A Sightseeing Day in Whitehorse
May 29th, 2015
The following description is from the Bradt Yukon Guide Book that we used as reference material for planning our “Giro del Yukon”.
“Whitehorse’s architecture is not going to win any prizes; the buildings are mostly boxy and functional. It’s stores stock pretty much everything you’ll need for those heading out to enjoy the Yukon’s rich history and panoramic landscapes. And, while first impressions can be a little blah, within a short time most visitors are seduced by Whitehorse’s blend of funky artistic vibe, daring -do history and ruff-tuff outdoors adventure.”
As the guide-book said, my first impressions of Whitehorse were that it reminded me a bit of Malarctic in Abitibi where I grew up. My impression was of a northern town that has lost its purpose but is looking to rebuild, a “dusty frontier town” with streets still lightly covered with the sand that is used on the roads in winter, the buildings kind of plopped down randomly in the middle of the wilderness. Walking along the waterfront by the Yukon River, seeing the sand cliffs across the river, seeing all the green of the surrounding coniferous forest, the tranquil pace of the place and the luck that we had in arriving on a beautiful sunny day (when the sun literally never sets) I quickly forgot about my first impressions.
On the second day in Whitehorse we had breakfast at Tim Horton’s so that we could use the WIFI to send a few e-mails, then we picked up the RV. We then had a delicious lunch of Hungarian Mushroom soup with free-range chicken on fresh-baked sourdough bread and with a pesto sauce, at an outdoor terrace at the Claim Cafe -yes my first impressions were again proven wrong! The terrace faced the Centre de la Francophonie that had a happy and imaginative fresco painted the length of the building. I was surprised to find out that a good 10% of the population of Whitehorse is francophone.
We then drove out to Miles Canyon for a walk, but not before seeing the immenseness of the wilderness from the air in a shiny red Cessna.
We really enjoyed the Miles Canyon Walk. You are already in the wilderness and only a few kilometers from the city centre. The trail runs along the ridge of the canyon and you look straight down into the waters of the river that are a bright blue-green. The trail also heads into the forest and on this late May day the ground under the trees was literally carpeted with tall purple lupines.
We came back to town and toured the McBride Museum. With the visit to the McBride Museum we started to get a bit of a better understanding of the Klondike Gold Rush, the brutal weather and natural obstacles that the stampeders had to over come to get here, and the “infrastructure” that was put in place to house and feed themselves all carved out of endless wilderness. The museum shows what life was like in those brief years of the gold rush. There are re-creations of a Klondike “Saloon”, a dentist’s office, a general store.
Then we picked up groceries at the Great Canadian Superstore and still had time for another walk along the waterfront after dinner. A very satisfying dinner of smoked elk and bison meatballs, and elk carpaccio with a big green salad and what quickly become a favorite – Yukon Gold Pale Ale.
By this point my impressions of Whitehorse had totally changed. I was seeing a “southern” city with all the amenities you could possible need. From fresh-baked bread, to a good machiatto coffee at the Baked Café, to artisanal beer, to oh no McDonald’s and Wal-Mart, it’s all there. But the best part is that all of this is set in an artistic, holistic (lots of posters for yoga classes) wilderness adventure framework. The energizing force of the long sunny days likely also helped change my initial impressions!
The McBride Museum also has a cabin that would have housed the office of the North-West Mounted Police and the cabin that Sam McGee lived in. Before I would have to think hard if someone asked me to name a Canadian poem. Now I will not forget Robert Service and his colorful and evocative stories like the “Cremation of Sam McGee” and “The Shooting of Dan McGrew”. This is a Youtube link with a great Johnny Cash reading of the “Cremation of Sam McGee.
From the Robert Service webpage
Born in Lancashire, England he wrote his first poem on his sixth birthday, and was educated at some of the best schools in Scotland, where his interest in poetry grew alongside a desire for travel and adventure.
Inspired by Rudyard Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson, Service sailed to western Canada in 1894 to become a cowboy in the Yukon Wilderness. He worked on a ranch and as a bank teller in Vancouver Island six years after the Gold Rush, gleaning material that would inform his poetry for years to come and earn him his reputation as “Bard of the Yukon.”
His stuff made money hand over fist. One piece alone, The Shooting of Dan McGrew, rolled up half a million dollars for him. He lived it up well and also gave a great deal to help others.
He probably exemplifies the hold that the Yukon had on a lot of people who arrived to seek gold of course, but also to seek adventure in what really would have been the “Last Frontier”.