Monday, June 4, 2012

Canadian Territories - May-June 2012

Oh, Canada, oh, Canada.  My association to Canada dates back to post World War II when my step-father needed to take the vacation time he had not been able to take during the war.  In 1947 he took my brother and I on a “test” trip from Connecticut to Montreal, Québec, Gaspé, PEI, and Nova Scotia.  I guess he was able to tolerate two pre-teen boys crammed in the back of a 1947 Hudson, so in August we traveled across Canada on the then unpaved Route 1 to Banff, Jasper, and down to the US.  So at the age of 12 years old I had traveled through all the Canadian Provinces.  My association continued when I joined the USAF and flew over Canada from Bangor, Maine and occasionally, landed at Frobisher AFB (now Iqaluit), Goose Bay AFB and Ernest Harmon AFB.  In 1963 I married my lovely wife Judy at Ernest Harmon AFB where she was teaching school on the base.

In the 1990’s I joined a Canadian company, SHL Systemhouse and worked most of the cities of Canada but not in the Yukon nor the newly formed Northwest Territories (I had flown into Iqaluit in the newly formed Nunavut) .  I found I had some time between travel and work in late May and early June 2012 to visit those Territories.

The first city to visit was Yellowknife, capital of the Northwest Territory.  I flew from Los Angeles via Calgary to Yellowknife.  On the flight from Los Angeles on an Air Canada EMB-190 with video at each seat I watched the initial episode of the TV show “Artic Air” set in Yellowknife, which portrays renegade bush pilots at work and play in Canada's north.  Even though it is a soap opera type show it set a little background on what to expect on my visit.

I landed in Yellowknife a little after midnight in twilight and a large half-moon.  The sun was not scheduled to set at that time of year until near 2am.  The terminal was like I had seen in the TV show, small with one baggage carousel and a row of rental car counters.  What I wasn’t expecting was the large display in the middle of the carousel of a small ice berg with a large polar bear on top and two fur seals under the top of the berg.  It was a stunning display!

The exit was a large revolving door great to keep the cold out but difficult for some of the people dragging their luggage.  Outside I was greeted by a swarm of gnats.  I had hoped that I had scheduled this trip before the mosquito season but they were already there.  They didn’t land on me and the swarm soon left to bother the next passenger exiting the terminal.

The airport was about 3 miles from the center of the city where my hotel, the Discovery Inn, was located.  I took a cab driven by a Sudanese.  He had immigrated to work in the mines.  When we arrived at the Inn he explained the layout of the City.  The Inn was on Franklin or 50th Avenue just one block from the center of the city, 48th Street and Franklin.  East on Franklin, down a hill was “Old Town” and Latham Island; west on Franklin was the new section of the City with Wal-Mart, MacDonald’s, and the hospital.

My room in the Inn was very warm.  I had arrived in a heat wave and my room faced the sun most of the day and with no air conditioning it retained the heat that built up during the day.  A window was open but had no screen.  On the wall was a large wasp which I was able to quickly kill.  It was 01:40 before I went to bed so I slept until almost 10:00 Tuesday morning.

On the drive in from the airport I had noticed a Visitor’s Center not far from the Center of Town so after an expensive breakfast of a fish sandwich (because of the late hour I had to order off the lunch menu) at the local restaurant in the Inn, I set out on foot to the “Northern Frontier Visitors Centre” about two blocks from the Inn.  At the Center I picked up a map of the area and gained some information on the history of the city and watched a DVD on the history of diamond mining.

The current Yellowknife city area did not originate from a Native American village.  There was a native (First Nation) village on the Great Slave Lake in a different area referred to as Yellowknife.  The surrounding water bodies were named after a local Dene tribe once known as the 'Copper Indians' or 'Yellowknife Indians' (now referred to locally as the Yellowknives Dene First Nation) who traded tools made from copper deposits near the Arctic Coast.  They had a settlement on a point of land on the east side of Yellowknife Bay, named Dettah.

In 1933 two prospectors, Herb Dixon and Johnny Baker, canoed down the Yellowknife River from Great Bear Lake to survey for possible mineral deposits. They found gold samples at Quyta Lake, about 19 miles up the Yellowknife River, and some additional samples at Homer Lake.

