Yukon Territory, administrative region of northwestern Canada. Its capital and largest city is Whitehorse. To the outsider the Yukon Territory remains inextricably associated with the rush for gold in the Klondike region at the end of the 19th century. The territory still depends largely on mining. Its mountainous terrain and severe climate have discouraged settlement and the development of other important economic activities. Furthermore, most of the minerals are produced by mining operations that require a high degree of technology but relatively few workers.
The Yukon presents a major challenge to modern technology because of the existence of permanently frozen earth, known as permafrost, which lies just below the ground surface. Permafrost blankets the Arctic zones and extends into many southern parts of the Yukon. Any warmth, whether from household heating or spells of mild weather, is likely to melt the top layers of the permafrost. As a result, roadbeds and building foundations have to be insulated from the permafrost to prevent them from sinking.
The Yukon lies north of the 60th parallel of north latitude and partly within the Arctic Circle. Its area is 482,440 sq km (186,270 sq mi), including 8,052 sq km (3,109 sq mi) of inland water. The area of the Yukon Territory accounts for slightly less than 5 percent of Canada’s total area.
The entire territory belongs to the physiographic province of Canada called the Cordilleran Region, or Cordillera. In the Yukon the Eastern System of the Cordillera contains a fringe of the Mackenzie Mountains as well as the Selwyn Mountains and the Richardson Mountains. The Interior System of the Cordillera is represented in the Yukon chiefly by the large Yukon Plateau. Through this plateau run the Yukon’s major rivers, including the Yukon, Klondike, Pelly, Stewart, Peel, and Porcupine rivers. The rivers have cut valleys in the plateau that are in some cases 300 to 600 m (1,000 to 2,000 ft) deep. The Yukon’s longest lakes, Kluane and Aishihik, are at the southern end of the plateau. Away from the river valleys, the plateau is generally rugged and rolling with an average elevation of about 1,200 m (about 4,000 ft) above sea level. To the southwest of the plateau lie the rugged peaks of the Saint Elias Mountains, which belong to the Coast Ranges of western North America and thus are classified with the Western System of the Cordillera. This mountain system contains the highest mountains in the Yukon, including 5,959-m (19,551-ft) Mount Logan, the highest peak in Canada. The Saint Elias Mountains also contain the mountain that was named for United States president John F. Kennedy after his assassination in 1963. In 1972 Kluane National Park and Reserve, the first national park in the Yukon, was established. Covering 22,000 sq km (8,500 sq mi) in the Saint Elias Mountains, it contains dramatic ice fields and much wildlife as well as Canada’s highest mountains.
A subarctic climate prevails over most of the territory. In the extreme north and in the mountainous areas the climate is arctic. For this reason, habitation is limited to the river valleys in the southern part of the territory. Even in the more sheltered areas, such as Dawson, January temperatures average -30°C (-22°F) and often plunge to -46°C (-50°F). Temperatures in July at Dawson average 16°C (61°F). The frost-free period in the valleys of the Yukon Plateau averages only about 75 days, but the date of the first frost and the severity of the winters are highly unpredictable, depending on whether icy air masses from the Arctic or warmer currents of air coming from the northern Pacific Ocean prevail over the area.
Forests cover 48 percent of the Yukon Territory. The northern regions are mostly barren tundra, a type of treeless plain. Farther south, milder temperatures permit some forest growth, especially in the river valleys and valley slopes below 900 or 1,200 m (3,000 to 4,000 ft). Here are stands of conifers, in which white spruce predominates. Only the forests in the extreme south have commercial value. They are cut to meet local needs for fuel and rough lumber.
The Yukon abounds in wildlife, such as moose, caribou, mountain sheep, deer, and black and brown bears, including grizzly bears. Timber wolves are still common. Geese, swans, ducks, and numerous shorebirds, such as sandpipers, breed in the Yukon during the summer. The ptarmigan, found in all northern Canadian regions, remains throughout the year. In the Yukon’s waters swim the plentiful arctic grayling, northern pike, rainbow and lake trout, whitefish, and salmon.
Although there was some farming around the turn of the century, when prospectors swelled the Yukon’s population, there are now only a handful of farms in the territory. Farming is hampered by the limited amount of arable land (about 200,000 hectares/494,000 acres), the light summer rainfall, the short frost-free season, and the small domestic market. Potatoes and crops for farm animals are grown for the local market, and a few chickens, cattle, horses, and pigs are raised.
