the time this article was written Patrick L. Michael was Clerk of Yukon Legislative Assembly and Chief
mark the 100th anniversary of the establishment of Yukon Territory following
the Gold Rush of 1898, the Legislative Assembly travelled to Dawson City and
held a one-day special ceremonial sitting in the original legislative chamber
used by Territorial Councils from 1901 to 1953. This chamber is located
within the “Old Territorial Administration Building” which was designed and
built by renowned architect T.W. Fuller in 1901 and now houses the Dawson City
The Yukon Territory celebrated
its one hundredth anniversary on June 13, 1998. Centennial activities
were focused on Dawson City, the centre of the Klondike Gold Rush and the
capital of the Yukon from 1898 to 1953.
The Speaker, Robert Bruce,
arrived at the Administration Building in a horse-drawn carriage. Members
of the Assembly, most in period dress, took their places in the Chamber and the
sitting opened with the Speaker’s parade at 10:00 a.m. The Speaker gave
the prayer in his native Gwitchin language and special guests were then
introduced. These included former members for the Klondike riding, the
Grand Chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations, the Mayor of Dawson City and
consuls general for the United States, Great Britain and Germany. The
Chief of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, the First Nation in the Dawson City area, received
special greetings as his people had ratified a land claims and
self-government agreement the preceding day. This was the seventh such
agreement to be reached under the provisions of the Yukon First Nations
umbrella final agreement.
The House then proceeded with
the business of the day which was Bill Number 100 entitled Yukon Day Act.
The numbering of the bill was purposeful; the fact that it was being
considered on the one hundredth day of the First Session of the Twenty-Ninth
Legislature was a coincidence. The text of the legislation is as follows:
Recognizing that Yukoners value
the history and heritage of this land and its peoples,
That the lives, traditions and
cultures of the peoples of Yukon First Nations and of all others who have come
to this land deserve honour and respect, and
That the creation of Yukon as a
territory within Canada on June 13, 1898, was an historic event meriting
recognition on its one hundredth anniversary,
The Commissioner of the Yukon
Territory, by and with the advice and consent of the Legislative Assembly,
enacts as follows:
- In 1998 and every year thereafter June 13 shall be
recognized as “Yukon Day”.
- Yukon Day shall be a day on which the citizens of Yukon
are encouraged to reflect on the history and heritage of their land and
its peoples and to celebrate the lives, traditions and cultures of all
Yukoners past and present.
- This Act comes into force on June 13, 1998.
All-party support for the
legislation was demonstrated by having the motions for each of the three
readings moved by the Government Leader, Piers McDonald, and seconded by both
the Leader of the Official Opposition, John Ostashek, and the Leader of the
Third Party, Pat Duncan.
All members spoke during debate
on the bill. The history of the Yukon was surveyed in many speeches with
personal perspectives offered on the lives, traditions and cultures of both the
original peoples and those who took up residence in more recent times. It
was agreed that the discovery of gold on Rabbit Creek by George Carmack,
Skookum Jim Mason and Tagish Charlie on August 17, 1896 was a seminal event.
The Klondike Gold Rush which followed in 1898 brought some 40,000
newcomers to an area which had a population of about 4,000. The attention
of the Canadian Government and the Parliament of Canada was brought to bear on
the region and, to aid in the efforts to ensure peace, order and good
government, the Yukon was created as a separate political entity through the
passage of The Yukon Territory Act (assented to on June 13, 1898).
During the ensuing years, Yukon affairs have been typified by attention
to issues of governance and the pursuit of minerals.
In this light, Members drew
attention to the evolution of democratic institutions in the Yukon with
particular emphasis on the Legislative Assembly. Assemblies are numbered
from the election of the first wholly elective Territorial Council in 1909.
Although a representative legislature has been in place for almost 90
years, it is only since 1979 and the initiatives taken by Jake Epp, then
Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, that the Yukon has had
responsible government. In that year, Mr. Epp instructed the Commissioner
of the Yukon, who from 1898 to 1979 had had an active leadership role in the
executive, to restrict activities to that of a head of state in the same manner
as is done by lieutenant governors in the provinces. The Government
Leader or Premier (as that position is entitled to be called) is now the head
of government and the Commissioner receives and accepts the advice of that
premier advisor and his or her cabinet on exactly the same basis as is done in
any province. The Commissioner’s prerogative powers are restricted to and
exercised in the same fashion as those held by lieutenant governors.
The Yukon had a significant
amount of experience with party politics in the early years as they were a
regular feature of public life from 1898 to the First World War. Following 1921
and continuing until 1978 only independent members sat in the Assembly.
The general election in 1978 marked the return of active participation by
political parties in elections. There have been four governments since
that time: (1) Yukon Territorial Progressive Conservative Party;
1978 -1985 (2) New Democratic Party; 1985 - 1992
(3) Yukon Party; 1992 - 1996 (4) New Democratic Party;
1996 - present.
Once Bill Number 100 had
received third reading and was passed, the Speaker asked that Commissioner Judy
Gingell be invited to attend the Chamber to grant assent to the bill.
Mrs. Gingell is the first aboriginal person to be Commissioner of the
Yukon and, in recognition of her own heritage, came to the Chamber wearing a
traditional button blanket made by her mother and other family members.
After granting assent to the Yukon Day Act she made the following
The Assembly is to be commended
for setting a day aside on which all Yukoners are encouraged to pay tribute to
the many different cultures that now call this land “home”. We are
fortunate to have such diversity in our peoples, from those of the First
Nations to those who have come to this land in more recent times.
It is to be desired that we all
make the greatest effort to know and understand each other’s history, culture
and hopes for the future. We must continue to value and celebrate our
respective cultural differences, based upon mutual respect and understanding.
For example, the modern Yukon treaties are the constitutional foundation
for our mutual respect in this Territory. The more we can come to
understanding and sharing, the more success we will have in building and
nurturing a society that is healthy in every respect, be it on the economic,
social or political level.
Following the adjournment of the
sitting Members gathered on the steps of the Administration Building for a
group photograph. This was a re-creation of a photograph taken of the
First Wholly Elective Council in 1909 in exactly the same spot. A dog was
in that earlier photograph and it was felt that authenticity demanded that a
dog also be present in 1998. The canine, kindly loaned for the photograph
by a local Dawsonite, bore marked similarity to the original dog.
Most appropriately, it answered to the name “D.D.” which is short for
Having concluded the special
ceremonial sitting and the events associated with it, many members and their
guests stayed on in Dawson City to attend the Commissioner’s Tea and the
Commissioner’s Ball. These annual events, at which the standard regalia
is formal period and traditional dress, are highlights in the Yukon’s social
calendar. To those fortunate enough to be in attendance at this spot on
the confluence of the historic Klondike and Yukon Rivers, it was a great treat,
under the midnight sun, to be able to offer a toast to their home territory on
the conclusion of its one hundredth birthday.