Reminders of Time Past

A few years ago, my brother found an ancient tool that had migrated upward through the soil in the middle of his wheat field in Southern Alberta. It was a sure sign of human life on the prairies long before Europeans came to “settle” the land.

The tool, it turned out, was a unique find. My brother was told it had probably been used to make pemmican.

Here in the Yukon, where we live among the ancestors of the land, possibly we are more aware.

Yet I find I am not always completely aware of the historical past, meaning what it was like to experience all the changes, each unique and of its own time, that make it what it is now.

From now on, I will at the very least, deeply respect anything that I come across. This is one little thing I can do to acknowledge the value of history.

By leaving everything exactly as I found it, I shall honour all the people who obviously have been here long before me.

For 20 years, I have been living along the Alaska Highway, between Haines Junction and Whitehorse, and have been exploring the bush close to home all that time.

It occurs to me that if it weren’t for the highway, I would not live here.

The highway has been here for only 73 years. Before that, only the Champagne-Aishihik people were living here permanently, using their own routes, mostly perpendicular to the current highway.

I have found remains of that life, too; often the descendants still live or use those areas. Close to Taye Lake cabins, my husband and I found an old grave site, in the middle of nowhere, with the inscription: ‘Big Lake Jenny’.

It was said that Jenny was buried there, but came from Aishihik Lake. This could confi rm that the meaning of Aishihik is ‘Big Lake’, as opposed to the more common assumption that it means, ‘high place’.

Apparently, Mendenhall Subdivision itself is located on one of the Champagne-Aishihik people’s favorite grouse-hunting spots.

They are the people of this land, and I often wonder, according to what ideas newcomers just started to build here without respecting what this actually was.

It did not occur to me, until doing some reading, that the Alaska Highway was highly controversial when it was built.

This makes me reflect on why it is necessary to realize we have to be very careful when going forward, to recognize that both good and bad things come through what we call ‘progress’.

Now, when people build a highway, we all know it was nothing like the building of a highway back then. I think we all have some knowledge and/or imagination of what that must have been like.

When I came to live here, my son and I found the scarce remains of an old cabin. After that discovery, I would walk there with him to play house.

Over the years, I would often find remains of very old garbage, such as rusted cans and other objects, treasuring them as I realized they were obviously very old and of unique, unusual shapes.

It never occurred to me that many of those garbage dumps, or the frames of buildings, outhouses, tents and so on, were related to the construction of the highway

I have since learned there were camps every 10 to 15 miles, housing hundreds of people who were helping to build the highway and lived in such camps for a few weeks at a time.

A few years back, the late Alex van Bibber told me that one of the sites I had come upon had been an old sawmill. Five years ago, I found what quite clearly were remains of old lumber.

Now, five years later, the piles have deteriorated even more. Last week, exploring a larger area at the site, I found more remains in the area than in previous times, scattered over the forest floor.

Fallen-down buildings are overgrown with mosses. And items that were left behind as garbage back then, I now consider treasures.

In years past, I would erroneously take home some of those treasures, whether old bottles, interesting pieces of metal, containers or jars.

Now, out of respect for history, I leave them at peace exactly where and how they are. Pictures are all I take now.

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