The following year, Johnny Baker returned as part of a larger crew to develop the previous gold finds and search for more. Gold was found on the east side of Yellowknife Bay in 1934 and the short-lived Burwash Mine was developed.  When government geologists uncovered gold in more favorable geology on the west side of Yellowknife Bay in the fall of 1935, a small staking rush occurred.  Con Mine was the most impressive gold deposit and its development created the excitement that led to the first settlement of Yellowknife in 1936–1937.

Initially it was a tent and log cabin settlement around Latham Island but in 1938 the Royal Canadian Signals station at Fort Rae was moved to Yellowknife and it became a bustling boomtown.  The initial Con Gold Mine north of the current city center and later the Giant Mine were towns in their self with barracks, schools and commissaries for the employees.  The mine tunnels reached under the current city giving Yellowknife the dubbing of “the city built on gold”.  In addition to the Signals station the lakes in the area became the runways for booming bush plane activity.  (The Great Slave Lake is the 5th largest lake in North America and the 9th largest lake in the world).  The airport became the hub for aviation servicing the small villages, trapping and hunting camps, oil and mineral mines and camps throughout the Northwest Territory.

The population of Yellowknife quickly grew to 1,000 by 1940, and by 1942, five gold mines were in production in the Yellowknife region.  However, by 1944, gold production had ground to a halt as men were needed for the war effort.  An exploration program at the Giant Mine property on the north end of town had suggested a sizable gold deposit in 1944.  This new find resulted in a massive post-war staking rush to Yellowknife.  It also resulted in new discoveries at the Con Mine, greatly extending the life of the mine.  The Yellowknife town site expanded from the Old Town waterfront, and the new town site was established during 1945–1946.

In 1967, Ottawa decided to pass on management of the NWT.  Yellowknife, as the most populous town, was picked as capital.  The community began to shift from hardscrabble outpost to buttoned-down bureaucratic hub.  That shift accelerated in 1992 when a bitter labor dispute at Giant Mine led to the underground bombing death of nine strikebreakers.  Since then, gold mining has ceased in Yellowknife.    A new mining rush and fourth building boom for Yellowknife began with the discovery of diamonds 190 miles north of the city in 1991.  The last of the gold mines in Yellowknife closed in 2004 and today, Yellowknife is primarily a government town and a service center for the diamond mines.  The diamonds are not only mined but cut and processed in the city.  The labor needs have attracted people from all over the world creating a current population of 20,000 that is ethnically mixed.  Of the eleven official languages of the Northwest Territories, five are spoken in significant numbers in Yellowknife: Dene Suline, Dogrib, South and North Slavey, English, and French. In the Dogrib language, the city is known as Somba K'e ("where the money is").  On April 1, 1999, its responsibility as capital of the NWT was reduced when the territory of Nunavut was split from the NWT.  As a result, jurisdiction for that region of Canada was transferred to the new capital city of Iqaluit.

Armed with this knowledge of the history of Yellowknife and the gold and diamond mining I set out from the Visitors Center, around a small lake to the Frame Lake Trail.  A 7 km trail around Frame Lake which links the Legislative Assembly building, Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, National Defense, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), City Hall, the indoor pool, and the hospital.

I walked north on the trail to the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre (PWNHC).  It is the Government of the Northwest Territories' museum and archives.  It was opened in 1979, by Prince Charles, Prince of Wales.  It is very well laid out with rooms and displays that address natural history, European exploration, Northern aviation, Dene and Inuit ways.  I enjoyed a film in the aviation room that documented with interviews and old pictures and films, the development of bush pilots in the territory.  I was very impressed with the displays.  It is a must stop for any visitor to Yellowknife.

When I left the PWNHC it was after 13:30 and although I had a late breakfast I skipped walking north to the Legislative Assembly building, and headed south to the city center.  On the trail I came upon a dozen ladies pushing strollers with children and a Gym Instructor giving them exercise commands that involved their pushing the strollers up and down the trail.

