2021 Whitehorse Municipal Election: Focus on Heritage

The Yukon Historical & Museums Association reached out to City of Whitehorse mayoral and councilor candidates with a series of questions relating to heritage and invited them to share their responses by Monday morning, October 18. The replies we’ve received are shared below, presented in the same order as found on the City of Whitehorse's official list of candidates. Candidates who did not respond are not listed.

Update October 18, 2:45 pm: This post has been updated to include responses from councilor candidate Ted Laking, received in the afternoon of October 18.

Update October 19, 12:30 pm: This post have been updated to include responses from councilor candidate Robin Reid-Fraser, received the morning of October 19.


1. What do you believe heritage contributes to our community?

2. The City has a Heritage Management Plan created in 1999. One of the 5 goals of the plan is to build community consensus and facilitate community heritage partnerships, with the Heritage Advisory Committee as a significant tool for this. This Committee has been defunct for some time. Would you support updating the Heritage Management Plan and reinstating the Heritage Advisory Committee, and if so, how would you work with community partners to accomplish this?

Note: This question was submitted by our Executive Director to mayoral candidates during the Volunteer Bénévoles Yukon all-candidate forum on October 6, responses to which were sent after the event due to limited time. While all candidates were contacted with the additional questions last week, none submitted responses.

3. The City's Heritage Registry is the official listing of the Heritage Resources within Whitehorse and is a vital document for heritage conservation. The last comprehensive update took place a decade ago, in 2011. It includes some buildings that have since been demolished and likely excludes other resources that would now meet the criteria for inclusion. Would you support updating the Heritage Registry within the next one to two years?

4. Until 2013, the City of Whitehorse maintained a tourism office and dedicated staff person. Now, no City position is specifically devoted to tourism and the municipal government does very little to promote Whitehorse as a tourist destination. What do you see the Whitehorse municipal government's role in tourism to be?

5. The City of Whitehorse has set a $50,000 cap on the maximum funding an organization can receive per year from the City across all grant programs. This includes Community Service Grants, which offset municipal property taxes for many non-profit, religious, recreational, and/or charitable organizations. Limiting funding this way, especially in relation to property taxes, can negatively impact the sustainability and growth of organizations. Would you support a review of the funding cap, particularly in relation to the Community Service Grants? Why or why not?

Mayoral Candidates

Patti Balsillie

2. It is directly from working with yourself [Executive Director Lianne Maitland] and YHMA through board development and strategy projects that I have learned of the broken formulas and outdated MOU’s for care, maintenance and preservation of the spaces that hold our history and charm. I am committed to advocating for the reintroduction of public committees including the Heritage Advisory Committee. We don’t know what we don’t know, and we need to inspire creative and innovative solutions. Doing the things they way we have always done is NOT working - and a vote for Patti for Mayor is a vote for WE CAN DO BETTER.

Samson Hartland

2. I’ve committed to re-instituting advisory committee structures the City benefitted from for so long when meaningfully engaging with various elements of our community. This would include new ones such as a Business Advisory Committee, but also re-insituting others such as the Persons with Disabilities, the Coalition of Municipalities Against Racism & Discrimination, as well as the Heritage Advisory Committee. 

To keep a long story, short - I’m committed to do this by meeting with each an every one of the non-profits and volunteers who have played significant roles in the past iterations of our advisory committee as well as working with administration to understand what limitations may exist, and how to work towards eliminating those barriers (legislative, capacity, etc). 

I’d be pleased to discuss further when appropriate. 

Laura Cabott

2. Thank you for the opportunity to introduce myself and thank you for the work you and your colleagues do to preserve and protect Whitehorse’s heritage.  Protecting our heritage so we can learn from the past and celebrate Whitehorse’s culture and community is important.    Our heritage and historic buildings are tourist attractions and tourism will be an important activity as we come out of the pandemic.  Strengthening our local economy and tourism sector is one of my key platform ideas, please read more at  https://lauracabott.com/.

I know in the past the Heritage Advisory Committee was very active and I do not know why it became inactive. In general, I believe that we need to do more to engage citizens and NGOs, which is why I have committed to establishing citizen advisory committees that will work with mayor and council.  So yes, in general I support the re-establishment of the Heritage Advisory Committee and would look to the YHMA and the City’s other partners in heritage such as the Yukon government, McBride Museum, Transportation Museum, the Kwanlin Dun First Nation and the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council and others as how to best move forward. 

If elected Mayor I look forward to working with you to facilitate community heritage partnerships.

