Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada

Well, I just got back from Whitehorse - it was great! Whitehorse is the capital city of the Yukon Territory of Canada, and the most north I've ever been.

For those of you more familiar with US geography, the Yukon is the Canadian Territory that is right beside Alaska. As a matter of fact, the Klondike (of the famous Klondike Goldrush fame) is roughly the area that is the border between the two. Goldrush history pretty much defines the area.

Since it's pretty far north, my general concept of the place before visiting was freezing snow in the winter, and mosquitoes in the summer. Well, I can vouch for the mosquitoes, at least. But there is more, of course.

The city is surprisingly small - you can walk from end to end in less than an hour. It's very much a government and tourist town. I was there giving a seminar on Web 2.0 for the government, but also took some time to act as a tourist.

Some Highlights and Observations:

North of 60 is also known as "The Land of the Midnight Sun" - and it's true. This is a pic of my watch (and the town) a few seconds after midnight, and below is a picture of me around roughly midnight. I was able to walk around town and take photos in the natural sunlight until I went to bed at around 2AM!

Food: I always try to eat locally whever I travel, so I made sure I tried some local stuff - I had Muskox and Halibut at the Klondike Rib and Salmon BBQ, Caribou at the Westmark, and Bannock (Indian bread) at the Talisman, a Native-owned eatery. But for the life of me, I could not find sourdough pancakes anywhere! Weird.

Housing: During the building of the Alaska Highway, they ran out of space for all the workers, and the Log Cabin Skyscraper was born. There is one of these in Whitehorse, and it's a very strange sight indeed. Another interesting site was the use of sod on many of the log buildings - yup, that's grass growing on that roof!

Entertainment: Well, although the most popular pastimes in the area appear to be hiking, fishing and partying until the sun goes down (about 6 months from now), I was tired, so I just took in a show - The Frantic Follies, as vaudeville review (including CanCan Dancers) based in the Westmark Hotel. One of my favorite parts was the rendition of the "Cremation of Sam McGee" by Robert Service (a famous writer of the Canadian north), and the very, very funny skits involving audience members.

You know, between the belly dancers in China and the CanCan dancers in the Klondike, I'm starting to notice a pattern in my travel entertainment. I sure hope my wife doesn't...

Shopping: I like to buy local souvenirs, of course. I got the kids some cool prospecting pans with real gold dust and my wife a necklace made from genuine mammoth ivory. For myself, I bought a soapstone card holder with an inukshuk on it, an ulu (traditional Inuit knife) and a nice shirt from The Main Man.

One thing that stood out clearly while shopping that that all the shop personnel were genuinely friendly and helpful, not only for their own wares, but in directing me to other shops when they didn't have what I was looking for. The salesgirl at the Main Man even phoned all over town on my behalf in order to help me in my (ultimately failed) quest of sourdough pancakes. She really went above and beyond, and it's appreciated.

History and Culture: Well, it's a small town, and fairly recent by global standards, so there isn't a huge history, but what there is, is wild and fascinating (kind of like a colder Las Vegas). The goldrush, cabin fever, ruthless criminal gangs, fearless NWMP (Canadian Mounties), etc.

They do have the orginal cabin the Sam McGee lived in - that's cool.

The poetry of Robert Service ("The Bard of the Yukon"), is a very interesting series of stories that tell about life back then. Read them - they are worth it. My favorites:

The Cremation of Sam McGee (funny)
The Law of the Yukon (tough)
The Men That Don't Fit In (my favorite - sad, though)
The Ballad of The Black Fox Skin (traditional myth)
My Friends (really good - another huge favorite)

Actually, I like almost everything he wrote (19 books of verse), but that's a good sampler. The actual book I bought was "The Best Of Robert Service".

Trivia: in the local parlance, if you are not native, you are either a "Sourdough"(tough and experienced local/prospector type) or a "Cheechako" (technically a foreigner, but generally just a spoiled, lily-livered, city-folk tourist type...).


1 comment:

Andrew Stark said...

Glad you enjoyed your stay in the Yukon.