Friday, July 16, 2010

Whitehorse, Yesterday and Today

I like Whitehorse! First of all this is a great walking and bicycling town with about 25,000 residents, most of them attractive, young and healthy. Canoes, kayaks, and bicycles adorn every other car. What a great outdoor center!  Reminds me very much of Bend, Oregon where we spend many of our summers these days.  Mountains in the background, a river flowing through the middle of town, lively coffee and bakery spots, and beautiful women and handsome young men.  And lots of historic and natural history museums.  A great mix of the past with a dynamic present and an unlimited future.

Whitehorse derived its present name from the White Horse Rapids which looked like "the flowing manes of charging white horses".  These rapids, located south of the city in the dangerous Miles Canyon, offered a series of water hazards and obstacles that challenged the best of the early river runners. Initially tramways were built to deliver goods around the rapids in 1897, then the railway bypassed the rapids in 1900 to connect rail service and riverboats to Dawson City.  Now the Yukon river has been tamed by the Whitehorse hydro-electric dam and the capital of the Yukon Territory was moved from Dawson City to Whitehorse. The city has experienced a series of boom and bust times over the years including the last one which was fueled by the construction of the Alaska-Canada Highway. Owing much of its wealth to the mining industry, tourism also plays an important role today in the building of this dynamic young community.

The sternwheeler, S.S. Klondike, serves as a reminder of the importance Whitehorse played as a major transportation center of this region as well as a starting point for miners and prospectors seeking their fortunes in the gold fields.  In its heyday, there were over 250 riverboats plying the Yukon River, making Whitehorse an important riverboat port rivaling those on the Mississippi. However, when the gold boom was over, the population dropped to about 300 residents. It wasn't until 1942 and the construction of the Alaska Highway that Whitehorse regained its economic clout and political domination of the Yukon Territory.

This is the first town on our trip where I just liked hanging out and watching the people go by while sipping coffee and sampling the local pastry delights. It's small enough that it has a distinct personality that is inviting. I suppose that I sound like the local Chamber of Commerce but I think we build the majority of our cities in the Lower 48 too big, too sprawling, and too impersonal. So when I experience a smaller town like this, I like to acknowledge the city planners and residents that something is going right. If it didn't have temps in the minus fifties during the winter, I'd be tempted to move. Well...maybe. Well...OK...I'm getting a bit carried away for I love Bend and Eugene, Oregon.

This is a modern, thriving town that blends the old and new with wide streets, interesting shops, coffee houses, art galleries, inviting restaurants, outdoor outfitters, grocery stores, government buildings, tourism offices, and a variety of museums, parks, and healthy, friendly people plus plenty of RV parks not too far from downtown.

One can visit the White Pass Railroad Station Depot as well as a number of other historical buildings.

Geez!  It didn't take long for my wife Nola to be swept away by the North West Mounted Moose guarding the streets of downtown Whitehorse. Gotta watch her every minute!

I especially liked the murals that reminded me of the gold rush in the Klondike and the many challenges prospectors faced to reach Dawson City by way of the Chilkoot Trail.      

But I was most taken with the thoughts of what life must have been like in those frantic times when all was sacrificed to reach the gold fields. Nothing bought the whole era together better for me than a day at the McBride Museum and an evening at the Frantic Follies.  


The Frantic Follies initially appeared in 1981 and has been a success ever since.  A creation of Jim Murdoch, it has captured the hearts of the Yukon as well as my own. I enjoyed it immensely and recommend it as part of any visit to Whitehorse.


At March 22, 2011 at 7:50 PM , Blogger Linda Allen said...

Wow! Thank you, David, for including a breakdown of expenses. Much as I'm enjoying the narrative, I'm reading Alaska blogs primarily for travel tips. Your positive viewpoint is also most welcome. It's an Adventure - capital A. Linda Allen (We met at Morro Bay)


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