Big City Tales

Yukon History Comes to Life at MacBride Museum

September 19, 2018
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From the early beginnings of its First Nations people to the intrepid explorers who sought to conquer the land and strike gold, the MacBride Museum in Whitehorse pays homage to the Yukon’s bravest and most colourful characters (including its MANY furry critters). Located along the city’s quaint and picturesque Front Street, the museum houses over 30,000 artifacts and Yukon history truly comes to life as you wind your way through the exhibits.

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Passion for the North

As one of the co-founders of the Yukon Historical Society (YHS), W.D. (Bill) MacBride was passionate about his adopted homeland and ardently sought to preserve its heritage be it in the form of writing historical accounts or acquiring cultural artifacts. MacBride donated much of his personal collection of essays, books, photographs and other Northern-themed items to the YHS, which were first put on public display in the 1950s at the Government Telegraph Office. It didn’t take long to outgrow this space and planning began for a larger, permanent location. When the new facility opened in 1967, it was named in honour of MacBride in recognition of his efforts to promote the North and safeguard its treasures.

Earliest People

The Yukon is home to an abundance of First Nations and their stories, customs and handmade items are displayed around the museum. The first tribes to inhabit the land thousands of years ago included the Kutchin, Han, Kaska, Tagish, Tutchone, and Teslin. Today, there are 14 First Nations associated with the Yukon Territory and 25 percent of its residents identify as Indigenous, representing eight languages. While many Indigenous people do not speak the language of their nation, handicrafts have been proudly maintained and passed down to new generations. The intricate beading work applied to moccasins and ceremonial attire is an impressive sight to behold and shows off an amazing attention to detail and high quality of craftsmanship.

Where the Wild Things Are

In the Yukon, furry critters and birds vastly outnumber humans. The museum’s Natural Gallery showcases 35 common mammals and birds that are grouped according to their common habitats. The mighty moose, majestic bald eagle, busy beaver, and bulky buffalo share the Yukon’s diverse and expansive landscape along with some 160,000 caribou; 22,000 mountain sheep; 6,000 grizzly bears; 220 species of birds; and 34,000 humans.

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Klondike Gold Rush

After gold was discovered in the Yukon’s Klondike region in 1896, a mass migration of prospectors ensued for the next three years with some 100,000 people making their way north in search of fortune.

Whitehorse was the primary gateway city to the Klondike where many prospectors stocked up for the long haul to Dawson City. In order to comply with the requirements of Canadian authorities, prospectors had to amass a year’s supply of food before they could embark on the arduous journey to the gold fields.

Such a massive influx of people over a short period of time was both a blessing and a curse for the Yukon. Boom towns cropped up along the route to the Klondike, the largest being Dawson City, and local saloons enjoyed large crowds of drinkers and gamblers; while makeshift inns provided accommodations for the prospectors. The downside of the economic prosperity was that native tribes were pushed off their land and sent to reserves where poor living conditions resulted in many deaths. Dawson City was also riddled with epidemics and suffered many fires due to its largely wood buildings.

Main Street Survives and the Yukon Thrives

When the Klondike Gold Rush ended in 1899, many drowned their sorrows; while others toasted their successes at local watering holes such as the Windsor’s Bar & Saloon and got on with the business of making a living by other means.

Service industries thrived and shippers, seamstresses, barbers, postal workers, printers and others established the new economy at the turn of the 20th Century. At the time of World War II, three major projects were also embarked upon that made a significant impact on the Yukon in terms of transportation, industry and national defense initiatives.

True to the spirit of the wild west and nomadic north, the MacBride Museum celebrates the legendary people and events of days gone and strives to uphold its commitment to dynamically conveying the value, and increasing the understanding and enjoyment of Yukon history.

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The Call of the Wild in Whitehorse

February 17, 2018
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In a region where critters actually outnumber humans, the Yukon Territory truly is where the wild things are but a quick trip to the capital city of Whitehorse revealed a highly civilized and very friendly environment as well.

For anyone who has been hearing the ‘call of the wild’ but has yet to answer and explore Canada’s north, Whitehorse and surrounding area is a good place to start. 

