There are some places that instantly grab you for reasons not apparent when you step off the plane. You might just have a feeling that gradually grows as the locals tell their tales, the landmarks impress themselves upon your memory and the local cuisine finds its way on to your taste buds and into your belly.
I’ll be honest – although it is the capital of The Yukon and the largest city in this wild Canadian territory at the top of the world, I’d never heard of the City of Whitehorse until I booked my ticket there. Perhaps now that the National Geographic Channel has aired Yukon Gold
down-under and it’s become somewhat of a random hit, more people have heard of Whitehorse and the neighbouring historical town of Dawson. Yes, Dawson is the city of the Sour Toe cocktail – a whiskey based drink that has a preserved human toe in it. When you drink, the toe has to touch your lips. But that’s another story.
Getting back to Whitehorse, the city earned its name because the White Horse Rapids (that ceased to be when the Yukon River was dammed) resembled the flowing mane of a charging horse. Around 27,000 people live in Whitehorse and pretty much all of them love the great outdoors and the cold (lets be honest – freezing) average temperature. You wouldn’t live there if you didn’t, because the average temperature is -0.1 degrees Celsius, making Whitehorse the warmest
place in The Yukon.
Whitehorse is a hub for adventurers, as you can pick up rental cars and all of your gear for white water rafting, kayaking, trekking, fishing, sledding and whatever else you want to get into, from the town’s main shopping area. But to get a good grasp on the region, its history and its people, it is definitely worth spending a day or two in Whitehorse, visiting a few places that will get you clued up, and trying our the local hangouts and cuisine.
The People of The Yukon all know the now deceased W.D MacBride. He was born in Montana and moved to Whitehorse in 1914. His love for the region saw him dedicating the rest of his life to chronicling the heritage of The Yukon and in 1930 he co-founded the Yukon Historical Society. The MacBride Museum was opened in 1967, named after MacBride in honour of his determination to document and collect everything he could in the territory. He passed away in 1973 but his memory and his recordings live on at the MacBride Museum in the middle of town.
White Pass historian Roy Minter wrote this tribute to his friend: “This fun-loving raconteur aged but never grew old. He spoke with authority and compassion, but never without the joyful touches of humour that were his trademark. Indeed he was a most attractive man whose energy, creativity, and determination were the driving forces behind the early acquisitions of northern documents and artifacts. He was known far and wide outside the Yukon by historians, writers, publishers, and broadcasters, none of whom would think of passing through Whitehorse without contacting Bill MacBride.”
And if you’re not a history buff, then visit the museum purely for the chance to see how big a grizzly bear can get – there’s a seven-foot one in the museum’s Natural World Gallery. It’ll have you scrubbing up on Bear Safety tips.
1124 Front Street, Whitehorse
The Klondike Rib & Salmon BBQ restaurant and bar is an institution. This place had me going back the next day for more. Housed in the two oldest buildings in town, it opened around 1900 as a tent frame bakery and has since been a mail and freight business and then a carpentry shop specialising in coffins before being turned into a old-fashioned (think Gold Rush around the early 1900s) Klondike restaurant with a lovely little wooden deck bordered by potted flowers. Red and white checked tablecloths and some of the friendliest staff you’ll find make it as cosy and welcoming, even if it is buzzing with hordes of visitors and locals. From salmon and halibut bakes with homemade creamy sauces, to bison steak, smoked meats and wild elk stroganoff, this is the place to taste the local produce straight from the mountains and beyond. Go with an empty stomach.
2116 2nd Ave, Whitehorse
Yukon Gold (aka beery kind)
No one in Whitehorse would dare drink anything other than their local brew, and it’s really good. The two guys who own Yukon Brewing have eight styles of beer covering all tastes: Chilkoot (lager), Deadman Creek (a cranberry wheat), Bonanza Brown (brown ale), Ice Fog (India Pale Ale), Midnight Sun (Espresso Stout), Lead Dog (Olde English Ale), Yukon Gold (English Pale Ale), Yukon Red (Amber Ale). Swing by the brewery – tours are daily in the summertime from noon ‘til 2:00pm and 4:00pm, and are only $10 per person. So hey, if you’re not as lucky as the gold prospectors of the past or the blokes on Nat Geo Channel, you can at least take home a six-pack of Yukon Gold.
102A Copper Road, Whitehorse
Some like it hot
Surrounded by rolling mountains and fir tree forests, Takhini Hot Pools have been open for over 100 years. They are an absolute delight – especially if it’s below freezing – as they remain between 36 and 42 degrees celcius, with the water entering the pool at a piping hot 47-degrees. There is a concrete swimming pool, restaurant and campground in the complex, and it’s also one of many wonderful places in The Yukon to see Northern Lights, as the property has no light pollution. The pools are a 28km drive out of Whitehorse and are open daily from 8am to 10pm during the summer months.
Way back when
If you want to go waaaaay back in time, head back to the Beringia Interpretive Centre on the outskirts of Whitehorse. Beringia was the landmass that connected Northwest Alaska and Far East of Russia around 12,000 years ago during the Last Ice Age. It now lies beneath the Bering and Chukchi Seas and is also called the Bering Land Bridge.
Most archeologists agree that this ‘bridge’ was a place for great animal migrations, and that many human populations also used it, with the people of Asia crossing it to populate the Americas.
This fascinating multimedia museum right next door to Whitehorse’s airport features life-size exhibits of animals from the last Ice Age, interactive CD-ROM kiosks and dioramas depicting the landscape, flora and fauna of Beringia. And if you thought a grizzly was big, check out the full-size cast of the largest woolly mammoth ever recovered, and ice age carcasses discovered by gold miners from the Klondike region.
It’s not all ancient history at Beringia however, as you can also watch a short film with scenes from The Yukon of today, complete with computer animation and rare archival photos. Also learn about North America's First People, whose ancestors lived in Beringia. It’s utterly fascinating and the perfect way to leave Whitehorse, armed with knowledge of the world around you – way back then and today.