Mining is the Yukon’s most important source of income. For a long time, gold was the leading mineral by value. Gold was first found in the Yukon about 1869, but the Klondike discovery of 1896 caused the now legendary gold rush of 1897 and 1898. Peak production was reached in 1903, when gold valued at C(Canadian)$63.5 million was recovered from the creeks around Dawson. Large-scale dredging for gold began in 1905 and continued until the last gold dredge closed in 1966.
By the early 1950s the value of gold production had been surpassed by that of silver and the base metals—zinc, lead, and copper—largely as a result of the success of the Mayo area as a source of high-grade ores of silver, lead, and zinc. When the price of gold rose sharply in the 1970s, new Klondike gold rushes occurred, and new claims were staked on ground that had previously been worked over.
From the end of World War II in 1945 to the early 1980s, zinc, lead, and copper were the Yukon’s most important mineral products. Zinc and lead were produced in the area around Faro and near Mayo; copper was mined at Watson Lake and south of Whitehorse. In the early 1980s depressed world markets and increased production and transportation costs led to sharp cutbacks in mining operations and the closure of many mines. The closure of the Faro lead-zinc mine in 1982 resulted in a serious economic crisis in the territory. Zinc and lead mining was resumed on a commercial scale in 1986 and rebounded to previous levels in the late 1980s. Copper mining, however, remained economically unviable.
In 1998 the total mineral output was valued at C$134.1 million. Gold accounted for about three-fifths of the total, zinc and lead for about one-quarter.
Tourism is the second most important private sector industry in the Yukon. Visitors come to fish, hunt, enjoy the rugged scenery, and see the historic buildings and creeks associated with the gold rush.
Some marten, lynx, muskrat, wolverine, and other fur-bearing animals are still trapped, but the Yukon plays a minor role in Canadian fur production.
The Yukon’s manufacturing industries consist almost exclusively of some mineral refining, printing, and sawmilling. Several hydroelectric plants generate adequate power for these operations, and the Yukon’s rivers have enormous additional power potential.
The most important transportation artery in the territory is the Alaska Highway, which runs for 1,014 km (630 mi) through the Yukon. The Klondike Highway connects Whitehorse and Dawson, with spurs to major mining centers such as Mayo, Keno, and Elsa. The Robert Campbell Highway forms an arc of 602 km (374 mi) from the Alaska Highway east of Whitehorse to the Klondike Highway north of the capital. The Dempster Highway extends for 663 km (412 mi) from the vicinity of Dawson to Inuvik, on the Mackenzie Delta in the Northwest Territories.
Air service is especially vital to those parts of the territory without access to roads, and about ten airports operate in the territory. There is jet air service connecting Whitehorse with Vancouver and Edmonton in Canada, and Anchorage, Fairbanks, and Juneau in Alaska. Internal air service links Whitehorse with Dawson, Mayo, Clinton Creek, and Old Crow.
|IV||THE PEOPLE OF THE YUKON|
According to the 2001 national census, the Yukon had a population of 28,674, an increase of three percent over the 1991 figure of 27,797. The average population density in 2006 was 0.07 persons per sq km (0.17 per sq mi). Town and city residents made up 59 percent of the population. The only city in the territory is Whitehorse, the capital, which had 20,461 inhabitants in 2006. Next in size were the towns of Dawson (population, 1,327) and Watson Lake (846). Other settlements include Faro, Ross River, Haines Junction, Mayo, Elsa, and Carmacks.
The indigenous population in the Yukon Territory at the time of the 2006 census was 25.1 percent of the population. The largest exclusively indigenous settlement in the Yukon was Old Crow, with 253 inhabitants in 2006.
The education system is the responsibility of the territory. Public school education at the elementary through high school level is administered by four regional school superintendents. Yukon College, a junior college, was established in 1983. It offers a variety of programs at several centers.
The Yukon is administered by the Canadian federal government, principally through its Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. This department manages public lands and natural resources.
