Hall of Innovators 2023

It is our greatest pleasure to present the recipients of the 2023 Hall of Innovators Award Gala.

The evening was a blend of past and present where history met innovation, featuring inspiring stories and groundbreaking innovations that reshaped Yukon’s landscape. It was inspiring, entertaining, and captivating to witness the creativity of our fellow Yukoners.

Rich Thompson, Lifetime Achievement Award

Rich Thompson is a model innovator for two key reasons. He pushes the limits of innovation in his businesses every day… And he is passionate about creating environments and ecosystems where others can also innovate. 

Rich believed in the Yukon as a place worth investing in long before most others did. He recognized that the territory was full of people and opportunities that could support a meaningful, modern private sector. 

He co-founded Northern Vision Development in 2004, at a time when most people were leaving the Yukon, or counting on a pipeline, or focusing on government. Now the most active real estate company in the Yukon, NVD is proof of the value of independent, innovative thinking.

In 2018, Rich understood that the private sector needed to lead in establishing a hub for innovators. He worked with the private, public, and not-for-profit sectors to transform a vacant building into a vibrant space where organizations and individuals across the territory could collaborate to create and innovate.

Recently, he worked with Northern Vision Development’s leadership team to guide NVD to 50% First Nations ownership – an innovative and progressive approach to doing business in the Yukon. 

Over the past two decades, the weeks and months and cumulatively, years away from his home and his family are an example of a less-talked-about side of innovation – the sacrifice required to create, build, and commit to a place and an idea.

Richs’ legacy and impact is not a building, a project, a space, or an entity; it is a Yukon where innovation is a key part of the territory’s past, present, and future.

We are honored to present him with this very well-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award. 

Bob Baxter and Alan Hansen from Yukon Brewing

Lifetime Achievement Award

Both originally from Ontario, different paths led Bob Baxter and Alan Hansen to the Yukon. They met in Whitehorse in the late 1980s, and later while sitting by a campfire on a canoe trip, their idea of opening a brewery was conceived. 

In 1997 they opened Chilkoot Brewing Company, now known as Yukon Brewing. Not only was it one of the early craft breweries in Canada, but Bob and Alan had to innovate quickly given the remote location, population size, and distance to the export market. They managed this all while producing great-tasting, award-winning beer.   

In 2009, the company expanded into distilling, with the main goal of producing high-quality single-malt whiskies. The first product was bottled in 2016, and there’s been no looking back. The whiskies have won various Canadian and International awards since the first release, and can now be found as far away as France and Scotland.

It is a true Yukon success story, but it’s always been about more than just the products and awards. Over the years, Yukon Brewing has supported – and continues to support – countless events and causes. Its company values are “People Matter… Pioneering… Community… Authenticity… and Keep it fun!

The company also champions local innovators. When asked why Yukon Brewing is such a longtime supporter of Yukonstruct, Bob replied “Because we need more people to believe and act as innovators. That’s good for our community. Oh, and because Yukonstruct is cool”. 

Alan and Bob each raised their respective families in the Yukon with their partners, and still make the territory home. We are thrilled to present them with the 2023 Hall of Innovators Lifetime Achievement Award. 

Anne Middler, Notable Innovators Award

Anne Middler moved to the Yukon in 2001 and has lived in Selkirk, Carcross/Tagish, Ta’an Kwäch’än and Kwanlin Dün First Nation territories. She’s keenly aware of the challenges of creating a sustainable relationship with the earth, and has always enjoyed being close to the land advocating for environmental protection and waste reduction. 

Anne met her first kicksled on a frozen lake in 2009, and was immediately transported to childhood memories and feelings of freedom and fun kicking around Kelowna on her skateboard. 

She recognized and visualized a kicksled as a vehicle for social change – an elegant winter recreation and active transportation tool of pure joy. She saw the need and potential for a Kicksled Revolution in the Yukon. The goals of this movement were to reduce transportation-related GHG emissions, change our relationship with time and the land, and improve physical and mental health in the cold dark months of Yukon winters. 