I exited the trail by City Hall and came out on Veterans Memorial Drive which has a number of monuments, especially in front of the RCMP and National Defense buildings.  I walked back to my Inn and didn’t pass any eating establishments that intrigued me so I decided to follow the recommendation in the tour guides to have lunch at the Wildcat Café in Old Town.  It was a little over 2 mile walk down hill to the Old Town area.  A the Boat Launch I came upon a couple and asked directions to the Café only to be told it was closed for renovations but the other recommended “must” café was Bullocks Bistro just up the hill from the Boat Launch.

On the flight into Yellowknife I was surprised that the Great Slave Lake was covered by ice breaking up and at the Boat Launch there was still ice on the water.

Bullocks Bistro was in a building built in 1935.  Its claim to fame was its unique fish and chips.  Every inch of the walls and the ceiling was covered with pictures autographs, sayings and posters.  It was a very colorful place.  The fresh fish is grilled with a special sauce on top.  The chips are uniquely cut with the skins and the meal is served with a salad.  Several large bottles of a garlic flavored oil and vinegar salad dressing were available.  It was a delicious meal well worth the late lunch.  (It was after 14:30)

After lunch I walked up a hill to a set of steps leading to the Pilots Monument on top of “The Rock”.  The “Rock” overlooks the Old Town area and served at one time as the site for the area’s water tower.  At the top is a monument with a metal airplane fixed to its top.  The monument is dedicated to the Bush Pilots who as stated on a plaque: “broke the silence of the North”.  “Often flying in extreme cold and facing dangerous take-off and landing conditions, these bush pilots ferried passengers, mail and freight in and out of remote frontier regions and played a crucial role in the development of the Northern economy and the delivery of public services.  Blazing air trails over immense areas, these intrepid pioneers helped map the Canadian Shield and the Artic barrenlands, and pilots transformed Northern life by bringing this unique region into the Canadian mainstream.”  In addition to the monument there was a plaque describing Jolliffe Island just off the coast.  I took a number of pictures and descended down the steps and walked back to the center of the city and on to the new section of the city, another 3 mile walk.

In the new section of the city I walked past the MacDonald’s, onto a grocery store where I purchased some breakfast drink, then past the Wal-Mart and up to the hospital where I accessed the Frame Lake Trail again.  The walk back along the tail was interesting as I encountered bicyclists, joggers, woman pushing strollers and other walkers in both directions.  It was a busy trail.  The scenery included the lake, woods, and solid rock formations.  At times it reminded me of my summers on Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire.  It was after 19:00 when I reached a park by City Hall and walked past a log cabin that once served as a blacksmith’s shop at the Giant Mine.  It had been moved to the park and is now the “Fireweed Studio” for arts and crafts.

I had dinner in the “A Taste of Saigon” restaurant.  It had been a long day with a lot of walking and I was pleasantly surprised to find a fan in my room which I hoped would cool it off a little. 

On Wednesday I contracted ‘My Backyard Tours’ for a 2 hour tour of the city area.  Margaret Peterson and her daughter Amanda drove me around the area.  We started by returning to Old Town and the first stop was the Boat Launch landing where I was surprised to see that all the ice that was in Yellowknife Bay the day before was gone.  Out beyond the Bay I could still see ice on the Great Slave Lake.  “What a difference a day makes!”  Next to the launch ramp we stopped at the Government Pier where we had a close view of the houseboats that ring Jolliffe Island.  Margaret showed me a Bombardier snowmobile modified for ice fishing, describing how they mark a spot then move forward and use a power auger to drill through the ice which could be up to 5 feet thick and then move back and fish through the hole in the cozy comfort of the heated Bombardier cab.

The architecture of the buildings in Yellowknife had surprised me.  In the center of the city all the buildings are square with what looks like corrugated metal sides or prefab siding.  The South side often had no windows the half dozen tall buildings (10 or so floors) were concrete with the windows recessed between columns that presented the same look as vertical corrugated metal.  Even the churches were of the same boxy design.  None of the ones I saw had steeples and only one had a cross on top.  In the city the buildings that I noticed that varied from that style were the government buildings which I assumed were designed in Ottawa.  They were a striking contrast to the local buildings.  The Legislative Assembly building was designed like a very large igloo.  The RCMP and National Defense had a lot of curves and glass.  It wasn’t until I got to Old Town that I saw a log cabin and even then very few.

