I arrived in snowy Whitehorse, Yukon in Canada’s far north after a remarkable flight over British Columbia mountains. My son Marty and D-I-L Jeanette were waiting excitedly for me at the airport – they drove nearly 2 hours from home to pick me up! First stop was downtown Whitehorse with it’s amazing ‘old town’, gold-rush looking buildings which date back 100 years. We strolled around in the windy, cold, snow-covered streets wandering down to the mighty Yukon River. This place oozed history! It was exciting to think about days gone by when gold prospectors filled this town and others like it hoping to strike it rich. After a stop at the used book store, we headed out of town passing the S.S. Klondike, a dry-docked sternwheeler riverboat along the Yukon River and now a National Historic Site. Then we turned on to the infamous Alaska Highway and headed towards Marty and Jeanette’s new home in northern British Columbia near the Yukon border!
What magnificent country! Towering mountains on all sides! Glacial lakes! We even saw two mule deer and a family of three moose sauntering on the road on our journey! We arrived in town just before dusk and made a quick tour of this historic ‘gold rush’ town along Atlin Lake. The whole area is surrounded by giant mountains and glaciers. It’s like a picture out of a National Geographic magazine. Then we arrived on Monarch Mountain at their new home overlooking all this splendor.
On my first full day, we drove further down their road to The Grotto. Warmer, demineralized drinking water flowed out of a cave at the side of the road and rushed further down towards the lake. Water cress was growing abundantly in the fast flowing creek so we harvested a handful to add to our stirfry. A couple of local guys stopped by on their way home from their logging camp to get a few jugs of spring water and chat for a bit – they were interested in the new ‘Outsiders’ who had just moved to town.
Day two found us taking a country drive back along the Spruce Creek to Surprise Lake. In the early part of the last century, 10,000 gold prospectors lived in a town they created called Discovery, in tents, and panned for gold. Remnants of old log homes and wooden gold ‘mining’ equipment still remain, like a monument to the past. As we drove along, we suddenly spotted a wild lynx sitting along the far bank of the river! At first I thought it was a wolf. Jeanette skillfully skidded to a stop on the snow-covered road while Marty literally jumped out of the car with his camera and ran to begin taking pictures and video. The lynx stayed for about 10 minutes which shocked us because they are normally shy animals. It was amazing to see such a wild, majestic animal!
We arrived at Surprise Lake Recreation Site and followed wolf tracks to a clearing which had picnic tables and an old cast iron Franklin stove, stocked with wood logs ready to burn. All this overlooking the big lake, surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Marty told me that anyone can camp free at these B.C. Recreation Sites all over the province. Who wouldn’t want to with all that privacy and breathtaking scenery! On our way back to town, we stopped at a log cabin from the gold rush days which was being restored by the province. It brought back memories of that bygone era when men and women came by ship up the west coast of North America and trekked over mountains by foot or dog sled, to arrive in these parts in hopes of finding their fortune in gold.
Jeanette’s been cooking up a storm – she’s an awesome cook and I enjoy flavours from around the world when I’m with them. We even had delicious breaded moose steak with salad – I’d never tasted moose before and enjoyed this wild game.
The next day, the clouds finally cleared out and I was able to see the tops of the surrounding mountains! From Marty and Jeanette’s living room, I had to remember to breathe as I couldn’t believe that I was actually seeing this incredible site of a glacial lake and snow covered mountains. Their lake is fed by hundreds of mountain rivers, creeks, and the Llewellyn Glacier and is the source of the mighty Yukon River, which has huge historical significance in this country’s past.
After cleaning the wood stove chimney, we ventured out to the beach on Atlin Lake. We followed fresh wolf footprints along the shore in the bitterly cold wind taking pictures along the way until we were chilled to the bone. Then we drove up the road to a viewpoint of the Llewellyn Glacier. WOW! The Juneau Icefield in the distance was enormous and the mountains went on as far as we could see, even to Alaska I think – wow this country is beautiful! Then we ventured into town for a look-about and stopped at the infamous beached riverboat Tarahne which carried gold prospectors, supplies, and visitors across the lake back in the day.
I’ve seen more wildlife this week than in the past few decades: Orca whales off Vancouver Island; Bald Eagles on Van. Isl. as well as soaring over Marty and Jeanette’s house; Mule Deer including the one who sauntered right outside the front of the house, eating fireweed; a female Moose and her two calves crossing the road on our drive here from Whitehorse; a wild Lynx sitting along Pine Creek just outside of town at the old gold mining area of Discovery; a tiny Pygmy Owl that landed on a tree beside the front porch at dusk; a coyote sitting beside a frozen lake; and a pack of wolves crossing the road on our way back to the airport.
We went on a walking tour of town and explored the century old buildings, most of which are still in use. This town is classic Frontier at its best! I half expected to see a moose walking down the street (although there were moose tracks in the snow). Remnants of the old gold rush days are still scattered among the town’s buildings and even the buildings themselves are historical monuments to this bygone era.
I wasn’t disappointed when the clouds cleared to reveal the spectacular Aurora Borealis, also known as the Northern Lights, on two nights I was there! WOW they were spectacular! We watched swaths of green (and once purple) swaying and waving, expanding then contracting, continuously moving as if a gently breeze of breathtaking colour in the night sky. Our eyes were focused on the horizon and up in the night sky for hours while we stood at the windows snug inside the house, in the dark, watching in awe and taking photos. I felt inspired. There are SO many scenes I want to paint now.
I’ve had an amazing time in this part of the country. It truly is the last frontier of Canada.
Thanks to my son for allowing me to use some of his photos.