2 Old Crow religious landmarks designated as Yukon historic site

St. Luke’s Anglican Church in Old Crow in July of 2022. St. Luke’s is one of two churches in Old Crow that have been designated Yukon Historic Sites. (Jackie Hong/CBC)

Both churches ‘are associated with vibrant communities, people, and events significant to Old Crow’

The community of Old Crow, Yukon, celebrated two Anglican churches that have recently been designated a historic site in the territory.

The Archdeacon McDonald Memorial and Saint Luke’s churches, both of which sit along Old Crow’s Main Street, were recognized for their historic and cultural significance to the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and to the Yukon, according to a government news release.

Vuntut Gwitchin Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm said the designation opens “another doorway into our past as Gwich’in” while shedding light on “our coming together as … non-Indigenous and Indigenous peoples.”

“I will admit that [designation] also does allow us to shamelessly show off the beauty of our lands, of our community and what we have to contribute to the Yukon as well as from the Gwich’in.”

Old Crow Chief Dana Tizya-Tramm pictured in 2021. (Mia Sheldon/CBC)

A ceremony was held in the community on Thursday. Both churches are listed as one historic site under the Yukon’s Historic Resources Act. The churches are the 11th designated historic site in the territory and the first in Old Crow.

A ‘character presence’ in the territory

The Archdeacon McDonald Memorial Church was built in 1926 and was named for Archdeacon Robert McDonald. He and his wife Julia Kutag translated the Bible, a prayer book and a hymnal into a dialect of Gwich’in, according to the news release.

Area priest Diocese of Yukon reverend Jeffrey Mackie-Deernsted said McDonald “worked tirelessly in the area, ministering and translating the Bible into the Gwich’in language.”

“His work,” Mackie-Deernsted said, “and the work of many strong Gwich’in church leaders since, have helped to maintain the strong connection between the church, people and faith.”

St. Luke’s was built in 1959 to “accommodate a growing congregation of worshippers.” It was active until 2012.

The churches were jointly nominated for the status by the Diocese of Yukon and the Vuntut Gwitchin Government.

Both churches, the news release said, represent the “importance of the Anglican Church and missionary to the social fabric of Old Crow,” along with the “continuing Vuntut Gwitchin commitment to Gwich’in Anglicanism.”

According to the territorial government, various Gwich’in religious leaders formed “strong associations” with the churches over the years. The territory also said members of the churches’ women’s auxiliary helped bring Gwich’in skills and traditions to them.

Tizya-Tramm said his grandmother was “deeply entrenched in the faith.”

“She would always write letters to the community when she was away and they were read out at Christmas time in the church,” Tizya-Tramm recalled.

Hand-built with local logs

The churches also stand as examples of Northern church construction and local craftsmanship, said Yukon Heritage Resources Board Chair Anne Leckie in the news release. Both were constructed out of logs, with volunteer labour.

Leckie said the churches “are associated with vibrant communities, people and events significant to Old Crow and to the Yukon as a whole.”

“Their designation as a Yukon Historic Site is an opportunity to highlight these rich stories and to ensure that the site continues in its role as a place of gathering, celebration and community,” she stated.

Tizya-Tramm said he hopes the historic designation honours those who attended the church as it used to be, and those who have preserved its significance over the years. He also said he hopes the designation will allow for funding to fix the bell tower on St. Luke’s.

“This is a beautiful church built by our people and in our way as well.”

Rebecca Jansen, manager of historic sites, said anyone can nominate Yukon historic sites for special designation.

“Things we look for generally are sites that are significant for their historic architectural merits, uniqueness or association with a significant person, people or an event,” she said.

She said the designation helps protect the site legally so that it can’t be altered without approval. Historic site status also makes the site’s owners eligible for grants to make improvements — including up to $20,000 a year of annual support through the Historic Properties Assistance Program.

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Carcross/Tagish First Nation and Yukon gov’t sign plan to co-manage Conrad historic site, CBC News

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