Big City Tales

Yukon History Comes to Life at MacBride Museum

September 19, 2018
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From the early beginnings of its First Nations people to the intrepid explorers who sought to conquer the land and strike gold, the MacBride Museum in Whitehorse pays homage to the Yukon’s bravest and most colourful characters (including its MANY furry critters). Located along the city’s quaint and picturesque Front Street, the museum housesĀ over 30,000 artifacts and Yukon history truly comes to life as you wind your way through the exhibits.

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Passion for the North

As one of the co-founders of the Yukon Historical Society (YHS), W.D. (Bill) MacBride was passionate about his adopted homeland and ardently sought to preserve its heritage be it in the form of writing historical accounts or acquiring cultural artifacts. MacBride donated much of his personal collection of essays, books, photographs and other Northern-themed items to the YHS, which were first put on public display in the 1950s at the Government Telegraph Office. It didn’t take long to outgrow this space and planning began for a larger, permanent location. When the new facility opened in 1967, it was named in honour of MacBride in recognition of his efforts to promote the North and safeguard its treasures.

Earliest People

The Yukon is home to an abundance of First Nations and their stories, customs and handmade items are displayed around the museum. The first tribes to inhabit the land thousands of years ago included the Kutchin, Han, Kaska, Tagish, Tutchone, and Teslin. Today, there are 14 First Nations associated with the Yukon Territory and 25 percent of its residents identify as Indigenous, representing eight languages. While many Indigenous people do not speak the language of their nation, handicrafts have been proudly maintained and passed down to new generations. The intricate beading work applied to moccasins and ceremonial attire is an impressive sight to behold and shows off an amazing attention to detail and high quality of craftsmanship.

Where the Wild Things Are

In the Yukon, furry critters and birds vastly outnumber humans. The museum’s Natural Gallery showcases 35 common mammals and birds that are grouped according to their common habitats. The mighty moose, majestic bald eagle, busy beaver, and bulky buffalo share the Yukon’s diverse and expansive landscape along with some 160,000 caribou; 22,000 mountain sheep; 6,000 grizzly bears; 220 species of birds; and 34,000 humans.

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Klondike Gold Rush

After gold was discovered in the Yukon’s Klondike region in 1896, a mass migration of prospectors ensued for the next three years with some 100,000 people making their way north in search of fortune.

Whitehorse was the primary gateway city to the Klondike where many prospectors stocked up for the long haul to Dawson City. In order to comply with the requirements of Canadian authorities, prospectors had to amass a year’s supply of food before they could embark on the arduous journey to the gold fields.

Such a massive influx of people over a short period of time was both a blessing and a curse for the Yukon. Boom towns cropped up along the route to the Klondike, the largest being Dawson City, and local saloons enjoyed large crowds of drinkers and gamblers; while makeshift inns provided accommodations for the prospectors. The downside of the economic prosperity was that native tribes were pushed off their land and sent to reserves where poor living conditions resulted in many deaths. Dawson City was also riddled with epidemics and suffered many fires due to its largely wood buildings.

Main Street Survives and the Yukon Thrives

When the Klondike Gold Rush ended in 1899, many drowned their sorrows; while others toasted their successes at local watering holes such as the Windsor’s Bar & Saloon and got on with the business of making a living by other means.

Service industries thrived and shippers, seamstresses, barbers, postal workers, printers and others established the new economy at the turn of the 20th Century. At the time of World War II, three major projects were also embarked upon that made a significant impact on the Yukon in terms of transportation, industry and national defense initiatives.

True to the spirit of the wild west and nomadic north, the MacBride Museum celebrates the legendary people and events of days gone and strives to uphold its commitment to dynamically conveying the value, and increasing the understanding and enjoyment of Yukon history.

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