Earlier this week, the Toronto Star’s travel section published a list: Top 5 Things To Do in the Yukon. It was a mixture of the expected—flightseeing over the Kluane icefield; visiting Takhini Hot Springs and the Yukon Wildlife Preserve—and the… well, not so expected. The fifth item on the list? Checking out the bust of author Jack London at 4th and Main in downtown Whitehorse.
No disrespect intended to the statue, which was created by local artist Harreson Tanner and unveiled in 2010, and which locals frequently decorate with spare toques and scarves in winter, but… Really? Standing on a busy street corner looking at a bronze bust of a Californian who spent a year here more than a century ago ranks in the top five of all possible activities a visitor could partake in, territory-wide?
That didn’t seem right to me. Yesterday I tweeted snarkily that the statue wouldn’t make my Top 100 Things To Do in the Yukon—that it wouldn’t even crack my Top Five Jack London-Related Things To Do in the Yukon.
When my fit of snark passed, I started thinking: What are the best ways to channel London in today’s Yukon?
Here’s my answer:
1. Paddle through Miles Canyon
The Whitehorse rapids that daunted so many prospectors heading downriver to the Klondike gold fields in the late 1890s don’t exist anymore, drowned by a hydro-electric dam. (London, it’s said, helped pilot his own group of gold-seekers, and several others, through the rapids safely.) One of their last vestiges is the narrow canyon just above the dam-created reservoir, Schwatka Lake. Canoeing from the Alaska Highway bridge down to Schwatka makes a nice, easy day’s paddle—or, if you’re up for it, you can portage around the dam and keep on going all the way to Dawson City.
2. Visit Jack London’s cabin
The cabin where London spent his long Klondike winter was re-discovered in the 1960s, and an odd plan for it was developed: It was deconstructed, and a replica was produced, and then two new cabins were built, each using half of the original logs and half of the replica logs. One cabin sits on 8th Avenue in Dawson City, with an adjoining interpretive centre that’s open to visitors. The other half is in Jack London Square in Oakland, California.
3. Read by a fire
Curl up next to a woodstove (if you haven’t got access to one at your hotel or accommodations, there are several bars, restaurants and coffee shops with this perk), or settle in by an outdoor bonfire. Get nice and cozy, and then crack open To Build a Fire, London’s powerful and unsettling short story about the dangers of the Yukon’s frozen-solid winters.
4. Hike or bike to Canyon City
When Jack London passed through, Whitehorse didn’t exist yet. Instead, a tent city, Canyon City lay just upriver and on the far bank—on the outskirts of present-day Riverdale. Park at the Miles Canyon bridge, just off the Alaska Highway, and cross over the suspension bridge to walk upstream, or you can park and approach from the Riverdale side: The area is laced with trails. The old Canyon City grounds still show a few remnants of Gold Rush life: ancient tin cans, and wagons from the tram that carried loads of gear around the rapids for a price.
5. Go dog-sledding
Like many southern-raised Canadians, I was first exposed to the world of mushing and sled dogs through Jack London’s The Call of the Wild. It seemed to me, as a kid, like a brutal and terrifying world. Happily, today’s iteration has changed, and you can sign up to drive your own team of happy huskies through a variety of Whitehorse-area tour operators. No fighting to the death required.