Councilor Candidates

Eileen Melnychuk

1. I believe our heritage keeps our community grounded to our past and helps build a better future for our city and our territory. 

Heritage sites and buildings can have a positive influence on the way a community develops. Regeneration, housing, education, economic growth, and community engagement are examples of the ways in which heritage can make a very positive contribution to community life.  This is because:

  • The historic environment is a proven source of benefit to local economies, particularly through tourism.
  • An attractive heritage environment assists in attracting external investment as well as maintaining existing businesses of all types, not just tourism related.
  • Yukoners are very proud of our local history, but don’t always express how much they value a place until it’s threatened.
  • Heritage buildings add value to regeneration projects, both in terms the economic and environmental advantage of reuse over new build and in adding character to a precinct.
  • The heritage places are an excellent local educational resource for people of all ages. Learning about the history of a place is a good way of bringing communities together through a shared understanding of the unique cultural identity heritage places give to an area.

2. I have reviewed the outdated Heritage Management Plan, and the Heritage Registry, which is also outdated. If we are to place appropriate value on our heritage resources, we need to update all of these documents, and work with groups like YHMA, who have valuable insight into our heritage buildings, programs and services to best support our heritage services. 

If we are going to support our heritage in the manner it deserves, we need to update the Heritage Management Plan. I would start by working with the new Council to reinstate the Heritage Advisory Committee. I think the first step to accomplishing this is to meet first with the YHMA to understand the current needs and garner solid advice as to how to re-establish the Registry, and to keep the Registry up-to-date and sustainable.

By meeting with the YHMA and other stakeholders, the city can be well informed as to how the city can best support our heritage sites and buildings, sustainably and in a fiscally responsible manner. The YHMA and other heritage stakeholders can help guide this work to ensure we get it right and that the Registry is sustainable. In order to sustain our heritage sites, I would be in favour of establishing regular meetings with the heritage sector to keep up to date on how the city can best support our heritage sites and services. 

3. I would absolutely support updating the Heritage Registry. I would work hard with the new council to start this process within the next year and ensure we meet with groups like the YHMA to provide well-researched advice to ensure the process is accurate and is a living document to be updated on a regular basis.

4. We live in a vibrant, dynamic city that we need to promote to Yukoners, Canadians and the world. Our city has a role to play in reviving our tourism sector as it recovers from the pandemic. The city has grown by 25% in the past 10 years, as such, the city should reconsider the tourism MOU it signed with the Yukon government to manage tourism. Also, the council needs to meet with our tourism sector, which has been hit disproportionately by the pandemic and is having the longest recovery, to get input from the sector as to how the city can best meet the tourism needs of our city. I think the first step that city could take would be to re-establish a city position devoted to promoting Whitehorse as a tourism destination in tandem with the destination efforts produced by the Yukon government’s destination products. Albeit this process would need to be developed in collaboration with the Yukon government’s tourism department and stakeholders such as TIAY, WTAY and other groups to make a well-informed decision as to how we can best promote our Wilderness City.

At the same time, the city can take small but concrete steps to support our tourism sectors through waiving business licence fees for a period of time, or tax deferrals if tourism businesses need them, or bylaw and policy changes that make doing business easier. The city can also support our tourism sector by supporting festivals and events through grants, providing space, and street closures to allow for some of the events we have seen flourish as well as others that could attract and promote our cities and our tourism operators.

5. I appreciate that the current tax structure has negatively impacted many of our NGOs, recreational and religious organizations that provide critical support and services to our citizens. I would support reviewing the funding cap especially in relation to the Community Service Grants that offsets NGOs property taxes. Every dollar an NGO spends on its taxes is funding that could be used to support the important programs that each of these NGOs provides to our citizens each and every day!

Kirk Cameron

1. Heritage is foundational to our identity as a community.  Our history is about: our cultures (Indigenous and many ethnic groups who moved to this City); the resource sector (Whitehorse Copper); Whitehorse as a transportation hub (the links to all road and air transportation in Yukon, not to mention historic rail with the WP&YR and water with the paddle-wheelers whose terminus was Whitehorse; tourism with our many attractions, the Yukon Transportation Museum, McBride Museum and Beringia.  We are all about our history!  It is also about our personal identity for those of us who grew up here, but also for new-comers to the territory; there is something rich about declaring, “I am a Yukoner!”

2. I support the reinstatement of the Committee.  I believe there are a number of committees of Council and external advisory bodies such as the HAC that need to be revitalized and put to use to address the many challenges and opportunities we face as a City.  I would suggest it would be the role of the HAC to lead a conversation on the updating of the Heritage Management Plan.

