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A new look at an old issue

At a time when concern about the housing crisis in Whitehorse is at a fever pitch, a show at the Yukon Arts Centre serves as a reminder that it’s been this way for a long time.

From Outhouses to Condos is an exhibition, curated by Whitehorse artist Janet Patterson, that brings together images of Shipyards Park and the community that used to call it home.

Up until 2002, the park was a waterfront neighbourhood, full of slanted cabins and buildings from the early days of the city. In the 90s, the City of Whitehorse started talking about demolishing them in favour of what’s now there—Shipyards Park and its surrounding condo and commercial developments.

Patterson, who moved to Whitehorse in the 1980s, remembers the area, once referred to as Moccasin Flats and Sleepy Hollow. When she was invited to participate in the RBC Emerging Curator Program at YAC (through which she curated this show), she knew she wanted to use the opportunity to focus on the former community somehow.

She started with Andrew Connors, a Whitehorse filmmaker who had a good collection of photographs from that era, in part because he’d made a film called Shipyards Lament, about the same thing. From there, she spoke with longtime Whitehorse Star photographer Vince Federoff, then put a post on ArtsNet. The result is a show that includes photos from John Hatch, Joe Lindsay, Mike Thomas, Connors and Federoff, Rohan Quinby, Dean Eyre and Michael Reynolds.

“And then you can’t do an exhibit about old Whitehorse without including some Jim Rob,” Patterson says, laughing. Doug Thomas, who used to own the Gold Rush Inn, contributed some of Robb’s work from his own collection.

Patterson says people have been drawn to the show for a number of reasons. It’s an interesting piece of history; some have fond memories of the neighbourhood; others have concerns about how little things have changed.

Patterson spoke with a woman who lived in the park as a young mother, with her son. Now, 25 years later, her son is currently homeless. She’s almost a senior, concerned herself about finding affordable housing as she ages. The family of John Hatch, whose photos are included in the show, told her Hatch was one of the last people to live in the park. In the process of trying to find a different place to live, he died. She says his family and friends believe the stress of relocation led to his death.

“I have been told, in my research, that for some of the people who lived at Shipyards for many years, when they moved out, they kind of lost their spirit,” Patterson says. “Some of their friends said that moving away, they just lost their heart, you know? A part of them was lost.”

Patterson says she hopes people who visit the exhibition (which includes a public storytelling event in the park and a screening of Connors’ film, both on Saturday, April 30) come away from it thinking about history as it relates to buildings. There’s been a lot of change in Whitehorse in recent years, and some of that has included old buildings. Once pieces of the past like that are gone, they’re gone, she says. And so, sometimes, are the people that spend time in them.

“One of my hopes, when people see this show, is that they do think about what is the meaning of community? And what does community have to look like? Do all neighborhoods have to have the same? A rather bland vanilla feel?” she says. “Certainly there were some issues with housing as shipyards, you know, that’s no secret. But yeah, was tearing most of them down the only solution? Was it the right solution? Was it done the right way, or the best way? I hope that people think about that, and about the cost of gentrification to those already living on the edge.”

From Outhouses to Condos is on display at YAC until April 29. On April 30, from 1 to 4:00 pm Former Shipyards residents will take part in a storytelling circle at Jenni House (located in the park). At 4 pm, YAC presents Shipyards Lament at the Yukon Theatre.