Erosion studies at Yukon's Fort Selkirk may help protect historic site

A lot of money has been spent trying to preserve Fort Selkirk and its historic buildings from the passage of time, but erosion is undermining some of those efforts.

Report expected later this summer

The school house, built in 1892, is the oldest standing structure at Fort Selkirk and was also the closest building to the Yukon River. In 2013, it was moved back from the crumbling bank. (Karen McColl/CBC)

A lot of money has been spent trying to preserve Fort Selkirka historic Yukon community vacated in the 1950s, but erosion has undermined some of those efforts. 

The site is located alongside the Yukon River near the mouth of the Pelly River.

Two years ago, more than a metre of the riverbank was lost to the Yukon River, forcing the site's oldest building to be relocated. 

Studies are now being done to help the Yukon government's historic sites branch and Selkirk First Nation, the groups that manage the site, to decide what, if anything, can be done to prevent that from happening again. 

"We're continuing to monitor the situation and to see if the 2012/2013 years were an anomaly," said Barbara Hogan, manager of historic sites for the Yukon government.

Engineering assessments indicate the erosion is caused by the water level of the river rising and falling during spring break up. Hogan says time lapse cameras have been monitoring break-up for the last two years. 

"There's been little impact to the banks this year and little impact last year," she said, but added that a final engineering report is pending. 

"It seems for now, the situation has calmed down a bit."

Fortify the fort?

To counteract the effects of erosion would be costly. One option is to armour the banks with geotechnical cloth and gabion baskets — the type of wire baskets filled with rocks and vegetation often seen along steep roadsides. 

Hogan says the technique would will have a major impact on the site and will be done only if necessary. 

"We want to make sure we need to do it before we do it," she said. "So we're working with Selkirk First Nation and it will be a joint decision to go forward if we need to go forward."

The final engineer's report, coupled with onsite assessments, scheduled for later this summer, will help determine the course of action. 

Don and Audrey Trudeau, First Nation elders who spend summers at their cabin at the historic site, helped build a fence near the flagpoles a while back. 

"It was a number of feet from the riverbanks then, and now it's falling in," said Don.

He said he would like to see the site protected. He and his wife, Audrey, have a long history at the site. But he's also pragmatic about the situation. 

"The river will take what it wants to take," he said.


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