Big Jonathan House Interpretive Centre in Pelly Crossing. Always in a rush to get where I was going or only passing through after the centre had closed, the opportunity never presented itself until recently.
While in Pelly Crossing for a softball tournament, I was finally able to take some time out to visit the Fort Selkirk replica and learn about the history of the area and about the Selkirk First Nation people’s culture and traditions.
The centre houses artifacts and stories that help shape the history from the earliest inhabitants to present day. The displays feature artifacts and crafts such as locally made beaded clothing, birch bark baskets, traditional tools found at archaeological sites nearby and fish trap models.
As you walk in the centre, a welcoming glow seems to fill the exhibit spaces and gift shop area and even a quick tour around will give you a glimpse into the lives of the people who call the area home.
To further enhance your visit, it is highly recommended that you take time out to watch the film,Fort Selkirk: Voices of the People. The film includes a collection of oral histories and film footage that will bring to life the now mostly dormant town site.
But, unless you have penchant for canoe trips or can arrange a guided day trip to the Yukon’s most renowned living ghost towns, a visit to the Interpretive Centre may be the closest that many of us will get to visiting Fort Selkirk. The Centre has therefore become an important gathering place for the dissemination of information about the remote community.
Fort Selkirk has been visited by the Northern Tutchone for thousands of years prior to sharing the location with European traders, missionaries and settlers from 1889 to the end of the sternwheeler era in the 1950s when the settlement moved to Pelly Crossing.
The Big Jonathan House is run by the Selkirk First Nation while Fort Selkirk is now co-managed by the Selkirk First Nation and the Heritage Branch of the Yukon Government. Together they work to preserve and maintain the old townsite.
Each summer, work crews return to the town to maintain and restore Fort Selkirk as a living cultural site to be enjoyed by everyone.
The next time you are driving down the highway or paddling the Yukon River, be sure to stop in for a visit to get to know the people and the history of the Northern Tutchone.
The Big Jonathan Interpretive Centre is located just before the bridge in Pelly Crossing and is open Monday to Saturday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.