Whitehorse was built almost overnight by gold rushers making their way to Dawson City. While navigating the White Horse Rapids on the Yukon River, many of them set up camp at Whitehorse. In 1942, the city’s population exploded when the U.S. and Canadian army arrived into town while the Alaska Highway was being built. Whitehorse is, of course, the capital of the Yukon Territories since it took that designation away from Dawson City in 1953. The town still retains links to its roots with regular performances of musical revues and through the MacBride Museum. This shrine features displays of Indian relics, the minerals of the Yukon, prehistoric mammals, and Sam McGee’s 1899 cabin. Sam McGee was the man immortalized in the ode, The Cremation of Sam Mcgee, which was written by Robert Service.
In the early years, residents used steamboats to reach the outside world. Sternwheelers were used to haul zinc, silver, and lead along the Yukon River. In 1952, however, a road was constructed, ending the days of the sternwheeler. Visitors can visit the Whitehorse dock to view the restored S.S. Klondike, which is the largest and one of the last remaining sternwheelers in the world.
The Whitehorse Rapids Dam’s claim to fame is that it is home to one of the longest fish ladders in the world. Through the glass windows, you can watch Chinook salmon swim upstream in the summer. You can read the interpretative displays to learn about the salmon’s annual migration through the city’s rapids.
In the winter, the Yukon can be bitterly cold. Daylight is short, lasting only a few hours. You can drive north to the Takhini Hot Springs where you can warm up. The natural hot springs there have an average temperature of 36°C and swimming there can be enjoyed year round.
In the winter, Whitehorse is known for its “midnight sun”, when the skies are lit up with streaks of colors in a brilliant show called the northern lights. Even in June, the highest mountains near Whitehorse are covered in snow, although the city itself has a hot summer temperature that can reach as high as 30°C during the day – and daylight can last almost 24 hours long.
While the climate is not ideal for gardeners, people in Whitehorse still grow vegetables and plants. You can visit the Yukon Gardens, where the experimental section tests new strains of vegetables and their ability to survive the Yukon climate. The pathways of the 9-hectare garden also lead to various wild flowers, domestic shrubs, and trees.
According to oral mythology, the Yukon Indians have lived in the region since Crow created the world and all living things. Archaeologists, however, estimate inhabitants crossed over from Asia about 30,000 years ago when North America and Asia were connected during the last Ice Age.
Many Indians still live according to the ways of their ancestors, surviving on hunting, trapping, and fishing. The first Europeans to visit the area were fur traders who set up posts during the 1800s. The gold rush brought a major influx to the region. After the gold petered out, the fur industry became prominent once again, only to die down after anti-fur campaigns gained steam.
Simpkins, Mary Ann. Canada. New York: Prentice Hall Travel, 1994. ISBN: 0671882783.
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