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Majestic Mountains

While much of Canada’s north is flat tundra, there are many majestic mountain ranges.

The Saint Elias mountains along the western border of the Yukon are noteworthy for being the home of Mount Logan, which is Canada’s highest peak, and for being snow-capped throughout the year.

On clear days, the mountains in all their glory are visible on flights into Whitehorse and certainly paint an inviting picture of the beautiful and epic northern landscape.

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MacBride Museum of Yukon History

If your preference is museum exhibitions over mountain expeditions, the MacBride Museum is a recommended venue that offers a taste of the ‘great outdoors’ in a controlled indoor environment.

From the early beginnings of its First Nations people to the intrepid northern explorers who sought to conquer the land and strike gold, the museum pays homage to many of the Yukon’s bravest and most colourful characters.

Located along Whitehorse’s quaint and picturesque Front Street, the museum houses close to 30,000 historical and cultural artifacts.

Gold, Gold and More Gold

The ‘Gold to Government’ exhibit winds along the Yukon River that is painted on the museum’s floor. The exhibit tells the story of early prospecting efforts that gave rise to the Klondike Gold Rush in the late 1890s and the eventual establishment of a formal government and capital city in Whitehorse some 50 years later.

As the gateway to the Klondike, prospectors stocked up with basic necessities in Whitehorse before heading out on the long haul journey to Dawson City. The General Store offered a wide array of goods and the Miner’s Saloon served as the local watering hole where some celebrated their success; while others drowned their sorrows. Other amenities included a hospital, barber shop, confectionery and road house.

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Critters, Critters and More Critters

Another main attraction of the MacBride Museum is the Wild World exhibit that showcases the most common mammals and birds found in the Yukon, depicting them in their natural habitats and all their life-size glory.

The standing grizzly bear is seven feet tall and the antler span of the grown male moose is up to six feet.

Population-wise, there are 170,000 majestic caribou in the Yukon, along with 70,000 moose and 17,000 bears.

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Indigenous People

With a total of 14 First Nations groups calling the Yukon home, native history, art and culture feature prominently in the MacBride Museum and in other Whitehorse venues.

The Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre, situated along the banks of the Yukon River, celebrates the traditions, language, values and practices of the Kwanlin Dun First Nations people. The centre is also a gathering place for all cultures to come and learn about the unique aspects of the Kwanlin Dun, participate in festive ceremonies and observe canoe carving techniques with traditional hand tools.

A True Local and National Treasure

Home of  largest sternwheeler vessel to travel the Canadian waters of the Yukon River between Whitehorse and Dawson Creek, the S.S. Klondike National Historic Site pays tribute to the glory days of river transportation.

The S.S. Klondike was indeed a mighty vessel. Its sternwheel design gave it incredible power to haul silver-lead ore, as well as general goods and passengers.  Another notable distinction was that one of its pilots was the only First Nations man to ever obtain Master papers.

Building Art

One of the most interesting and unique aspects of Whitehorse is the large number of murals painted on building exteriors. Ranging from small to large and covering historical to contemporary subject matter, the murals definitely add a lot of colour and character to the city’s streets.

One of the largest murals (and the first to be painted) is found in the parking lot behind the Hougen’s retail complex on Main Street.  Painted to look like a frontier main street during the filming of a movie in 1993, old-fashioned storefronts and a vintage pick-up truck make up the main scenes.

Depictions of the Klondike Gold Rush are also prevalent, along with First Nation, riverboat and train transportation, and general wilderness exploration themes.

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Land of Midnight Sun 

During the summer months, the natural phenomenon of the ‘midnight sun’ is experienced in the Yukon offering extended daylight.

There’s no need for flashlights, headlights or reading lamps in the late evening/early morning hours, which makes for ample time to explore the wonderful wilderness that lies beyond Whitehorse.

Due west of the city along the historic Alaska Highway is Kluane National Park and Reserve that offers mountains, glaciers, forests and lakes in over 22,000 square kilometres of wide open space.

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