Blank pages in the history book: Yukon during the First World War

'There's very little that's ever been written about what happened in the Yukon, and to the Yukon, during World War I,' says historian Michael Gates. An upcoming conference aims to change that.

Upcoming conference aims to write a new chapter

There are plenty of books about Yukon history, and plenty more about the First World War, but precious little has been written about Yukon history during the Great War. An upcoming conference in Whitehorse aims to change that.

"This is a period, if you look in the Yukon history book, it's blank," said Michael Gates, a Yukon historian who's helped organize the gathering in May.

 "There's very little that's ever been written about what happened in the Yukon, and to the Yukon, during WWI."

The 1898 Klondike gold rush has been researched and chronicled and dramatized and celebrated ad nauseum, likewise, the building of the Alaska Highway during the Second World War.

The decades between have been commonly seen as a fallow period in the territory's history.   

"I think that people tended to focus on the Klondike gold rush, and after the aura of the gold rush subsided, they looked elsewhere for interesting stories," Gates said.

He believes there's a rich vein of stories still waiting to be mined.  

"As soon as war was declared, within days, there were Yukon men who were getting on the steamers and heading outside to enlist," he said — almost a fifth of the Yukon population at the time.

"It had a dramatic impact on the Yukon, and it changed the course and shaped the future of the Yukon."

The conference is being organized by the Yukon Historical and Museums Association, Yukon College and the University of Saskatchewan. It will feature guests speakers from across Canada, workshops and panel discussions.

It runs May 9 to 12 in Whitehorse, with an organized trip to Dawson City, May 13 to 15.


With files from A New Day