North

It's official — Yukon College is now Yukon University

It's official, Canada now has a university north of 60. Yukon College, based in Whitehorse, has made the transition to a full-fledged, degree-granting institution — Yukon University.

Post-secondary institution now a full-fledged university, Canada's first north of 60

Yukon College's Ayamdigut Campus in Whitehorse in 2018. The institution has graduated to become Yukon University. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

It's official — Canada now has a university north of 60.

Yukon College, based in Whitehorse, has made the transition to a full-fledged, degree-granting university. It's been in the works for years.

"It's about the maturation of the territory and the North in Canada. It's time for Canada to recognize that the North can take charge of its own destiny," said Karen Barnes, the university's president, on Tuesday.

"We have to build capacity amongst people who live in the North, so they can answer the questions of the North, and really develop the North the way it needs to be developed."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke about the new university during his daily news conference on Tuesday morning.

"This is truly something to celebrate," he said.

"Young people have the power to change our country for the better. And it's up to us to make sure that no matter where they live, they have the tools to chase their dreams and succeed."

'This is truly something to celebrate,' said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaking about Yukon University during his daily news conference in Ottawa on Tuesday. (Justin Tang/The Canadian Press)

Trudeau also referred to $26 million in federal funds for a new science building on the Whitehorse campus, as a "cornerstone for this step" to a university. The money was included in the federal budget earlier this year.

Barnes said the new building will be integral to developing more science education at the university, with a particular focus on climate change research. 

No big celebration amid pandemic

The school had planned a formal celebration this spring to mark the occasion, but the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to that. Instead, the university has simply launched a new website this week with a new logo.

It's also now selling Yukon University clothing and accessories.

Barnes said it was disappointing to have to alter the plans for a celebration.

"We were so looking forward to having the community come up and celebrate with us, and many people from across Canada were coming. So it's a little bit disappointing, for sure," she said. 

'We were so looking forward to having the community come up and celebrate with us,' said Karen Barnes, President of Yukon University. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

The school traces its roots to 1963, with the founding of the Whitehorse Vocational and Technical Training Centre. Twenty years later, it was granted college status and became Yukon College. It now has 13 campuses across the territory and offers more than 50 degree, diploma, certificate, trades and university prep programs, many of them focused on northern and Indigenous research, culture and industry.

Peter Johnston, grand chief of the Council of Yukon First Nations, says the university will provide opportunities for Indigenous students to study closer to home, and will also help build capacity in First Nations governance.

He said the university is something Yukon's Indigenous leaders have talked about since the 1970s.

"It was a vision that our leaders and elders had at that point, was to create an institution such as this that would help not only support education here in the territory, but more importantly, help support people get an education here closer to home."

Barnes said it's gratifying to see that vision come true.

"They've been coming to us with that aspiration for a long time, so really I feel like we're finally answering the call in a way that's good and done in real partnership," she said.

With files from Claudiane Samson/Radio-Canada

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