Friday, July 9, 2010

Carcross and Caribou Crossing

Looking at the map on our way to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, I saw that we were close to the towns of Tagish and Carcross.  It wasn't until we were actually in Carcross that I made the connection between the Tlingit people of Carcross and the Athabascan community of Tagish. If I had followed a cultural itinerary, we would have traveled to these aboriginal communities first before entering the capital city of the Yukon.  So in this blog that is exactly what I am doing to make more sense of this cultural milieu.

The Tlingit people called this area Naataase Heen, "water running through the narrows."  The Tagish called it Todezzane, "blowing all the time." In 1898, it served as a North-West Mounted Police post and a First Nation community. By 1899, they called this community Caribou Crossing, where the local woodland caribou crossed the narrows of Carcross River as it emptied into Bennett Lake. By 1900, a rail line was constructed to Atlin.  By 1902, the Post Office and Telegraph Office shared space in the same building with the NWM Police. In 1906, it was officially named simply Carcross.  By 1909, much of town burned down only to start all over again.

There was something intriguing about the remnants of this town as I walked from building to building trying to figure out what it must have been like during the days of the Klondike gold rush and the prospector's determination for getting to Dawson City. It had the feeling of early homemade frontier architecture melding into the present day.  In fact, many of the originals survived to this day where property values have gone through the roof, so to speak.  What looked like a shack to be purchased for $20,000 was worth more than $200,000 with a stunning view of the lake.

This is the Bobby Watson House which was originally built in 1903. In the 1920's, it housed the local Mounties and a jail.  In 1955, it became a residence once again for the son of Matthew Watson who purchased it in 1914.

In the 1940s as other towns failed and were abandoned, notable buildings were brought to Carcross.  Among them was St. John the Baptist Catholic Church which holds services today on every Sunday.

In a more typical log cabin design, new homes are starting to be built in this area of booms and busts, heartbreaks and euphoria, subsistence and accumulation, harmony with nature and living on the grid.  All grist for the mill!


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