Yukon University traces its history to the founding in 1963 of the Whitehorse Vocational and Technical Training Centre (soon after renamed the Yukon Vocation and Training Centre), located on the banks of the Yukon River in downtown Whitehorse. College status was granted in the spring of 1983 when the Yukon Vocational and Technical Training Centre became Yukon College, and in 1988 the Whitehorse campus moved from downtown to its current location, 2km up the hill. In spring of 2020 Yukon College was granted university status and all thirteen campuses were renamed Yukon University.
The main campus in Whitehorse was officially opened with a potlatch in October 1988, at which the institution was given to the people of the Yukon. First Nations people of the territory were represented by Mrs. Angela Sidney and Mr. George Dawson.
Mrs. Sidney, whose mother tongue was Tagish, was asked to give the Whitehorse campus a First Nations name. She began by describing how her father’s people had built a killer whale house on the banks of a river, and then had to move it when they discovered that the house was too close to the river bank. Observing the similarity between the killer whale house and the main campus, she named the campus, Ayamdigut (Ay Am Da Goot), a Tlingit name which means “she got up and went.”
Founding post secondary education in the Yukon
Fifty years ago, in June of 1963, the Whitehorse Vocational Training School opened its doors. Courses were offered in office admin, building trades, automotive mechanics, heavy equipment operation, drafting, food services, practical nursing and hairdressing. It was an exciting time for Yukon, and the start of what is today, Yukon College.
First Graduates of Whitehorse Vocational Training School
In 1964 the Whitehorse Vocational Training School graduated its first students into a red hot job market. Students quickly found employment in the new mines, housing construction, highways or community services - all rapidly expanding industries. Private sector employers and government agencies clamored for these Northern grads too. They knew the North, understood Yukon issues, and had current employment skills.
Changing names for changing times
The Whitehorse Vocational Training School founded in 1963 was renamed the Yukon Vocational and Technical Training Centre in 1965 to reflect the growing number of students from across the Yukon, as well as the expanded program offerings. In 1983 the institution changed names again, this time to Yukon College. Academic courses joined vocational trades training to offer a broad range of post secondary education to Yukon students close to home.
Training for future goals
Harry Allen, Gerald Isaac, Frances Woolsey and many other First Nations students attended Yukon Vocational and Technical Training Centre to acquire skills and certification in the 1960s. After graduation they worked and also contributed to organizations such as Skookum Jim Friendship Centre, Yukon Native Brotherhood, and Yukon Association of Non Status Indians building the land claims movement in the territory.
Training Yukon Caregivers
Training for Yukon health workers was first established at Whitehorse Vocational Training School and continues today at Yukon College. Since the mid 1960s hundreds of graduates from the Certified Nursing Assistant, Practical Nurse, Home Support Worker, and Home and Community Care programs have cared for Yukon people in our hospitals, seniors’ and continuing care facilities.
Building homes for northerners
Hundreds of students at Yukon Vocational and Technical Training Centre gained experience in the 1970s building homes in Riverdale. Drafting students drew plans; others in surveying, pipe trades, electrical, and carpentry programs worked with instructors to finish the homes, which were then sold at market price. Today students work with Habitat for Humanity building homes for northerners.
Opportunities for everyone
Hazel Fekete joined the staff at Whitehorse Vocational Training School in 1964, then stayed for three decades doing what she loved—providing foundations in reading and math so that students could pursue their chosen career. Program names varied—BLADE, LINC, and Life Skills—but Hazel’s purpose was constant. Give people the opportunity to succeed in learning, at work and in life.
YVTTC Trade Fairs in the ‘60s
The Yukon Vocational and Technical Training Centre organized the first trade fairs in Whitehorse in the late 1960s. They attracted huge crowds to view demonstrations by students showcasing YVTTC programs, and businesses promoting employment and services in the community. Whitehorse Indian Band Chief Elijah Smith was a big fan of the Centre and the fair—he won the door prize in 1968!
YVTTC and Skookies Partnership
In the early 1970s, Ted Harrison was the art instructor at the Yukon Vocational and Technical Training Centre. Doris Maclean was working at Skookum Jim Friendship Centre. Together they organized a carving project for First Nations students to produce the beautiful totem pole that is still on display at Rotary Peace Park today.