3. I would look for guidance from the Heritage Advisory Committee on the best way to approach this update, but yes, support that this should be done. We have a decade to catch up, so it may take more time, again, depending on the guidance we receive from the Committee.

4. There is a balance between Council’s role to be fiscally responsible, and to do the work needed to improve our City.  The entire area of economic development, which includes Tourism, needs to be a part of the mandate of the City although technically jurisdiction rests with the territorial government.  There may be ways, through the budgeting process to bring resources to this important area.  I also want to have our committee system address more effectively the economy and tourism.

5. Yes, a review would be timely given the work now started on the next year’s budget.  These are the right times to look at and refresh policy that relates to how we budget and implement those budgets.

Cam (Cameron) Kos

1.  I feel heritage contributes historical knowledge and gives citizens a better understanding of who, how and why things developed the way they did and helps people understand what happened and when to give us a looking glass picture back in history to help understand our past. I also believe It also contributes to a foundation for tourism.

2. YES I would support updating the plan. To accomplish this I would talk with the current/former partners and perhaps not just reinstating the committee ... but talk to the stakeholders and others to revamp and reform it as something obviously wasn't working right if it faded away last time and we can all LEARN FROM HISTORY!

3. Yes updating the registry, and also strengthening preservation bylaws.

4. To self promote AND work with YG to ensure Whitehorse is represented and supported in territorial tourism promotion.

5. I would support a review as the present blanket coverage I don't feel adequately represents the different areas or groups.

Ted Laking

1. I believe culture and heritage are central to our city’s – and our territory’s – sense of belonging and identity.

2. If elected, I will work with my Council colleagues and city administration to examine the original mandate of the Heritage Advisory Committee and how it (and how 1999’s Heritage Management Plan) reflect our current land availability and housing realities and how in partnership with the Yukon Government, Canada (regarding heritage funding) and relevant community partners we can work together for heritage conservation; as a cooperative relationship is essential.

3. Yes; within the next two years, in partnership with the Yukon Government, applicable community partners and individual property owners.

4. I believe promoting Whitehorse as a tourism destination is key to success for our city’s tourism operators, small businesses and restaurant and hospitality industry and that the municipal government should resume an active role in the strategic promotion of our beautiful city. Tourism policies require review and work should be undertaken in partnership with Yukon Tourism and Culture so as not to duplicate efforts.

5. Yes. I commit to supporting a review of the City of Whitehorse Municipal charges and Community Service Grant Policy and the City Grant-making Policy within the first year of the new Council’s mandate. Funding and grants cannot be punitive to our cultural and heritage initiatives and organizations’ operational viability.

Robin Reid-Fraser

1. I believe that heritage can provide us with a sense of understanding of how things came to be, a link to previous generations who have spent time here and the events that took place to shape the present. That being said, I think we need to be really careful to ensure that heritage does not just tell the stories of the successes of a privileged few; I believe that it is necessary to be critical of the past and be honest about the harm that came about as a result of forces like white settler colonialism.

2. I would certainly be open to that! I would want to reach out to the local First Nations and CYFN to determine how to update the plan in a way that acknowledges the work that they have been doing in this area. I'm sure there are many other important partners, including museums, YukonU, local historians and interested residents. Since this is an area I have limited experience with myself, I would be interested in hearing from people who work on these projects about what feels most important in terms of moving forward.

3. Yes, it seems like 10 years should be a minimum interval for it to be updated, especially given how quickly development is happening around Whitehorse.

4. I would be very interested to hear from those who work in the tourism industry about what the gaps are that the municipal government could help fill. Is promotion and marketing of Whitehorse as a destination the most important aspect? Or are there needs such as City infrastructure improvements, which only the municipal government can really act on that would help make this city more attractive? I think that there are a lot of people with a great deal of experience in this area and I am not one of them, so I would like to hear more needs/concerns/ideas/solutions from the experts before making any judgements myself.

5. Yes. Costs for just about everything are going up, and I think that we need to maintain funding at a level that is consistent with inflation when possible. Organizations that do important work to provide services to members of our community should have reliable funding so that they can keep doing that work.

Jocelyn Curteanu

1. Heritage is very important to our community because it provides citizens with a sense of common identity and pride to know the richness of the past that shaped our community of today. Understanding our community’s heritage allows members to build on the values and experiences of our history, learning and growing from them. It provides a sense of unity and continuity, and an appreciation for the journey of the people and places before us, to achieve the benefits we often take for granted in these modern times.

