North

St. Andrew's Anglican Church at Fort Selkirk to undergo restoration

One of the most photographed buildings at Fort Selkirk historic site will undergo a major restoration this summer.

Preservation important, but so is rebuilding, says First Nation elder

St. Andrew's Anglican Church was built in 1931 using wood from abandoned Yukon Field Force buildings. (Karen McColl/CBC)

One of the most photographed buildings at Yukon's historic Fort Selkirk site will undergo a major restoration this summer.

On the surface, St. Andrew's Anglican Church, built in 1931, appears to be in fine shape, but beneath the floorboards there are rotting logs that need replacement. 

The church was built using wood repurposed from Yukon Field Force barracks. The Force was sent north in 1898 to protect Canadian sovereignty. It stayed less than two years at Fort Selkirk and many of its buildings were dismantled or moved. 

Ernestine Hager, an interpreter at Fort Selkirk, says the pews in St. Andrew's Church are not the originals. (Karen McColl/CBC)
Bruce Barrett, historic sites project officer with the Yukon government, says he hopes the complex task of replacing the foundation of the church will be finished this summer. A combination of air bags and jacks will be used to raise the building and replace the wood. 

The current sill logs — the ones resting on the ground — will be replaced by pressure-treated wood. Barrett says it's an acceptable restoration practise to replace old materials with ones that will last longer. 

The stained glass windows are original. St. Andrew's was designed by an architect from Vancouver. (Karen McColl/CBC)
"The key is to make a good record of what you find there before you actually start working on the building and to also create very good records of what materials and techniques you use in place of the original."

Barrett says the pressure-treated wood will not be visible. 

Restore old sites too, says elder

Audrey and Don Trudeau of the Selkirk First Nation spend summers in their cabin at Fort Selkirk. Audrey was born there, and worked as an interpreter for several years. (Karen McColl/CBC)

St. Andrew's church is one of the most well-kept buildings at Fort Selkirk, a mixed settlement of First Nations and non-First Nations people that emptied out in the 1950s when the road to Mayo was built and steamboats stopped travelling the northern part of the Yukon River.

At least one elder of the Selkirk First Nation would also like to see restoration work, or in some cases, reproductions, of the dozens of cabins, caches and buildings that belonged to First Nations and non-First Nations inhabitants, some of which have been reduced to little more than grass mounds. 

Don Trudeau spends summers at his cabin at Fort Selkirk with his wife Audrey, who was born at the site. 

He says it's important for the existing sites to be restored but says he would also like to see 14 First Nation cabins that used to stand along the river be rebuilt from old photographs.

"The tourists would feel that those houses should be there so that the story and the history of those people can be included into the story and history of the site," he says. 

"In this site here, before civilization came, this site was used solely by First Nations people." 

Fort Selkirk is now a historic site managed by the Yukon government and Selkirk First Nation. 

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