For anyone who finds themselves in Old Crow with time on their hands, I suggest strolling to The John Tizya Centre.
It’s “downtown”, just off the banks of the Porcupine River. This quaint heritage center opened in 2008 after many years of planning, searching, and acquiring Vuntut Gwitchin artefacts from museums around the world.
The centres directive is to educate the community and visitors about the life and world of the Vuntut Gwitchin.
Vuntut means crowflats, and Gwitchin means lake; the Vuntut Gwitchin are “people of the lake,” which is apt.
Tracy Rispin is a heritage interpreter at the centre.
“I want to make The John Tizya Centre the most well-known centre in the Yukon,” she says. “My job is to teach about my people’s history, culture, and values along with tradition.”
Since it opened, almost 3000 people have visited the centre, despite the remote location. With over 1000 visitors in 2013 alone, the centre continues to grow in popularity.
The John Tizya Centre offers a welcoming atmosphere with five separate displays, featuring a plethora of information.
At first glance, the displays seem small, but once you start probing everything, it’s amazing how much time you spend at each area.
The first display, at the front of the centre, welcomes you and offers a three-dimensional landscape of the surrounding area. One side of the display has buttons. When pressed, you see significant locations on the three-dimensional board such as The Old Crow Flats, Thomas Creek, and the famous Rampart House.
The other side of the display showcases the People of Vuntut Gwitchin.
Drawers around the display open, revealing framed pictures of those that had lived in the community. Well-known elders, such as Effie Linklater, Edith Josie, and Myra Moses are spotlighted.
The drawers are a nice touch.
It’s fun not knowing what will be inside them; it could be anything from people, to bones, to tools from the past.
Another display focuses entirely on the Porcupine Caribou Herd, which is vital to the way of life of the Vuntut Gwitchin. A model caribou is highlighted, showing different parts of the animal, inside and out. The display shows how different parts of the animal can be used for different things — like tree-felling, wedging, to hide-scraping, or as dolls, fish lures, and arrowheads.
Other items in the centre show beautiful beadwork designs, a white baby fur bonnet, a baby bead belt, and traditional jackets. Interactive computer screens and three-dimensional displays show Bear Cave Mountain, animal habitats, and in-depth information on Vuntut National Park.
The John Tizya Centre is also home to the oldest whitefish fossil in North America, at a ripe old age of 2.6 million years.
Need a rest?
Why not read free information books about Rampart House or Old Crow during the Ice Age on a comfy couch in the centre’s lounge area?
With all the information the centre has to offer, it’s still expanding; at the moment they are trying to retrieve traditional outfits from the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, QC. It’s a slow process because a special storage case is needed to halt deterioration.
Murals of caribou will also be created on the side of the building to give the centre a distinct look.
The centre offers walking tours of Old Crow, personal interpretation, and boating tours of Rampart house.
The John Tizya Center is open Monday to Friday 9:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m. and on Sundays in summer.
Admission is free.