Margaret changed my mind by driving around the houses on Latham Island.  There each house had an individual flair.  Many built on the solid rock and blended in with the rock and scrub pines.  There were a number of houses built on rather level ground and they were constructed on top of a metal framework of jacks that could be adjusted to compensate for the frost heaves and rocky surface.  Margaret pointed out the pipes protruding from the houses one for fresh water the other for sewage.  The cold weather and solid rock prohibits the use of city water and sewer lines and septic tanks have to be frequently drained.

There is a building boom in the area since rentals are 100% occupied and command high rates.  Although there is not a hiring boom those people renting are looking to own.  Margaret drove me around several of the new developments and as opposed to many US developments the houses for the most part had individual designs.  I am glad I got to see that side of Yellowknife.

Leaving Old Town we stopped to visit the House of Horrors.  A log cabin style house built in 1938 and the site of wild card playing parties in the 1940s and the disappearance of some of the players.  Next we stopped at the Yellowknife Cultural Crossroads monument.  A large rock with hand and foot prints etched in the side of the rock.  The plaque on the rock reads: “The site is a testament to the close collaboration among Metis, Dene, Inuvialuit, English Canadian, French Canadian and Quebec cultures and is dedicated to all people of the North”.  There were several stone sculptures at the site.

From there we drove down to Ragged Ass Road.  It is a famous area of small houses that was populated at the time of the naming of the road by people down on their luck.  The signs are a tourist attraction and were stolen so often that they are now for sale along with a line of clothing and tourist items in a store in the city center.

From Ragged Ass Road we drove through more housing construction out of the city to the abandon Giant Mine site.  The government is dismantling the site and will leave just one shaft and establish a Mining Museum.  Next we approached the Airport and stopped at the Bristol Air monument of the first wheel based airplane to land at the North Pole.  It is right behind the Welcome to Yellowknife sign where we stopped to take pictures of me by the sign.

Amanda took over the driving and we next stopped at Buffalo Air.  Buffalo Air is featured in the TV reality series “Ice Pilots” and has the largest fleet of C-47s in the world.  They also have a C-54 and a number of firefighting “Air Tankers”.  I was fascinated because the last two aircraft I crewed on in the USAF were a VC-47 and a VC-54 in Vietnam.  I flew them regularly to Bangkok and Hong Kong and have a lot of fond memories.  The staff at Buffalo Air was very friendly and let me climb aboard and visit the cockpit of a C-47.  In addition to the aircraft the Buffalo Air hanger contained three old restored Ford cars: a 1939 Ford coupe, a 1951 Mercury coupe and customized 1951 Mercury.

From Buffalo Air we drove to the Legislative Assembly building and the end of the tour.  They told me I could eat lunch there and take a tour of the building at 13:30.  Unfortunately the afternoon tours do not start until summer so I walked back to the city center and had lunch at the Black Knight Pub, another of the recommended places in Yellowknife.  I had visited all the spots in the guide books and returned to my room to a big surprise – they had installed an air conditioning unit.  I spend the afternoon writing my journal and ate dinner at the Vietnamese Noodle Café next to the Inn.

Wednesday I checked out of the Inn at 11:00, took a cab to the airport, checked in for my 14:30 flight to Whitehorse via Calgary.  The airport café was under renovation but did serve sandwiches and homemade lasagna.  I had a bowl of lasagna and waited for my flight.

We walked to the plane across the ramp at the small airport to an Air Canada Canadian Regional Jet to fly to Whitehorse via Calgary and Vancouver.  I had a close connection at both airports and was afraid my checked bag would not get to Whitehorse with me.  When I boarded the plane on the last leg from Vancouver to Whitehorse I had a window seat and was able to watch the baggage handlers load the plane, the last bag loaded was mine!

I landed at Whitehorse at 21:00 to a surprise, the sun was bright and as I started down the ramp at the aircraft exit I was met by a strong cold wind which blew my cap off back into the aircraft.  The change in temperature between Yellowknife and Whitehorse was remarkable considering that the both are near the same latitude.  It was 80˚F when I left Yellowknife and a little below 50˚F at Whitehorse.  On my flight from LA to Yellowknife I had carried a winter jacket which I found I did not need in Yellowknife so I packed it in my checked bag on the flight to Whitehorse where it turns out I could have used it at arrival.

