Twenty Years of Pioneer Women Celebrated at the Hospital

Twenty years ago the late Madeleine Gould’s lengthy quest (1987-1996) to join the Yukon Order of Pioneers ended with a Supreme Court of Canada decision. Over the years a number of women in Dawson had supported this quest, notably with the humorous “No YOOPIE – No WHOOPIE” floats that were a feature of many parades here.

In 1996, however, a group of them decided it was time to form their own organization: the Pioneer Women of the Yukon. They recently commemorated their twentieth anniversary with the installation of a large triple portrait in the lobby of the Dawson City Community Hospital, in a joint ceremony on March 31.

The hospital’s administrator, Valerie Painter, noted that this was also the time to unveil the properly mounted display of materials related to the long history of health care in Dawson. The display features St. Mary’s Hospital. This hospital was established by Father Judge and expanded by the Sisters of St. Anne, beneath the distinctive Moosehide Slide.

Speaking for the Pioneer Women, Brenda Caley introduced Whitehorse artist Colin Alexander’s impressive portraits of Annie Henry, Ione Christensen and Myrna Butterworth. Plaques below the painting detail the women’s lives and accomplishments.

Annie Henry (1904-2005) was born and grew up along what we now call the Dempster Highway. There she gave birth to 13 children and raised the 12 that survived, while her husband, Joe, hunted and worked to provide for them. Later in life they lived in Moosehide and Dawson City and spent as much as possible of their elder years at Wolf Creek on the Dempster.

Annie was known as one who helped others and passed on traditional values to her vast extended family. She was known for her strong Christian faith and her sewing and beading.

The Hon. Ione Christensen is a fourth generation Yukoner whose family dates back to the Gold Rush. Highlights in her public career include being the Mayor of Whitehorse, the Commissioner of the Yukon and the Yukon’s Senator, but these are just at the top of a long list of public service positions that Christensen has occupied over the years.

Myrna Butterworth was born in St. Mary’s Hospital in 1940 and has lived all her life in and around Dawson City. As an adult she worked at the Bank of Commerce (now CIBC), married Les Butterworth and raised two daughters. In 1958 she joined the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire (now known only as IODE) and was made a lifetime member in 1980. IN 1989 she joined the Royal Canadian Legion and has been a stalwart member ever since, receiving a Queen’s Jubilee Medal for this dedication in 2013. She has served on the boards of the Klondike Visitors Association and the Dawson City Museum, as well as the local School Committee (as school councils were known in those days).

She was instrumental in helping to establish the Commissioner’s Tea tradition here in Dawson, which continues annually at the Commissioner’s Residence. She was also the key organizer in the founding of the Pioneer Women of the Yukon, and is its continuing president and lifetime member.

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