Our final destination in Canada is the Yukon Terriority. Sitting in the north-western corner bordering the US state of Alaska, this is a land of extremes - icy temperatures, long summer daylight hours and equally long hours of darkness in winter, inaccessible, rugged country and unblemished beauty as far as the eye can see.
We’re starting this leg of our journey in Whitehorse, the hub of the Yukon.
The Main Street in Whitehorse has got a lovely, historic feel to it. It takes you back to the time with all the gold prospectors going up north, opening up the Yukon. Whitehorse is the capital of Yukon with a population of 27,000 (there’s another 5,000 in rest of Yukon) in 500,000sq km of pristine wilderness. This town is bristling and growing, and there’s so much to do here in Whitehorse!
The mighty Yukon River has played a vital role in the territory’s expanding progress. It has been the lifeblood of this region. Boats transporting early prospectors would berth just south of present day Whitehorse. You can imagine how the water rushed – roared through here. It was full of rapids and, in fact, Whitehorse got its name from the rapids that looked like flying horse manes.
When the gold rush started in Dawson City, Whitehorse was the supply port – and the beautiful stern wheelers travelled back and forth between Dawson City and Whitehorse, transporting supplies. Over 250 stern wheelers were in use back in the days of the gold rush and Klondlike was the biggest stern wheeler of them all.
You can well imagine the gold-filled excitement of those thousands of hopefuls, heading to Dawson City in search of a Klondike strike and to secure their fortune. The White Pass & Yukon Route railway from Skagway in the USA to Whitehorse, completed in 1900, secured Whitehorse’s future as a Yukon staging point beyond those heady Klondike years.
These days, while the powerful flow of the Yukon River is being harnessed to supply Whitehorse’s power grid, Miles Canyon further upriver gives you an insight into the risks that gold prospectors faced when making their way north to the Klondike to seek out their fortune…these waters can be treacherous.
When you get to a territory as vast as the Yukon to explore, you can join a tour – there are plenty available. Or you can explore on your own by renting a car. It’s fantastic – you can drive everywhere you want to go, there are so many things to see – a roadtrip is so much fun.
For more information about Whitehorse, visit: Whitehorse
For more information about self driving in the Yukon, visit: Driving in the Yukon
Carcross and Keith Wolfe-Smarch
We’re heading down the South Klondike Highway and as per usual around here, the Yukon’s scenery does not disappoint. The mountains are always a picturesque end point on the horizon, but there are highlights along the way as well, like Emerald Lake. Yes, another lake named Emerald, when Canadians name their lakes, they have their favourites that they like to stick with.
We’re heading to a place called Carcross about 30 minutes away from Whitehorse. The name Carcross is an abbreviation of two words – Caribou Crossing. And the fact that herds of tens of thousands of caribou would cross the river here meant that this area was destined to be settled by the First National people.
It proved to be an important trading point and white settlers set up stores here, that have been beautifully preserved, making it a fascinating place to experience First Nations and gold rush settlers history all in one place.
Keith Wolfe-Smarch, a Tilingit artist/cover – has been part of the town’s renewal recently -- with his art being part of the urban landscape. He makes story pole, which tells the history of two groups of First Nations People, the Tilingit and Taglish peoples and how they came together as the result of trading. At the bottom of the pole, shows a Tilingit trader from the coast, and the 2nd figure on the pole is a Taglish woman holding the trades good she received, and it represents the intermarriage of the two cultures. The killer whale on the pole represents Skookum Jim, of the killer whale clan, who picked up the first gold nugget that started the big gold rush in 1890. Skookum Jim is also Keith Wolfe-Smarch’s great great uncle. On top of the killer whale’s tail is the thunderbird which represents the coming of the train, which came right after the gold rush. And the beautiful storypole once completed will be at the centre of the Carcross Commons for all to experience.
For more information about Carcross and its history, visit: Carcross History
Tagish Wilderness Lodge
East of Carcross, a short drive away, is the small hamlet of Tagish. Transfer to a barge for a 40-minute cruise across Lake Tagish for a slice of solitude. We’re heading to a secluded hideaway that is only accessible by a boat or floatplane.
This is Tagish Wilderness Lodge, set in a forest in between the lake and a coastal mountain range.
There are four cabins, so there are only ever 8 guests here at the most. Small numbers, total isolation, no cars and hectares of untouched wilderness combine for an experience of total serenity and space. All meals are served here in the main lodge; it’s dining room and lounge a great meeting point to map out your day’s activities. Our hosts, Swiss expats Gebhard and Sarah, will tailor your stay to be as activity-based as you choose.
You can go fishing in this beautiful place with Gebhard – a very special experience. There’s a lake full of fish out there and in the Yukon spirit of self-sufficiency, you can go and catch your lunch, but it requires a very specific technique, because of the depth, at which the fish are living. You don’t use normal bait and line but some specialised equipment -- a bottom rigger, for the weight. We caught some lake trout – huge ones by Australian standard!
You don’t get much fresher than cooking your catch straight away and Gebhard will grill the freshly caught filleted trout on the lakeshore – our idea of perfect lunch.
This is an experience that you can have here in Canada.
For more information on Tagish Wilderness Lodge, visit: Tagish Wilderness Lodge