The Whitehorse terminal was a lot larger than the one at Yellowknife including Customs and Immigration booths for International arrivals and two baggage carousels.  There are flights from Germany to Whitehorse in addition to flights from the US.  Outside the terminal were shuttle buses with a list of the hotels they served for a $10 fare.  My hotel (Canadas Best Value Inn) was serviced by Marie, a very friendly and talkative middle aged lady will blond curly hair.

The airport was on a plateau 2,000 feet above the city.  On the drive down to the city the divided highway could bypass the city or take a turn into the city.  At that turn was a nasty accident so our driver had to drive past and cut through a parking lot to get back on the road to the city.  We speculated when we turned towards the city and was greeted by a very bright sun (it was now 21:30) that one of the drivers in the accident was probably blinded by the sun.

My hotel was centrally located overlooking the Yukon River and the Waterfront Trolley barn and across the street from the MacBride Historical Museum.  My room was large with two double beds, a refrigerator and a microwave.  On the drive to the hotel I noticed that the city was decorated and laid out for the tourist trade, a stark change from Yellowknife.  A number of the major fast food chains lined the streets and many of the buildings had false fronts and were styled in the old western frontier style.  There were a number of lots with signs for RV parking.  This was a tourist town as opposed to Yellowknife.

Friday morning I discovered that the Inn’s restaurant did not serve breakfast so I started out walking to the Visitor Center four blocks away.  Along the way I found a restaurant that was opened and I had breakfast.

At the Visitor Center I found that Marie was on duty.  She helped me plan my day’s activities.  First I watched a film at the center on the history of the city.

Whitehorse got its name from the Yukon River rapids named the White Rapids.  Someone remarked that the rapids looked like a herd of white horses.  There is even a painting of the scene with each bubbling white rapid painted to look like a horse head.  The area of the city first built up during the Gold Rush days in the 1890s when an estimated over 100,000 people “rushed” to stake claims to mine gold in the Klondike.

The route most of the prospector’s took was to come across the mountains via Chilkoot Pass to Canyon City and travel down the Yukon by boat to Dawson.  The traffic for people and supplies was so great that a narrow-gauge railway connecting Skagway, at tidewater, with White Horse a site across the river from Canyon City at the head of navigation on the Yukon River.  After completion of the railway Canyon City’s buildings were moved across the river to expand the city renamed Whitehorse.

For over forty years Whitehorse thrived as the transfer point shipping goods between the river boats and the railway.  Then during World War II the US Army arrived and built the Alaska Highway to Fairbanks, Alaska.  With the capability of moving goods more efficiently by trucks the river boats ceased operation.  In 1966 the S.S. Klondike was moved from the old shipyards to become a national historic site.

So, my first stop after leaving the Visitor Center was the S.S. Klondike.  I bought a ticket for the 11:00 tour and had thirty minutes to kill and discovered that there was a twenty minute film on the river boat history in a tent near the boat.  It was very informative and assisted in my understanding of the operation and what the tour of the boat guide to me later on.

One of the most interesting parts of the film was the discussion on how three boats were initially stored in the Whitehorse Shipyard after the service was discontinued in 1955 and a later a decision was made to make the S.S Yukon a Canadian Historic Site and move it to a spot next to the Rotary Peace Park at the South end of the city.  There was one big problem; a bridge had been constructed crossing the river so the boat was dragged down Second Avenue using gallons of slightly wet Palmolive Soap to lessen the friction on the street to the site just south of the bridge.

On the boat tour I was joined by a number of Americans from a Holland America Alaska & The Yukon Cruise Tour.  We also met several others from Holland America on the tour in front and in back of us as the tours overlap on the boat.