A commissioner, who is appointed by the federal government, is the nominal chief executive. Most executive powers, except for the management of public lands and natural resources, are in the hands of a six-member executive council headed by a government leader, who is the leader of the majority party or coalition in the territory’s legislative assembly. The government leader and the other members of the executive council remain in office as long as they retain the confidence of a majority in the legislative assembly.
The legislative assembly consists of 17 members, who are elected for up to four years.
The territorial court, which has three judges, is the major trial court and court of record. Appeals of cases are heard either by the court of appeal or the supreme court. There are 58 justices of the peace at 16 locations. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police maintains law and order in the territory.
The Yukon Territory is represented in the Canadian Parliament by one elected representative in the House of Commons and by one senator appointed by the federal government.
Indigenous peoples had been living in the Yukon for many years before the early explorers arrived in the first half of the 19th century. Explorers looking for a Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean probed the Yukon’s northern coast, while fur traders from the Hudson’s Bay Company learned the region’s inland waterways and mountain ranges. Of these early explorers, Robert Campbell, who explored the Pelly River, and John Bell, who explored the Porcupine and Yukon rivers, are best known. After the Dominion of Canada was formed in 1867, the Yukon was administered as part of the Northwest Territories.
As early as the 1870s, prospectors were searching the Yukon for gold. However, it was not until August 16, 1896, that George Carmack, Skookum Jim, and Tagish Charlie (later known as Dawson Charlie) made the famous strike that set off the Klondike gold rush. Thousands of prospectors then transformed the uninhabited area at the fork of the Klondike and Yukon rivers into the boomtown of Dawson. American writer Jack London was among these prospectors, and Canadian poet Robert W. Service, who caught the flavor of the time and territory in his poems “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” and “The Cremation of Sam McGee” (both published in 1907), worked for a time in a Dawson bank.
In the next ten years more than C$100 million in gold was mined around Dawson, and the Yukon thrived. It was made a separate territory in 1898, with its capital at Dawson, by then a town of almost 30,000. In about 1900 a railroad was built between Whitehorse and Skagway, Alaska.
Soon, however, large mining companies brought in complicated equipment, and individual prospectors found little reason to stay. The territory’s population diminished. In the 1930s Dawson had only about 1,000 people, and there was talk of annexing the Yukon to British Columbia.
|B||The Alaska Highway|
During World War II (1939-1945), when the northern areas were considered strategic for North American defense, construction was begun on the Alaska Highway. Also built were a series of airfields known as the Northwest Staging Route and an oil pipeline linking Norman Wells, Northwest Territories, with Whitehorse, as part of the Canol project. This brought the Yukon a second boom, with construction its new source of wealth. An oil refinery and gasoline storage facilities were erected at Whitehorse. The northern bases, however, soon lost most of their importance, and the Canol pipeline was abandoned. As a result the Yukon’s population dropped again. Yet the Alaska Highway continued to bring the people of the Yukon into ever closer contact with the rest of Canada, and Whitehorse became the focal center for the territory. In 1953 the territorial capital was moved from Dawson to Whitehorse.
|C||Later 20th Century|
After World War II the mining of silver, lead, zinc, and copper sustained the Yukon’s economy. In the 1980s, however, the economy fell into a deep depression when mineral prices collapsed because of reduced world demand. The industry began a rapid comeback in 1986, and by 1987 it had fully recovered from its near-collapse.
In 1978 the Yukon held its first territorial election marked by partisan politics, and a territorial council with a Progressive Conservative majority took office in 1979. The federal government then transformed the council into a legislative assembly similar to that in a province and allowed the assembly’s majority leader to choose a cabinet and become “government leader,” with authority comparable to that of a provincial premier. In 1985 the New Democratic Party (NDP) formed a government with support from the Liberal Party. The NDP held power until 1992, when it was defeated by the newly formed Yukon Party, founded by former members of the Progressive Conservative Party. The NDP returned to power in 1996 but lost the 2000 elections to the Liberal Party, which claimed its first-ever legislative majority in the Yukon. The Yukon Party took power in the elections held in 2002.
Land claims by the indigenous peoples of the Yukon were first pressed in the 1960s and were finally resolved in the late 1980s. In 1988 and 1989 the Council for Yukon Indians and the federal government accepted an agreement that provided for payment of C$240 million to the indigenous peoples and rights to 41,400 sq km (16,000 sq mi) of land.