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Exploring the Yukon Territory, wonderful Whitehorse
Exploring the Yukon Territory, wonderful Whitehorse
by Rev. Barbara Allen, CMP - SGN Contributing Writer

Most of us know little about Canada's Yukon Territory (YT), beyond that it may be cold, remote, somehow part of the Klondike Gold Rush, and might have been a place where Royal Canadian Mounted Police used horses and/or dog sleds. The Yukon is full of pleasant surprises, including the city of Whitehorse, and it's Visitors Information Center, with lots of parking for any and all vehicles, where congenial hostesses make visitors welcome and will give you a three day city parking permit and Whitehorse souvenir pin, for the asking. There's an excellent film twice an hour, individual interpretive programs, and more. The YT's Visitor's Centers has to be among the finest on the planet, a credit to the territory and the nation and a delight to visitors!

My favorites in Whitehorse include the SS Klondike sternwheeler docked by the Yukon River, providing guided tours of the ship, which has been carefully restored down to the last wooden crate in the cargo hold, silver and crystal in the dining room, and menu's posted from a century ago. At the turn of the 20th Century, a fleet of over 250 riverboats made Whitehorse a river port as active as any on the mighty Mississippi.

The Beringia Center is a unique museum about which I wax rhapsodic and is located along the main highway. You'll know you're there when you see a herd of full size mammoths on the lawn! Pull in to the parking area and walk down the wooded path, past full size statues of gigantic mammals that lived there during the last ice age&except, here, there was no ice age.

Somehow an area around the Arctic Circle, including what is now called Beringia (after Russian explorer Vitus Bering), and parts of Alaska, Europe and Asia, were not iced over when lands south of there were. The tundra hasn't changed in 40,000 years, so, when you look out, it's as though you'd stepped back in time. Inside the museum, fascinating life-size exhibits of fossilized mammals; multimedia kiosks and dioramas; new climate change exhibit; reconstruction of the 24,000 year old Bluefish Caves, the oldest archaeological site in North America; a great multi-media theatrical presentation in their comfortable theater, and, an opportunity for hands-on learning about atlatl's, or spear throwers and darts, complete with a target range and brief lessons by docents. Can you imagine standing beneath the Yukon sky with a spear-thrower and spear/dart in hand as natives did thousands of years ago? The attractive guide (with slight European accent) reminded me of Ayla from Clan of the Cave Bear as she demonstrated proper spear throwing form. They'd set up a target range with actual targets on it, although none of us managed to hit one. It seemed enough to learn how to hold the spear and thrower (atlatl or, in Aleut, saygadaas) and launch the dart in that general direction. Something primitive in me responded to this, and nothing would do until I had my own throwers and spears to play with.

At the MacBride Museum in downtown Whitehorse, visitors experience early Whitehorse, natural history, "Rivers of Gold," First Nations and the NW Mounted Police exhibits. Sam McGee's cabin is there, as made famous in Robert Service's poem, and includes frequent dramatic readings. There's a 1900 telegraph office, and Engine 51 of the White Pass & Yukon RR. Visitors can try gold panning, see historic films and enjoy daily presentations by costumed interpreters.

The Old Log Church Museum in town was originally a log cathedral of the Anglican Church, and an excellent example of early pioneer architecture and houses exhibits and interactive programs showing the role of the Church in the development of the Yukon. Learn more about the "Bishop Who Ate His Boots" and whaling on Herschel Island. Discover the Yukon through the works of contemporary visual artists with cutting-edge exhibits and artist talks at the Yukon Arts Centre Public Art Gallery.

Discover the story of Yukon transportation from snowshoes to moose-skin boats and dogsleds. See the full size replica of the Queen of the Yukon, sister-ship to the Spirit of St. Louis, and more, at the Yukon Transportation Museum. Ride the Copperbelt Railway, a 1.8 km figure 8 track with two operating engines, flatcars and a passenger car which starts at the beautiful historic stationhouse, runs through the park, over an authentic log trestle, track and static displays.

Admission to the above is either free or with a nominal admission charge, that contributes to keeping them open and available.

At night, go see The Frantic Follies Vaudeville Revue, in the Westmark Whitehorse Hotel and Convention Centre. This outstanding show includes burlesque, Can Can dancers, comedy, the poems and stories of Robert Service enacted, comedy and much more&great good fun for the entire family&with lots of colorful feathers from dancers boas floating through the air. It is well staged, acted, and produced. Don't miss it! These folks are pro's.

Check free fliers for other local live theater activity, festivals, fairs, live music and entertainment offerings. Whitehorse is not boring.

Dining out in Whitehorse can be problematic during tourist (summer) season, although there are at least half a dozen better dining establishments - most of which do not require reservations (some well advertised touristy places may be unapproachable for dinner without a long wait or advance reservations in season.) The Pizza Hut had wretched food on their sad excuse for a lunch buffet; I would not go there again. Most American fast food chains are represented here, including McDonald's, KFC, Quizno's, etc., but you might want to explore some of the smaller hole-in-the-wall local stand-alone "mom and pop" places offering ethnic cuisine from around the world. Look for where locals eat, the most upscale of which is Ricky's (off the Wal-Mart parking lot). Ricky's offers good food and competent waitpersons. There are a number of large, modern, well-stocked supermarkets selling fresh food. You can coordinate your own picnic, or get fast food to go. And, then, there's the ubiquitous Wal-Mart, upon which you can depend for reasonable prices on everything from souvenirs to snack food, sporting goods and clothing.

There are hotels and motels, campgrounds and RV parks. RV's may also overnight, self-contained, in the Wal-Mart parking lot, which has a great view of the Yukon River (be courteous and park far from the store entrance). There's a Starbucks adjacent to the parking area.

The entire human population of the vast Yukon Territory is 31,222, with close to 24,000 living in and around Whitehorse year 'round. You get there by plane, RV, Cruise tour, or car. Settle in and have a great visit for adults and children of all ages.

I look forward to returning to Whitehorse for a visit at greater leisure. Note that this is either the starting or finish point (alternate years between here and Fairbanks, AK) for the winter Yukon Quest sled dog race.

For further information, visit www.travelyukon.com.

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