It was interesting to see the difference between the First Class and Second Class accommodations on the boat  First Class had individual cabins with a sink and chamber pot (there was only one head and bathtub for each side of six cabins), linen table cloths on the dining room tables and an observation lounge under the wheelhouse.  Second class was given folding cots to set up between the cargo on the same deck with the logs for fuel and the boiler for the steam generation.  Both classes could lounge on the sun deck – an open area behind the kitchen.  In the very aft of the sun deck was the meat locker with screen opening so the mist from the paddle wheel would drift over the meat and keep it cool.

I liked the method used when a boat ran aground.  They reversed the stern paddle wheel and hoped it would draw the sand and silt out so the boat could back off.  If that didn’t work they lowered the two large poles in front of the boat (I always wondered what they were used for) and using rope pulleys would lift the boat off the ground and “walk” it back a few feet at a time to the open channel.  (We could have used that method when the Advantage Tours group I was with ran aground in Guinea Bissau last fall.)

From the S.S. Klondike I walked across the river to the Millennium Trail, a 5 km loop along the Yukon River from the S.S. Yukon on the East and then returning on the West side of the river.  The walk on the East side is through trees along the river and I passed a large number of trees chewed down by beavers.  There was a large pile of down trees in one spot that looks like the beavers want to dam the Yukon River across from the S.S. Yukon.  At the midpoint I took a short detour to visit the Fish Ladder.  No fish were jumping up the ladder but it was interesting to see the structure and read about how it works.  After crossing the Rotary Centennial Bridge the trail paralleled the highway into the city from the South which led me to the “Welcome to Whitehorse” sign which I wanted to take my picture beside and post it on Facebook.  I took several pictures with my cell phone’s reverse camera feature and then had a couple of passer-byes took some with my Sony camera.

Back in the city it was time for lunch so I headed to another highly recommend lunch stops – Lil’s Place 50’s Diner & Soda Fountain, for a Fish and Chips lunch.  On the way I passed a monument of Jack London who had camped in the area on his way to Dawson City.  Lil’s Place brought back memories of my college summers when I worked at ‘The Ice Cream Parlor’ in Westport, CT and had to wear a false mustache and 1890’s era bow tie, white shirt with rolled up sleeves fastened with a garter belt and a red striped vest.  On the wall in Lil’s were paintings of 1950 celebrities: Elvis, Brando, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe to whom I once served an ice cream cone when she rode in on the back of photographer Milton Greene’s motorcycle.

It was a delicious meal, with the halibut deep fried in British style and much different than the fish and chips I had at Bullocks Bistro in Yellowknife.  Of course I had to finish off the meal with a chocolate shake.

After lunch I walked to the Old Log Church museum, then past the Log Sky Scrapper.  Rarely were log cabins more than one story.  The Log Sky Scrapper was three stories, each story an individual cabin accessed by stairs from the outside, not just a second and third story of one cabin.  Anyway it is considered a tourist point of interest in the city.  There was also a two story building of two individual log cabins one on top of the other next to the “Log Sky Scrapper”.

From the log cabins I walked to the old White Pass Train Depot with plaques describing the history of the railroad and the impact it had on the creation of the city of Whitehorse.

Across from my Inn was the MacBride Museum which I visited.  It contained displays, scenes, stuffed animals and vehicles documenting and describing the history of the Yukon.  It was very informative and impressive.  A must visit for anyone visiting Whitehorse.

After the museum tour I walked north of town in search of a grocery store to purchase an orange for my breakfast in the morning.  The downtown city is only 18 blocks north to south and 9 blocks East to West.  In addition to the 5 km loop I ended up walking the 18 blocks more than once and when it was diner time I ate ant another highly recommended restaurant: ’Klondike Rib & Salmon BBQ’.  There was a wait for a table and I met a couple from LA also waiting.  He used to work at the Canoga Park Rocketdyne plant just a couple of miles from my house.  I had a very delicious salmon with orange sauce diner.

It had been a day with a lot of walking so I retired early.

Saturday morning I had breakfast in my room with a breakfast drink and one of the large California oranges I had purchased the day before.  My plan for the day was to visit two museums near the airport.  I just missed catching the city bus to the airport that ran every hour so I had to take a cab for $22.50 but it was worth the trip.

I initially visited the Yukon Transportation Museum.  In front of the Museum was a C-47 on a pedestal which allowed it to rotate into the wind.  It was very clever and something I had not seen before in the hundreds of aircraft displays I have seen all over the world.

