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Todayville Travel goes on a Yukon road trip Part 2 – Dawson City and the Dempster Highway

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2nd in a 3-part series on a Yukon road trip – Dawson City and the Dempster Highway

Upon our return from six weeks exploring Canada’s north, friends enquired, “So what was your favourite place?” And each time, gazing distantly while recalling the amazing scenery, people and places we encountered, I answered: “Haven’t a clue.”

But Dawson City, Yukon is a good start.

I love Dawson. Unlike cruise-ship destinations on the nearby Alaska coast, Dawson is genuinely quaint. Colorful clapboard buildings line the streets, interspersed with heritage houses leaning drunkenly on a permafrost foundation.

“Drunken” houses float on Dawson’s permafrost

Diamond Tooth Gertie’s is Dawson’s historic casino and dance hall. This landmark saloon was established over a century ago and, while Gertie herself is getting a little long in the tooth, the can-can girls are still high-kicking a vaudeville act each evening at 8:30pm, 10:30pm and midnight. Happy hour at Gertie’s is from midnight to 1am. The manager at our RV park – located a short walk from Gertie’s – winked when she said “the later the show the more the skin.” I suggested to my wife Florence – purely for journalistic purposes – that we take in the evening’s final performance.

“…Their public throes of ecstasy are disconcerting. And should a birder confirm the presence of an olive-sided flycatcher by its loud and clear “quick-three-beers” call – well, just stay out of the way...”

Our June arrival coincided with the midnight sun’s long summer appearance. It may seem frivolous to remark that it doesn’t get dark here in summer, but until you’ve actually experienced this phenomenon, it is hard to appreciate. Darkness never descends; not tonight nor the next nor the night after that. Daylight is a 24/7 thing for six weeks.

Lunch special… at midnight

There is no respite from the light. One’s natural daily rhythm quickly shuts down, confused, as if dragged through perpetual jet lag. Soon you are eating dinner at 11:45pm, hanging out on the dusky streets ‘til all hours and sleeping past noon; 4am is just an overcast day, juxtaposed with the usual night sounds of street-laughter and squealing car tires. Birds sing non-stop. One night, in this altered circadian state, I found myself and my ukulele busking for cash at 3am outside the venerable Westminster Hotel with a couple of young Quebecois. And we didn’t do badly – after two hours I’d donated only thirty bucks.

Late-night busking

Summer here is difficult to digest, but a season of endless darkness would be interminable, unimaginable. Only after a full winter hunkered down in the snow and ice of Yukon can one proclaim himself a genuine “sourdough”. A somewhat easier feat is attaining “sour toe” certification, awarded to all those who slurp up a $5 shot of Yukon Jack whiskey containing a pickled human toe – which your lips must touch. (I am now a proud member of the Sour Toe Club. Fortunately I was nearly as pickled as the toe when the deed was consummated.)

The main ingredient in a sour toe cocktail

Although the Klondike gold rush ended more than a century ago, Dawson retains its frontier spirit. The streets are full of entrepreneurs and oddballs. Young drifters seek adventure, mingling with cagy old-timers. Secretive men and women still comb nearby creeks, moiling for gold. Astute shopkeepers mine tourist’s pockets. Individuals all, Dawson folk march to the beat of no one’s drum but their own.

Florence moiling for Klondike Gold

Every person I’ve met who’s been to Yukon (don’t say the Yukon, that’s a dead giveaway you are a newcomer, a Cheechako, from the “outside”) returns home gushing about the Klondike story, an epic period in Canadian history. I too am now a convert.

On our last night in town, just shy of midnight, we drove to an overlook offering a panoramic view of Dawson far below. We chatted with a lovely young aboriginal woman picking wild herbs from the steep cliff-face. “I make tea with spruce tips, labrador, cranberry bush leaves… and sage,” she said, reaching for a sprig over the precarious edge. “The caribou pass through here in October. They love sage. Come look.”

The caribou may not suffer from vertigo but I wasn’t going near that precipice. Nearby another woman watched, quietly slurping beer – the same precocious gal who had inducted me into the Sour Toe hall of fame the night before. Dawson is not a big place.

Properly schooled in the art of brewing tea from local ingredients, we departed for a late night game of golf. We arrived at the Top of the World golf course after midnight, so I thought it fitting to ask the proprietress for the twilight rate. She looked at me blankly, shielding her gaze from the sun’s glare.

Golf in the midnight sun

I decided not to quibble over the green fees, paid the full fare of $24, and off we teed into the grassy tundra. On the sixth hole sunset and sunrise collided, shared only by our twosome – and competing packs of wolves baying at the spectacle.

In the morning, seeking even more vitamin D, we headed further into the perpetual sunlight, north up the Dempster Highway toward Inuvik and the Arctic Ocean. Our tour up this narrow gravel road began with a stop at Tombstone Territorial Park where we chanced upon a weekend gathering of birders. Have you ever met a birder? At the risk of mixing metaphors I must say these odd ducks are strange cats. They make Trekkies look undedicated. Anyone who gets up early to tromp through muskeg in search of a lesser scaup or hooded merganser needs to have their head examined.