Anne became more proactive about this mission and imported her first sea-can full of kicksleds from Finland in 2016. She’s since sold more than 2,000 kicksleds and kicksparks to individuals, schools, community and youth centres, and First Nations governments in the Yukon, NWT and northern BC. People across the region have said discovering kicksledding has transformed their relationship with winter. 

Anne can be found assembling and servicing kicksleds at her downtown Whitehorse headquarters, and kicksledding around enjoying winter’s gift of glide with her daughter and dog. 

She enjoys heading out on kickscursions and kickspeditions with friends and various groups. Anne continues to encourage inclusive winter trail maintenance and low barrier winter recreation and help spread the pure joy and other benefits of kicksledding in the Yukon and beyond.

Joella Hogan, Notable Innovators Award

“Incredibly forward-thinking… a community builder and supporter… …a force for good.” 

These are just a few descriptors of Joelle Hogan that were included in her nomination. Even if you don’t know Joella, you almost certainly have seen her products by the Yukon Soaps Company. 

Often given as gifts, tucked into welcome baskets, and purchased as souvenirs, the handcrafted soaps have also been featured in numerous publications from Cosmopolitan magazine to the Globe and Mail. 

Joella and her enterprise are also making an impact in the community of Mayo, in the ancestral territory of her ancestors. She employs local youth, uses local plants in her formulations, showcases Na-cho Nyak Dun beadwork and plant knowledge, and sprinkles in the Northern Tutchone language wherever she can. 

Joella also brings Northern Tutchone culture and heritage to the forefront of life in the heart of the Yukon as a professional heritage worker.

To quote part of her nomination… “Joella is a leader in connecting with traditions, and bringing traditional knowledge into the light in a modern way – through her soap and products, TikToks, and social media. She is reclaiming the sacredness of cleansing as healing.”

Joella’s bio states that she comes from a long line of matriarchs who are teachers, healers, bush women, social advocates, and cultural leaders… Strong, vibrant, Indigenous women. Today she is certainly this to another generation, as she employs them but also models leadership, success, and a spirit of innovation. She certainly does her matriarchs, and the Yukon, proud. 

Porter Creek Secondary School – Gender and Sexuality Alliance
Youth/Emerging Leaders Notable Innovators Award

This year’s recipient of the Youth Innovation Award is a group of students who are kind, innovative, groundbreaking leaders. 

Since its creation, the Porter Creek Secondary School Gender Sexuality Alliance has been relentless in its determination to support change and increase 2SLGBTQIA+ safety and support in the Territory, particularly for young people. 

They consistently look for innovative ways to create change within the school community at PCSS. They’ve given energy to many projects, such as the opening of the Yukon’s first Rainbow Room, a space within the school where 2SLGBTQIA+ students, allies, family, and friends fit, are respected and safe.

Beyond this, the PCSS GSA has been quick to identify gaps in policy and legislation that leave young 2SLGBTQIA+ students in vulnerable positions.  

They have been part of a long list of actions and accomplishments. A few examples include advocating for the modernization and full implementation of the Department of Education Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity policy in every Yukon school… Working with MLA Lane Tredger to get Bill 304 passed, which amended the Education Act to ensure all schools have activities and organizations dedicated to 2SLGBTQIA+ students… And successfully petitioned the Yukon Government to ban conversion therapy—a year before Canada did. 

This is big work, and yet they have taken it on and created real change. 

Their approach to advocacy has been passionate, strong, articulate, and kind. The result of their advocacy is the enhanced safety of all Yukon students, particularly 2SLGBTQIA+ students, as well as their friends, families, teachers, administrators, and the community at large.  

PCSS GSA has not only shown the ability to foster change in established systems but has also demonstrated the power and impact of young people.

About the Artist

The Tlingit artist, Mark Preston, designed the beautiful Hall of Innovators installation at NorthLight, as well as the awards each recipient received at this year’s ceremony. Mark brought forward his vision of having the hall be reflective of the land and the people of the Yukon, with both the hall and the awards being created in the style of the inland Tlingit, a style of art that reflects Mark’s ancestral lineage, representing a post and beam longhouse and the feast dishes that community would have gathered around to celebrate.

Yukonstruct welcomes nominations for the 5th Annual Hall of Innovator Awards in September 2024.