2. I believe all City plans should be reviewed regularly and updated as required, especially something as important as heritage preservation. Therefore, I would support a review and update of the Heritage Management Plan. It would be advisable to do this sooner rather than later so that any updates can be fed into the OCP, which is itself currently under review and update. This should be done in consultation with community partners and stakeholders, and included within this process, should be a re-evaluation of the role of a Heritage Advisory Committee and its potential re-instatement.

3. Yes, I think updating the Heritage Registry would be the next logical step. I believe this registry is a critical component of prudent heritage management.

4. In the past, the City had a full-time tourism position but when that person retired, the position was phased out in favour of an MOU with the Yukon Government to deliver the bulk of these services for the City. 

Due to our current circumstances, I would like to encourage the next Mayor and Council to explore the feasibility of contracting a tourism professional to work with our economic development coordinator on developing a municipal plan to assist businesses recovering from the pandemic as the tourism industry was one of the hardest hit.

Right now, I feel that planning for the support of our local businesses and particularly tourism, needs a concentrated effort, not something that is being done off the side of someone’s desk. This does not preclude the City/YG MOU partnership. Though the last Yukon Tourism Strategy may not have reflected some of the City’s interests and priorities, I believe a renewed effort to collaborate with YG on the MOU could yield significant benefits for the City as they will always have more resources and capacity, and a wider reach.

Periodic outreach to organizations like the Chamber, TIAY, YHMA, and other community partners to get updates on how they’re doing and to be open to initiatives/suggestions would strengthen our working relationships, and continued collaboration with YG, First Nations and/or community groups on initiatives to promote and support tourism and local businesses should be a standard practice.

At the next strategic planning session, I would advocate for enhancing tourism and local business support to assist with pandemic recovery so that initiatives such as these, can be prioritized.

5. I would support the City’s review of the Municipal Charges and Community Services Grant Policy and the City Grant-making Policy because it is a best practice to review policies on a regular basis to stay current and responsive to the needs of our city and its residents. However, I firmly believe that thresholds are required to be established through municipal policies and bylaws due to the City’s limited financial resources, and to ensure that the City can support organizations making valuable contributions to our community in a fair, equitable and transparent manner.

Dave Blottner

1. I know that as Yukoners, our heritage is tied strongly into our sense of identity. That is just as true here in Whitehorse as it is in other Yukon Communities. As any healthy city would, our community keeps growing and changing. I believe heritage is important in informing newcomers of our colourful (and sometimes uncomfortable) past, as well as ensuring that our children maintain a connection to the origins of their home. Those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it.

2. I think it’s safe to say that a lot has changed in our community in the past 22 years. I would definitely be in favour of reviewing the Heritage Management Plan and updating it as necessary. If the updated plan still supports having a Heritage Advisory Committee, then I would certainly support reinstating it. I would invite The Yukon Historical Museums Association to collaborate with City Council to help give us direction in this endeavour.

3. Given that some of the Buildings that were on the Registry have been demolished, I would not only support updating the Registry and including other resources that meet the registry’s criteria, but I would also want to review how the Registry is factoring into the City’s decision making process surrounding the care of these historical buildings.

4. I believe that our City Council needs to work in collaboration with the territorial government to stimulate tourism here in Whitehorse. In the wake of this global pandemic, our local businesses need our support more than ever. I would be in favour of reinstating a City of Whitehorse Tourism office and dedicated staff person, as our approach will need to be thoughtful and multifaceted in order to encourage tourists to return to Whitehorse in 2022.

5. I am with you on this one. I have felt this pinch before more than a few times in the NGO world and it is a policy I abhor. I would very much be an advocate for you on the review of the funding cap. 

Michelle Christensen-Toews

1 Heritage provides a sense of identity and belonging to the residents.  Residents take pride in showing and telling the heritage in their community to others.

2. The Heritage Management Plan is from 1999.  To be effective it would need to be updated with relevant information.  Re-establishing a group to identify stakeholders and resources would be an initial step in updating the Plan and re-establishing a Heritage Advisory Committee.

3. To make effective heritage decisions it will be important to have an updated registry.

4. In the draft 2040 OCP, policy direction has been given to review the City's role in the tourism industry.  Considerations in this review would include the past dedicated City of Whitehorse staff person, as well as the present role of Yukon government in providing tourism marketing services and tourism information services.  Until such time as the review is completed, I will work to ensure that the Yukon government continues to provide service for the City of Whitehorse.  I will also listen to the concerns of the tourism industry, business sector, and other stakeholders.

5. It is important for the Mayor and Council to be financially aware prior to making a change to the funding cap. At this point it would be irresponsible to promise a funding increase.  I support looking at the funding cap and considering the value of increased funding to organizations.