It is uncomfortable watching a birder identify the elusive Ruddy Duck. Their public throes of ecstasy are disconcerting. And should a birder confirm the presence of an olive-sided flycatcher by its loud and clear “quick-three-beers” call – well, just stay out of the way. But this obsession with things winged is surprisingly contagious. We attended an evening lecture at the Tombstone amphitheater where a bright young woman spoke on, “Why Birds Sing.” It’s about sex and war. Male birds make song to attract mates and to fend off territorial rivals; no need for physical confrontation. Have the birdbrains out-evolved man? Could we send our best tenors out to resolve border disputes? Think of the savings on anti-personnel weaponry.

After two days with our feathered friends we elected to fly the coop and continue our slow, muddy journey up the Dempster.

A mud-caked van crosses the Arctic Circle

Our goal was the Arctic Circle but the owner of Eagle Plains Motel (the only accommodation and gas stop for hundreds of kilometers in either direction) told us that we should carry on a little further, over the Yukon border and into the Northwest Territories to see real tundra landscape. So we did. But the weather was miserable, the visibility poor and the shoulderless road hazardous. Our plan to bicycle across the Arctic Circle line was cancelled. Our bikes, hanging off the back of the van, looked like they’d been dipped in chocolate. 

We retraced our path in search of the nearest wand wash. Back in Dawson and $23 in loonies later the RV began to reappear from its dark, molten lacquer.

A wary fox eyes Gerry’s lens

There are different ways to experience our great north. You can read Pierre Berton novels which, while informative, are also useful as a sleep-aid – or you can go explore an abandoned Yukon River dredge yourself. And bring a pan – there’s still plenty of gold in them thar hills.

Next time: Kluane National Park, Yukon

Gerry Feehan QC is an award-winning travel writer and photographer. He and his wife Florence live in Red Deer, AB and Kimberley, BC.
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Gerry Feehan

Click below to read Part 1 in Gerry’s 3-part series on the Yukon.

Thanks to these amazing local companies who make Todayville Travel possible.

Click here to visit our Travel section and see more of Gerry’s stories.

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Alberta

7 Exciting Excursions To Take in Canada

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As we await the lifting of lockdowns, let’s dream a bit about travel.

7 Exciting Excursions To Take in Canada

Whether you live in Canada or plan to visit from another country, there are plenty of fascinating things to see and do. Canada is the second-largest country in the world in total area, so it would probably be impossible to see every part of it in a single lifetime. Therefore, here are some of the most worthwhile things to see and do across the breadth of this beautiful and welcoming country.

1. Vancouver

Rocks on the beach at sunset on the coast of Vancouver, BC

Vancouver is located on the West Coast of Canada. It is accessible by water via all inclusive cruises and by train, bus, and automobile as well. Vancouver offers multiple opportunities for fun excursions. You can tour the Canadian Rockies, take the Sea to Sky Gondola to Whistler for some skiing, or go whale watching from the southern end of Vancouver Island.

2. Jasper National Park

Maligne Canyon, Jasper National Park

In Alberta, you can find one of the best outdoor attractions in Canada: Jasper National Park. Covering 4,200 square miles, or 11,000 square kilometers, it is home to mountains, waterfalls, lakes, and springs. Points of particular interest in Jasper National Park include the Columbia Icefield glaciers and Maligne Canyon, which becomes an otherworldly realm of frozen waterfalls and ice caves with cold temperatures.

3. Churchill

Churchill is a small community located on the banks of Hudson Bay in northern Manitoba. It is known as the polar bear capital of the world, and you can indeed see polar bears there during their annual migration. However, Churchill also offers opportunities to see other natural wonders. In the summer, you can see beluga whales as they travel to their calving grounds in the estuary of the Churchill River.

Because Churchill is so close to the North Pole, winter nights get very long. This combined with a lack of light pollution makes it a good place to observe the aurora borealis, which appears when solar activity is high. Bear in mind, however, that there is no way to guarantee that the northern lights will be visible during your visit.

4. Niagara Falls

the famous Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls is located on the border between Canada and the United States. It is a short distance away from the city of Toronto in the Canadian province of Ontario. Though one of the most famous waterfalls in the world, Niagara is poorly understood by many. Most people do not know that it actually consists of three different waterfalls. You can see them all from the best possible vantage points by booking a tour.

5. Quebec

Once a French colony, Quebec is the main francophone center of Canada. The French influence is still very strong in Quebecois language, culture, and architecture, so a trip to Quebec is a little like taking a mini-European vacation without going too far from home. You can see majestic waterfalls and quaint little villages in the idyllic Quebec countryside, or you can experience the cosmopolitan excitement of Montreal, its biggest city. Points of interest include the Old Port of Montreal via the Place Jacque Cartier and Mont-Royal Park, one of the largest greenspaces in the city.