YVTTC—Road building crews
During the 1970s students in the heavy equipment operators program at the Yukon Vocational and Technical Training Centre assisted government crews in upgrading roads around Whitehorse. They had real life expertise to offer employers after graduating, a practice continued today at Yukon College where students use a simulator and other equipment to prepare for work in mining and road construction.
Rob Mason was one of the first First Nation graduates of the drafting program at the Whitehorse Vocational Training School. Rob went on to attend university outside, worked for various employers, then started his own company—Northern Cadworks where he continues to pursue his chosen career more than four decades later.
The Yukon Vocational and Technical Training Centre was home to a fine arts program in the 1960s and 70s, taught by renowned artist Ted Harrison. Among the students who passed through his classes were Jim Robb and Jean Taylor on their way to establishing their own place as distinguished Yukon artists.
Skookum Jim Campus
In the 1990s Skookum Jim Friendship Centre hosted a downtown learning centre for Yukon College after the main campus relocated to Yukon Place. Students pursued a variety of courses related to basic skills development in a cozy and friendly atmosphere. Today the Friendship Centre operates a specialized Youth Employment Centre to provide access to training and employment services including programs at Yukon College.
Teachers for Yukon
Training teachers in the Yukon began in 1977 at Yukon College as a UBC after degree program, graduating 70 students by the time it ended in 1982. The Yukon Native Teacher Education Program initiated in 1989 continues to offer a Bachelor of Education degree, in partnership with the University of Regina. Over 135 YNTEP graduates are working as teachers and in related professions throughout the territory and beyond.
Building the Dream—Ayamdigut Campus
Angela Sidney bestowed the name Ayamdigut on the new 50 million dollar Yukon campus when it opened in 1988 on the bluffs above Whitehorse. The Tlingit phrase meant “she got up and went”, referencing the Whitehorse Campus move from downtown. At the official opening Mrs. Sidney expressed her thanks for the new campus where Yukon students could study close to home.
New Beginnings—a Yukon Board of Governors
In 1989 the College Act was amended to establish an independent Board of Governors for Yukon College. Yukoners from all walks of life have served on the boards, establishing visionary goals for programs and services. Dedicated members bring diverse perspectives and expertise to guide the administration, faculty and staff in meeting the post secondary needs of all residents.
Plans for Whitehorse Vocational Training School included an attached residence—as essential service for rural northern students. The move to Ayamdigut in 1988 expanded on campus housing to provide family units. In the 1990s the Carpenters’ Union contributed to an additional singles residence. The Canada Winter Games legacy included a larger family residence converted from the 2007 Athletes Village facility.
Supporting students for excellence
Students have many needs in addition to pursuing their academic studies. When the Whitehorse campus moved to Yukon Place in 1988, these supports expanded to include enhanced career planning, employment search coaching, personal counselling and referrals to various health agencies. Student Services continues to provide a broad range of assistance to assist students in reaching their goals.
Library on the move
College library services have literally launched into space in recent decades, building from the first small collections at Whitehorse Vocational Training School. In 1990 Library staff said good-bye to the old card catalogue when automated cataloguing and circulation arrived. Today on-line reference services and databases offer access to worldwide information resources—in the library and anywhere that students, faculty and the public connect to the digital universe.
Northern Social Work program
Since 1995, Yukon College has offered a Bachelor of Social Work program in partnership with the University of Regina. More than 130 students have graduated with a northern perspective on practicing their profession. Accredited by the Canadian Association for Social Work Education, the program ensures that students acquire the skills to work as professionals offering essential services in their home communities.
Warm welcome to students from around the world
In 1963, students of Asian ancestry were among the first to attend Whitehorse Vocational Training School. That tradition has continued through the years with Yukon College giving a warm welcome to students from around the world, offering English language training, northern outdoor experiential programs and a full range of academic courses to new Canadians and visiting international students.
Student Union in action
Student Council members at the Whitehorse Vocational Training School organized dances, hockey, basketball, sewing classes, and a year book in the 1960s. Through the years, students continued to build school spirit with pub nights, sports, First Nations cultural programs, social and environmental awareness events. Today’s Student Union is an active participant in enhancing student life at Yukon College.
Research for a new north
The Northern Research Centre was established at the new Yukon College Ayamdigut Campus in the 1990s to support research “By the North—For the North—In the North”. Renamed the Yukon Research Centre, programs today include cutting edge investigations into issues of critical concern to northerners—mine reclamation, cold climate construction, climate change impacts, community health and economic diversification.