In The Yukon, certain family names loom large in our post-gold-rush era: “Van Bibber” is one such handle.
Geraldine Van Bibber is one of the family’s new recruits. She took the last name upon marrying her husband, Pat, and has since become a student of the family’s history.
“The three Van Bibber brothers came up from Vest Virginia in 1897 and ended up packing for travellers over the Chilkoot, she says. “Two of the Brothers left, but Ira married and settled in Mika Creek [now Pelly Crossing] and had 14 children.”
The rest, quite literally, is history.
One can imagine that joining such a seminal Yukon family might be intimidating. Did Geraldine Van Bibber feel any such pressure?
“No. I am my own person and my own lady.” The available evidence certainly lends support to this claim.
Van Bibber was born and raised in Dawson City, and her eyes twinkle when she talks about her youth. “I remember baseball games that the whole town could hear, and I remember playing in old buildings that were falling apart.”
Growing up, Van Bibber took a shine to people and, as a result, became interested in tourism. “I remember my greatest wish was to work in the Palace Grand Theatre and, after I got a job there, I thought I’d made it,” she said, half joking.
Since those early days, she has continued to dedicate herself to tourism in the Yukon. She has sat on the board of directors of Aboriginal Tourism Canada, the Canadian Tourism Commission and the Yukon Tourism Education Council.
Her duties in those positions took her to many different places across Canada and immersed her among many different types of people. But wherever she was, she always made sure to do one thing: “I talked about the Yukon. I’m a huge ‘Yukon booster’.”
Now she is the commissioner of the territory she calls the “greatest place in the world to live”. She gives the annual speech from the throne and signs our bills into into law.
The job is largely ceremonial and, as a result, it is a target for cynics and naysayers, but Van Bibber still sees value in her role.
“Tradition and ceremony are important. And it is important for someone who is non-political to recognize the good deeds of Yukoners.”
Her job does not dictate how much time she spends at social engagements (she can be as reclusive as she wants), but Van Bibber takes the idea of connecting with Yukoners seriously.
“I love to meet people and learn what they are passionate about. Its just amazing, the good things people are doing.” This attitude keeps our commissioner very busy indeed.
“Every day is new and exciting. “Yesterday, I was inspecting cadets at the cadet camp, and I’ve got a Special Olympics ceremony to go to and a Yukon Horse and Rider Association 30th anniversary celebration to go to.”
She stops listing events there, not because that is all of her appointments, but because she doesn’t want to dominate the conversation.
Van Bibber knows it is easy to get caught up in the pomp and circumstance of her job, so she finds ways to keep herself grounded. Humour is one such method.
Her personal coat of arms, which hangs outside her office, reads, Laughter Heals All.
“A day isn’t complete without a good belly laugh,” she says. Coming from the commissioner, that’s practically a law.