Occasionally, people will ask me why I’m here. They don’t mean I should leave– only what it is that keeps me here. It’s good to think about why you live in the place you do. You can always say that work brought you here, or love, or you were raised here, or it’s all you know… but I can’t say any of these… so I start thinking about why Whitehorse is the perfect city.
Whitehorse has some very unique qualities. In a nutshell: It functions as both the capital and largest city of our territory, while maintaining many characteristics of a small town. It has the cultural capital of a city 10 to 20 times its size, compressed in a small area, as it is home to a surprisingly large number of artsy folk–musicians, artists, writers and our ilk. Whitehorse is drenched in pivotal and interesting history. Finally it is surrounded by extensive wilderness that affords outdoor enthusiasts a vast playground, and keeps folks green-minded.
Whitehorse, for all its importance in the Yukon, is still the size of a small town: 23,000 people. You will know many, many people. It’s hard to be anonymous here. And people are friendly. Small towns also have quirky qualities on display— we have unique parades, events, colorful characters. People care about each other because they run into each other all the time, and because we all make the city run. All the best, and worst, of a small town can be found here. But I think the best of our qualities far outweighs our worst ones.
Secondly, Whitehorse is the government seat for the whole territory –so it functions as a capital city. Capitals make the decisions, funding flows through them, the action happens here. You are in the know. While other small towns can feel themselves outside that system–to their relief or to their frustration–capital cities host conferences, big events, performers. Because it is also the largest city in our territory, it also serves as the iconic hub of the Yukon which makes it double the attraction for events, performers, conferences, tourists on their way through. It’s also the supply hub of the Yukon— If you can’t get it in Whitehorse, you probably can’t get it in the Yukon (I’m not saying everything GOOD is only in Whitehorse— where would we be if we couldn’t have the perfect Reuben sandwich at Braeburn, the Hot Springs at Liard or Takhini, DCMF, a beautiful room at Bombay Peggy’s, Kluane National Park, sasquatches in Teslin, UFOs at Pelly Crossing, and all the wonderful things in between?)
Because Whitehorse is both the capital and the largest city, it attracts the most diverse, and the most numerous artists, musicians, writers, creative people. Since we all need contract work, you can find your artists in the city of contracts. And Whitehorse flourishes because of these creative folks. Every winter is a smorgasbord of things to do— five or six theatre companies, interchanging bands and musical acts (with multiple CD releases), art in your cafes and in your galleries, poetry/fiction readings, cookbook launches. And I just listed the LOCALS. Not to mention all the big name performers, etc, that come through our town through the Jazz Series, the Classical Series, the Yukon Arts Centre, etc. We have more going on than I ever had when I lived in cities of 300,000. You have to choose what you’ll go to every night–you can’t see everything. We find out what to do every week in What’s Up Yukon!
This is because the big things don’t go to a town that’s larger than us…. and everything in the Yukon (except you, Old Crow) is within driving distance. We are not Plainview Texas where all the things that happen go to Lubbock… bypassing the small town.
We also have creative business owners who start unique businesses. Mac’s Fireweed Bookstore, Riverside Grocery, The Yukon Brewing Company, Baked Cafe, the Kebabery, the Urban Cake Shop, Titan gaming, Frantic Follies, Sam N Andy’s, Arctica, Sanchez, Tokyo Sushi, Lil’s Diner, Midnight Sun Coffeeroasters, –and creative people who start societies and groups that bring enjoyment to everyone— bellydancing, acrylic painting, weaving, poetry festivals, film festivals, theatre festivals, bluegrass festivals, snow carving, sword fighting, … anything you could want, here, in Whitehorse.
We are so thick with interesting history. The Gold Rush may be where Tourists start–but our history is rich from the Beringia–a land never covered in the last ice age–to the Kwanlin Dun people–to the Gold Rush, the WhitePass and Yukon Railway, the Alaska Highway, and our notorious pasts, our mystique, our legends, our isolation which breeds all the best stories. What isn’t covered at MacBride Museum, the Beringia Center, or the Yukon Transportation Museum, you can find at the Archives, a wealth of historical knowledge in one giant organized basement.
Finally, we are surrounded by majestic wilderness– with all the amenities that affords: hiking, canoeing, boating, fishing, hunting, kayaking, horseback riding, paragliding, goldpanning. It is a paradise for the outdoor lover. If you ever get tired of being in close community, you just step out your door and into the wilderness, into nature. The one thing that seems to get sacrificed as we build larger cities is NOT sacrificed here. The trees, the blessed trees, are beautiful, and the green spaces and parks flourish. Just to walk the Hidden Lakes is to see beauty at every turn.
That love of the wilderness compels us to understand it, protect it, and live with it. Here in Whitehorse are more scientists than you can find anywhere else, I bet. Northern Climate Exchange, the new Yukon Cold Climate Innovation Centre, Northern Research Institute, the Yukon Science Institute–all feed a community-wide knowledge of northern science, and create new innovative ways to live with the north.
No other state or province or Territory really has all this. While one may argue that Alaska has the wilderness, the small towns are not their seats of government, nor their attractions for events and cultural cache. Northwest Territory’s Yellowknife looks like the downtown of Chicago carved up and set on a windswept lake shore–it has an urban chic, and certainly its share of cultural capital, but it doesn’t compare to Whitehorse for size or beauty. Other cities have size, but not cultural capital; or small town nature without amenities.
For the artist, for the lover of beauty, for the outdoorsman, for children who love to play, for coffee and beer connoisseurs, for those who love the arts, for those creative people trapped in other urban nightmarescapes across the world, there is Whitehorse, Yukon Territory–a breath of fresh air across a buzzing cafe.
Get up here already. I think we can fit another 2,000 people in comfortably. After that, we’re closing the highway.