Whitehorse’s Beringia Center reopens after 5-month renovation

Whitehorse’s Beringia Interpretive Center re-opens its doors this weekend after a five-month closure for renovations — and visitors are being promised a more engaging and interactive experience of Yukon’s Ice Age history.

“Change was a constant thing in the Yukon in the past,” said territorial government paleontologist Grant Zazula, who was involved in the facility’s overhaul.

“Extinction, survival and change through time was really what we wanted to get across.”

The center, just off the Alaska Highway, is home to skeletons, fossils, and other exhibits that aim to tell the story of life in the Yukon through the ages. Beringia refers to the land bridge that once connected Alaska and Siberia, over which humans and wildlife migrated into North America tens of thousands of years ago.

A large building is seen from the outside with a sign on the outside saying 'Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre.'
The Beringia Interpretive Center first opened in the late 1990s, before Yukon had its own paleontology program. (Paul Tukker/CBC)

Zazula said the center’s renovations, with new murals, displays and interactive exhibits, have aimed to “bring the place to life.”

“Instead of this being an Ice Age graveyard, we want it to be an Ice Age savannah and get color and imagery and real stories and real fossils, from the Yukon.”

Zazula said that when the center was built in the late 1990s, Yukon did not yet have a paleontology program and so there was no collection of local fossils in the territory. Now the territory has built up an impressive collection of fossils and bones, many of them dug up over the years by miners in the Klondike region. Those finds allow the Beringia Center to better tell the story of the evolution of life in the region, Zazula said.

A man in a hat stands before a large wall displaying many skulls and antlers.
‘Change was a constant thing in the Yukon in the past,’ said government paleontologist Grant Zazula, seen here inspecting one of the new displays at the Beringia Centre. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

Christie Grekul, who manages the center, says many of the fossils now on display were being held at the Canadian Museum of Nature in Ottawa.

“There are definitely ones that have not been exhibited before … So it’s really great to see them come back to the Yukon and be exhibited for all Yukoners and visitors,” Grekul said, as the final work was being done ahead of this weekend’s reopening.

“Seeing the fossils go into the cases today was a bit emotional because we’ve spent so much time reviewing and thinking and choosing and swapping.”

A portrait of a smiling woman in front of a large colorful wall mural.
‘Seeing the fossils go into the cases today was a bit emotional,’ said Christie Grekul, manager of the Beringia Centre. (Cheryl Kawaja/CBC)

Zazula says some of the highlights include a 1.5-million-year-old caribou bone — the oldest in the Arctic — and the only whitefish fossil in the world.

He’s also excited by the fact that the display tags on exhibits include the local Indigenous names for animals.

“None of these, none of these fossils would be possible without the cooperation and the partnerships with First Nations, and the Yukon placer gold mining community,” he said.

“Everyone should be really proud of the fact that this is all fossils from their backyard, and these are all stories that were generated by the Yukoners, and work in the Yukon.”

The facility was planning to mark its reopening on Saturday with a free barbecue, face painting and live music, from 11 am to 2 pm

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