Inside, the museum was divided into rooms and displays for the: Alaska Highway equipment and descriptions, the Overland Trail up the Yukon with a thirty minute movie, Dog Sledding, a diorama and description of the Chilkoot Trail, a passenger car from the old train with a diorama of how Whitehorse looked during the height of train and river boat service, and my favorite, a Bush Pilot Room with lots of pictures and descriptions of the growth of aviation in the Yukon.

It was 13:00 when I exited the museum.  I had asked the staff at the door if there was a place in walking distance where I could get lunch.  They told me I had to return to the downtown area.  This annoyed me since the airport terminal was next door and two motels were across the street which I figured most likely one would or more would have a place to buy lunch.  When I left the building there was several tables set up and a man was spreading out food for sandwiches.  I asked him if he could sell me a sandwich and he told me he was a tour guide from Vancouver and his party was still in the museum and there was more than enough food for the group and he invited me to make a sandwich and have a cup of coke. I took him up on his offer and had a chicken sandwich and drink.  His group arrived and he introduced me to one the one American who was from Missoula, MT.  We had a nice conversation about Montana and I told him of our planned family reunion in Bozeman this summer.

After lunch with these friendly folks I walked next door to the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre, past a statue of a Wooly Monmouth.  I have to be honest – I had never heard of Beringia so the Interpretive Centre was an education.  For those that don’t know Beringia, the term was first coined by the Swedish botanist Eric Hultén in 1937.  It is the name for the Bering Sea land bridge which joined Alaska and eastern Siberia.  It was a land of ice, giant mammals and the First People of North America.  During each Ice Age, vast glaciers formed in the Northern Hemisphere, locking up much of the world's water as ice. Global sea levels dropped as much as 100 - 150 meters as a result, revealing the floor of the Bering Sea and creating a land connection between Alaska and Siberia.  This land bridge was part of a larger unglaciated area called Beringia.  Glaciers never formed in Beringia because the climate was too dry. Beringia, clothed in the hardy grasses and herbs of the mammoth steppe, was home to the giants of the Ice Age: the mammoth, the giant short-faced bear, the steppe bison, and the scimitar cat.  At the height of the last great Ice Age, the most successful hunters of all, human beings, entered Beringia from the Siberian steppes, conquering the last frontier for the human species.  Beringia vanished with the end of the last Ice Age.  But parts of this lost land can still be found in northern and central Yukon, Alaska and Siberia.

The Interpretive Centre provided information which included interactive multi-media presentations, murals and dioramas which depict the Beringia landscape, flora and fauna. The Centre also featured several films which I found fascinating; original works of art, and exhibits of discovered remains from throughout the Yukon.  For me the experience was a real education, especially the reason why the area was not covered during the ice age.  I had always wondered why people would migrate across the Bearing area if it was covered by ice all year round and now I understand that glaciers never formed in the area.

After my tour of the museum I walked to the Airport Bus stop.  Along the way I was able to take a cell phone picture of myself next to the airport sign.  Waiting for the bus in a semi enclosed bus stop I read a week old paper and discovered that due to funding cuts tour guides at the S.S. Yukon would not be funded after July 1st.  It is a shame because the guide gave us facts and information I could not have learned on a self-directed tour.

The bus driver into the city was very friendly and we had a nice chat.  I returned to my room, wrote in my journal and visited a Mexican Restaurant for diner.  The return flight back to LAX via Calgary was scheduled for 06:20, so I went to bed early.

On Sunday the flights to LAX went off as scheduled and I was home and in my pool by 15:00.

In retrospect this was a trip on my bucket list for a long time and it far exceeded my expectations.  Yellowknife is a vibrant young (younger than I am) city off the beaten path.  It is the end of the paved highway north of Alberta.  From there you have to fly to the fishing and hunting camps to the north in the Northwest Territory.  On the other hand Whitehorse is an older, historical transportation hub that traffic passes through going north or south.  It is geared for the tourist trade but has several fine historical museums documenting the Klondike and Yukon history back to the Ice Age.  I learned many new things in both cities and recommend that they are worthy of your time to visit.

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