6. Ottawa

Ottawa is the capital city of Canada but tends to get outshone by larger and more popular cities, such as Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. This may be to your advantage if you’d like to avoid crowds of other tourists on your excursion. Because Ottawa is the seat of Canadian government, you can visit the Royal Canadian Mint and see Parliament Hill during your visit. There are also boat tours and bus tours of the city available.

7. Maritimes

The Maritime Provinces are located on Canada’s east coast, along the Atlantic Ocean. There are four maritime provinces altogether: Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador (which coincidentally lends its names to two different breeds of dog), Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick. Each has something unique to offer, from the red rock cliffs and literary heritage of Prince Edward Island to the Cape Breton Highlands of Nova Scotia to whale watching in New Brunswick’s Bay of Fundy to the world’s largest fossil park in Newfoundland and Labrador.

There are many opportunities to take guided tours of notable Canadian locations. You can also explore on your own.

Read more on Todayville.

 

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Alberta

#AlohaGate – Kenney Announces UCP Resignations in Response to Outraged Albertans

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On January 4, 2020, Alberta Premiere Jason Kenney announced the resignation of a number of United Conservative Party members following the Christmas holiday abroad scandal being referred to online as “AlohaGate”. This scandal, which has occupied much of the recent news coverage and trending Twitter hashtags in Alberta, has led to massive public backlash and political destabilization for the ruling provincial party. 

Political careers are often characterized by upheaval and public backlash, as politicians are required to cater to the diverse and disparate needs of the many while under constant scrutiny from the public eye. The year 2020 arguably posed an even greater challenge for political leaders, as they struggled to manage the devastating implications of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Government officials have faced constant backlash for implementing restrictions, or lack thereof, in their attempts to strike a balance between maintaining public safety and supporting the survival of the local economy.  

On December 13, many Albertans were disappointed by the Kenney administration’s updated COVID-19 restrictions, which extended lockdown measures through Christmas and into the New Year. While not necessarily a surprise, these restrictions, which banned inter-household social gatherings and further discouraged non-essential travel, meant cancelled plans and a solitary Christmas for many. Difficult sacrifices were made by thousands of Albertans who were unable to spend quality time with their families, many of whom shared stories of elderly or ill family members who celebrated the holiday and rang in the New Year alone. 

Under these circumstances, countless Albertans were outraged to learn a number of staff and members of the United Conservative Party (UCP) neglected to cancel their non-essential travel plans, choosing to spend Christmas abroad with their families in international locations like Mexico, Hawaii, Las Vegas and more.
According to an article released by the Calgary Herald on January 3, “To date, nine senior government officials in Alberta have been confirmed to have travelled abroad in December.”

The absolute outrage expressed by many upon learning of government officials who failed to abide by the same rules and make the same sacrifices as countless Albertans did this Christmas has made for a rocky start to the New Year for the UCP. The apologies made by members of the government who travelled abroad over the holidays have been met with scathing responses from Albertans, who have expressed feelings of anger and betrayal at the lack of accountability shown by the province’s political leaders.

In perhaps one of the most devastating responses to the controversial AlohaGate, an Alberta family expressed their anger and hurt towards the UCP government after having cancelled their own 2020 trip to Hawaii as a result of the pandemic. This was not a typical family vacation, however, and the cancellation of these plans went far beyond disappointment. The Make-A-Wish Foundation funded the Lousier family trip to Hawaii for their 9-year-old son Braeden, who suffers from Hadju-Cheney syndrome. Braeden, who has struggled with his health for his entire life, is not expected to live to see his teenage years as a result of his condition. “While the family was crushed over the cancellation of their dream vacation,” Global News reported, “Lousier said the recent controversy revealing Alberta government officials travelled over the holidays has turned devastation into anger.”
This is a sentiment echoed by many who have suffered loss of livelihood, decline of mental and physical health, and forced separation from family members as a result of government lockdown mandates. Simply put by the Edmonton Journal, “The moral authority that the Kenney government must wield in convincing Albertans to obey public health recommendations is now severely diminished by the apparent double standard.” 

Jason Kenney’s initial response to the scandal, in which he condemned the actions of those who travelled abroad during the holidays but neglected to impose any disciplinary action against them, was met with major public backlash. Following his address, a torrent of responses from the public labeling Kenney a coward, among other things, and asking him to step down as Premiere flooded the Internet. Many used the hashtag #resignkenney in addition to others such as #alohagate and #alohallard.  

On January 4, Premiere Jason Kenney released a statement declaring he was “listening to Albertans who are sending a clear message that they want real consequences for these actions”. Therefore, as of January 4, 2020, he has accepted a number of resignations from the individuals who “demonstrated extremely poor judgment” by choosing to travel abroad this Christmas. 

Tracy Allard, Tanya Fir, Jeremy Nixon, Pat Rehn, Jason Stephan, Tany Yao, Jamie Huckabay are among the officials who have since resigned or been demoted from their positions in Alberta’s UCP government. 

For more stories, visit Todayville Calgary.

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