Janna Swales

1. Heritage and Culture are 10/10 importance level to our community.  Heritage reminds us who we are and helps us imagine who we want to be – it is our social and cultural fabric, a catalyst of economic growth and a key attractant for skilled talent and business.
Whitehorse’s positive future requires contextual understanding and historical perspective, encouraging meaningful engagement with concepts like continuity, change, and causation, and the ability to interpret and communicate complex ideas clearly and coherently.  Democracy thrives when individuals convene to express opinions, listen to others, and take action.  Weaving history into discussions about contemporary issues clarifies differing perspectives and misperceptions, reveals complexities, grounds competing views in evidence, and introduces new ideas; all can lead to greater understanding and viable community solutions. 

2. In this period of rapid growth Whitehorse must have an up to date, actively used Heritage Management Plan that is co-created and/or managed by Kwanlin Dün First Nation and the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council.  I would look to the Whitehorse heritage and culture community, led by the Yukon Historical and Museums Association and the Yukon First Nations Culture and Tourism Association, to cement these tenets within the forthcoming Vision 2040: Official Community Plan out of which actions such as creation of an updated Heritage Management Plan, updated Heritage Registry or Heritage Advisory Committee would be examined and put forward.

3. Yes, an updated heritage registry is vital if Whitehorse is to retain its community character during this period of rapid growth. I would work to have a regularly updated registry as a component of the Vision 2040 OCP.

4. Whitehorse needs to manage our own messaging.  By not managing our messaging we have created a void in our city’s economy; retails sales of many of our businesses hinge on tourism however tourism messages are about the Yukon, not Whitehorse. The two year City of Whitehorse – Yukon Government partnership from 2015 has never been renewed, in fact this has concerned the business community enough that the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce created a Tourism Committee to address this very issue.

The recent Street Beats and Eats is a heartening example of our City working with partners and promoting itself.  It gives us beginning momentum, which I would encourage and promote, because I share concerns within the Whitehorse tourism industry about the level of promotion the city does for itself as a tourism destination.  

I am copying below the previously referred to 2015 city news release regarding the City’s and Yukon Governments two-year tourism partnership.  Between 2013 and now, Whitehorse has changed considerably and has increased its destination potential for conventions, private travellers and tourism operators. Whitehorse needs to manage our own messaging.  

As previously mentioned regarding Heritage, I will work to ensure Tourism is a key tenet of the Vision 2040: OCP.

News Release

5. I support a review of this funding cap and a different way to handle NGO property taxes and I am including my response sent to MacBride Museum, which is also available on their website as follows:

Conflict Declaration:

I am the Executive Director of the Yukon Transportation Museum and a board member of the Yukon Historical & Museums Association.  Before Yukon Government became the Yukon Transportation Museum's landlord, we were also issued property tax bills and were also required to file abatement paperwork annually.  Our property tax is currently handled with a Yukon Government – City of Whitehorse tax in lieu agreement.

NGOs are mandate driven and streamlined organisations: they produce results.  I will encourage the city to continue, and expand, on its active partnering with NGOs to deliver on services, instead of offering them inhouse, whenever possible.  I will support the City increasing its pursuit of partnership opportunities with NGOs to deliver on its responsibilities.
This tax situation issue has been persisting for too long and must be resolved – I hold an uncomplicated position which, in summary, is that I am in support of MacBride Museum not carrying the burden of property tax.

It concerns me that 23 small organizations were billed $165,000.  I understand that some, and perhaps most, received tax abatement.  My stance is that on a per-dollar basis, a properly run NGO will always offer more value to the community than a well-run government department would be able to. I think that the NGO tax abatement process is a great example of an easy way that the city can remove an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy, red tape and financial burden.

What is tax abatement?  From my perspective as a not-for-profit manager – it is an annual form that must be completed by the organization, reviewed by the city, and approved every year.  In my experience at the Yukon Transportation Museum, this was a scary form – the reality was that if not approved we would have had to drastically reduce services:  people would lose their jobs. Our bill a decade ago was approximately $25,000.  MacBride has also expressed this type of severe impact.

Let’s relieve these valuable organizations of yet another piece of paperwork that dilutes their ability to fulfill their important mandates. They all serve our City in many healthy and important ways – not least as builders of our social and cultural fabric, catalysts for economic growth, creators of safe spaces and community recreation, and attractants for skilled talent and business.
I look forward to hearing and learning from other councillors' perspectives on the matter, should I be elected to serve the city next week.