Midnight Sun Diocese Is Steeped in History: Yukon Ponders Changing Roles for the Church

Article excerpt

BISHOP Terrence Buckle pulls up in his truck and jumps out, walks over to the camera, and stops. He grins. "Welcome to the land of the midnight sun," he says, squinting into the brightness, as he introduces a promotional video for the diocese of the Yukon.

Seconds before, viewers were treated to opening scenes of a grizzly bear family munching on the long grasses that edge the highway.

Bishop Buckle, 60, calls the diocese "a great big playground." Yukon covers 750,000 square kilometers and extends as far into British Columbia as Fort Nelson. Most of it is above the 60th parallel, stretching from Fort Nelson in Northern British Columbia to Old Crow above the Arctic Circle.

"It's a beautiful land with very few people and an interesting history," said Bishop Buckle in an interview. And it's spread very thin - the entire population of the diocese is only 30,000, and 20 per cent are First Nations people. There are 14 parishes, eight priests, four deacons (a nurse, a community health worker, an elder and a senior) and a South African minister, Canon John Tyrell, who runs the Yukon College campus and teaches there. Two-thirds of the population lives in the see city of Whitehorse.

Anglican history began several years before white settlers arrived in any significant numbers, and is rife with stories of courage and commitment.

In 1861, Rev. William West Kirkby, a minister sent by the Church Missionary Society from England, canoed from Fort Simpson to Fort Yukon and began the saga of the church in the northwest. Impressed with the responsiveness of the native people to the gospel, he returned the next summer with a missionary, Robert McDonald, who stayed on at Fort Yukon where he lived and traveled with the native people for 40 years.

During his ministry among the people, Mr. McDonald translated the whole of the Bible, the Book of Common Prayer and many hymns into the Takudh dialect. He also wrote a grammar and dictionary of the language.

During the Gold Rush in 1897 and 1898, Church Camp Missionaries traveled the Klondike creeks to evangelize and comfort heartbroken prospectors. The Anglican church is also credited with initiating visits of mounted police to the remotest areas of the territory.

An initially huge diocese, then called Rupert's Land, stretched west from Manitoba to the Rocky Mountains and north to the Arctic Ocean. It was divided several times in the late 1800s, which led to the creation of the diocese of the Yukon in 1907.

A big change came with the building of the Alaska Highway in 1942, although civilians were not allowed on it until 1946. …