Open Letter to Minister Streicker, Whitehorse Mayor and Council: Purple Cabin

Today, October 21, 2021, the Yukon Historical and Museums Association sent the following letter to the Honourable John Streicker, Minister of Energy, Mines and Resources, and to City of Whitehorse Mayor and Council regarding the so-called Purple Cabin at Sixth Avenue and Lambert Street in Whitehorse. This heritage building is at risk after the leaseholder was ordered to vacate the property.

"Dear Minister Streicker, Mayor and Council,

"This letter is in regard to Leonard Tarka’s life estate lease for the building commonly referred to as the Purple Cabin, located at Sixth and Lambert Street in Whitehorse. The lease in question is 2848-20-105D11/4/675 – Block 320 73738 CLSR.

"The Yukon Historical and Museums Association Board is greatly concerned by the announcement that the Yukon government is filing a lawsuit against Mr. Tarka. The lawsuit and correspondence from the Minister’s department calls for the ending of the life estate lease that allows Tarka’s building to remain in place near the clay cliffs. The building on its current location is a valuable heritage landmark in Whitehorse's urban landscape.

"We are dismayed by the strong-arm approach the Yukon government and City of Whitehorse have taken over this matter. As we understand it, the owner of the house thought the terms of the lease granted him legal tenure during his lifetime, and when he was told otherwise and applied for an extension, he was instructed to vacate the land with no discussion and no plan to save the building. This happened even though it is well-known that the Yukon government has offered alternatives to squatters in the past.

"The building is a prefabricated structure that was erected by the United States Army around 1942 when they had their headquarters in this area, the old North-West Mounted Police post reserve. The structure was about twice its current length in the early 1950s when it was moved to Sixth and Lambert. In 1956, the south half was sold and moved to another location. By the 1960s most of the Army buildings in the area had been demolished or moved off-site, except for this one. Until 1973, it was owned by Ida May Goulter, who was an early settler of Carmacks.

"Today, there are only two other recognizable prefabricated army houses like the Purple Cabin left in Whitehorse and both of them have been modified: a building at Fifth and Alexander and a garage at 703 Cook Street. The Purple Cabin is significant for its prefabricated construction type, its association with the Alaska Highway construction era and the United States Army presence in Whitehorse, and for its association with the post-war development of the city which included repurposing surplus army buildings for private homes.

"The Purple Cabin’s tangible and intangible values are augmented by the fact that it is still a home, owned and cared for. The outcry caused by the termination of the property lease is a testimonial to the “spirit of place” that distinguishes Whitehorse from other Canadian cities. It is the unique stories, past and contemporary, that add to the character of a place and make us proud Yukoners. Beyond that, the stories associated with our heritage buildings are used to define and market our city and territory in tourism and business.

"True leadership should be collaborative, transparent, and human-centered. We ask the Yukon government and City of Whitehorse to demonstrate their compassionate intent to preserve heritage resources for Yukon and promote affordable and accessible housing by reviewing its actions and entering into negotiations with Mr. Tarka.

"The protection of historic buildings contributes to community-well being and sustainable development. We encourage the City of Whitehorse to update its Heritage Management Plan and Registry and to revive the defunct Heritage Committee so more of our significant built heritage can be protected.

"Your sincerely,

"Sally Robinson, President, YHMA

"cc. The Honourable Ranj Pillai, Minister of Tourism & Culture"