Along with restoring the First Nations’ centre of learning to its traditional location, the new library in the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre realizes the vision of Yukon Public Libraries founder Bette Colyer: “To build an attractive, inviting environment where all community members could enjoy the pleasures of reading.”

A hundred years ago, stampeders and shipbuilders swept the People of the River from the water’s edge.

Today’s partnership “is a unique opportunity to re-establish ourselves on the river as hosts of the area and share our heritage and culture,” says the cultural centre’s project manager and Kwanlin Dün member Gary Bailie.

“Inside, it’s all about learning and sharing,” he says. The centre will house First Nation’s archives, a hand-carved dugout canoe and other artifacts.

Library patrons can read by natural light that floods a nook in the southwest corner.

“It’s all glass with a fabulous view of the river on both sides. There’s a deck for outdoor reading and nothing interrupts the view,” says Bailie.

The cultural centre will include classrooms for language, art and beadwork programs, a sacred space for ceremony, and a long house for performances. A multi-purpose room and commercial kitchen for catered events or bistro service will also be available.

Outside, the trolley track winds around the gently waved facade. Panels, reminiscent of paddlewheel loading doors, slide wide open for a view from street front to riverbank.

At the back, power lines and poles, relics of the city’s defunct shipping industry, have been cleared for a riverside trail to be installed next summer.

“This new library is much quieter and safer than the busy location on Second Avenue,” says Bailie.

“We’re very proud of what we’ve been able to do.”

In everything from architectural features to selection of healthy building materials, Bailie took direction from his First Nation’s cultural committee.

“During the building, lots of people were excited about this project,” he says. “Even kids were asking about it.”

The partnership builds on the legacy of the Yukon’s first regional librarian.

The post was created in 1959, but remained empty until Colyer arrived in 1961.

In five short years, she established the system we enjoy today, and oversaw the development of the modern library at Second and Hansen.

She insisted it include an art gallery, archives and fireplace, which it did until the gallery and archives moved to College Drive in 1991.

Although Colyer left the Yukon in 1966, she established libraries with the energy of a Carnegie until her death in 2005. Churchill, Manitoba owes its library to her and when the Government of Northwest Territories established its regional lending system, it consulted Colyer.

Here, her influence continued with the aid of five year plans and a cadre of local library champions.

The first, Garth Graham, succeeded Colyer as director. Through the 1970s and ’80s he expanded services to every Yukon community.

In 1971, Graham, together with Nora Corley Murchison of the Arctic Institute of North America in Montreal, fulfilled Colyer’s goal to create a truly Northern collection. The idea became the Polar Libraries Colloquy, a network of collections of arctic and antarctic polar research.

Because of Colyer’s foresight, today’s scientists, explorers and researchers have a repository of knowledge to access in the struggle to adapt to changing environments. Kwanlin Dün brings the wealth of original knowledge.

Colyer protégé Julie Ourom took over from Graham in the 1990s. She ushered in the age of technology, overseeing the installation of computers, electronic cataloguing, internet and e-book lending, all systems Colyer could never have imagined.

“We’ll always have terminals for people who don’t have a computer, but in the new location we’ve accounted for more people with laptops looking to plug in and uplink.”

In addition, “the entire Northern collection has a new display space,” says Ourom. “Our children’s area is larger and we have a whole new Young Adult section.”

Like Gary Bailie, Ourom foresees “even more interest in the library, with joint programming and shared events. For example, we’d like to be part of the annual Aboriginal Day celebrations in June.”

Upon Colyer’s departure from Whitehorse, Star editor Flo Whyard wrote that she “turned the Regional Library into a sort of community centre.”

That legacy endures in the Kwanlin Dün partnership at the Cultural Centre.