I have no money to leave for my grandchildren,
My stories are my wealth.
(Angela Sidney, in 1984, the first woman of native ancestry to become a Member of the Order of Canada)One might think of Whitehorse, with its harsh landscape and dark winters, as being aesthetically displeasing, and its hard-working citizens as being uncultured, perhaps unimaginative in the ways of the arts. But one would be wrong to think so. In fact, Whitehorse boasts a robust arts community and has some of the best public art that I have seen in the north.
I love public art. I love that public art is often a representation of a community’s history and culture. And I love that a community will rally to support it.
In Whitehorse, the public art is strongly connected to the land and the First Nations people that inhabit it. Come along on this 90-minute walk and I’ll show you a few of the many, many pieces along the way.
Bust of Angela Sidney. This Member of the Order of Canada recipient was a Tagish Elder. She committed her life to ensuring that her people’s traditions, dances, language, and stories would be recorded and passed on to future generations, working with linguists and anthropologists, and authoring three important historical records: Tagish Tiaagu and My Stories are My Wealth, two narratives about traditional Tagish legends, and a document identifying Tagish place names in the southern Yukon.
Building on the Past and Looking to the Future. This piece represents the meeting of the two traditional clans of Yukon First Nations – Wolf and Crow. The heads are not facing the same direction. One faces the Yukon River, and the other faces the First Nations burial ground.
Journey by Water. This piece of art, made from a 541-million-year-old piece of locally-quarried marble, represents the strength of the salmon as they make their long and difficult journey upstream to spawn. In northwest mythology, Salmon is The Messenger, so I imagine the prone face is listening as Salmon speaks.
Under the Midnight Sun. This monument to the world record ram that was killed by legendary outfitter Alex Van Bibber was paid for by donations from non-resident hunters.
Man. This red cedar and acrylic paint piece depicts Man as a mythical creature before the time when Raven brought light. The light fell on the creatures of the earth, turning those near the longhouses into humans, those near the water into fish, and those near the sky into birds.
Crow’s Yukon Journey. This is the first of a larger multi-media piece that chronicles the crow’s journey across a developing Yukon landscape. In this first part, Crow flies over an untainted land and the final piece in the series shows the co-existence of natural and man-made elements.
Waves of History. This is part of a multi-piece stained glass work that is installed above the three entrances to the Information Centre. The cover photo is another part of this work.
Box of Light. A Tlingit legend tells of how Raven stole the sun, moon, and stars for the earth. This sculpture contains all of the primary characters of this legend – Raven, Headman, Headman’s Daughter, the sun, the moon, and the stars. The sculpture looks even more magnificent lit up at night, but since it never really gets dark in early summer, I wasn’t able to get a photo of it. If you’re there in the winter, you won’t want to miss it.
Friendship Totem Pole. This piece represents unity among all Yukoners. From bottom to top, we have Bear, representing strength, Beaver, representing trade, Crow and Wolf, representing the two First Nations clans, and Thunderbird, a mythological bird described in First Nations legends. Although you can’t see it well in the photo, at the top, Wolf is holding Skookum Jim Mason, one of three men who found the gold that started the Yukon Gold Rush of 1898.
Prospector and His Dog. This monument, dedicated to “all those who follow their dreams”, is made from bronze and honours those who travelled to the Yukon during the 1898 Gold Rush. You’ll find this monument at the Yukon Prospectors’ Hall of Fame.