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Manitoba History: Review: Ken S. Coates and William R. Morrison, Land of the Midnight Sun - A History of the Yukon

by David Neufeld
Canadian Parks Service

Manitoba History, Number 19, Spring 1990

This article was published originally in Manitoba History by the Manitoba Historical Society on the above date. We make it available here as a free, public service.

Please direct all inquiries to

Ken S. Coates and William R. Morrison, Land of the Midnight Sun – A History of the Yukon, Edmonton: Hurtig Publishers, 1988, 336 pp., ill., maps. ISBN 0–88830–331-9.

The writing of regional history offers a challenging opportunity to combine specific local issues, well known in a region, with thorough analysis highlighting the greater significance of regional events. Land of the Midnight Sun – A History of the Yukon undertakes this challenge. The authors, Ken Coates and William Morrison, both well known to Manitoba History readers for their various works on Manitoba topics, are northern historians working out of the Universities of Victoria and Lakehead.

Their book offers a comprehensive account of white activities in the Yukon region from the mid-nineteenth century. Covering the fur trade in the Yukon basin, whaling along the north slope of the territory, the impacts of Alaska Highway construction, in addition to the standard Yukon fare of Klondike gold, Coates and Morrison provide a well rounded description of the Yukon’s “discovery and development” by Europeans. Also well described are the results of this entry upon native people. Missionaries and government officials not so gently pushed the Yukon native people into a white conception of what the twentieth century was all about. The material is well organized and presented in topical chapters that make for easy reading.

There are weaknesses in the book’s approach, however. The natives are presented only as victims and survivors in the book. The description of the Yukon’s history through white eyes denies the richness of the aboriginal cultures and their contributions to human life in the territory. By narrowing the focus of their territorial history Coates and Morrison have blended Yukon history comfortably into the mainstream of Canadian history. This homogenization is achieved, however, only by excluding much of what gives the Yukon its regional coherence.

For the visitor to the Yukon Land of the Midnight Sun provides an historical context for modern Yukon. However, to fulfill the possibilities of regional history, all the cultures of the Yukon need to have their voices included.

Page revised: 4 November 2012

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