As we got off the plane and entered town, it was very clear that the Yukon was putting on a party. It was Yukon Day in town, an they were celebrating the end of the Yukon Quest, a gruelling 1000 mile dog sled race starting in Fairbanks, Alaska, and ending in Whitehorse.
As we entered the tourism center in town, we were greeted by territorial dignitaries, including Yukon Premier Dennis Fentie. The premier gave a highly prepared speech to welcome us and to explain how much the Olympics meant to the Yukon. He was wearing a bright red jacket to express his pride. He seemed to be saying, "These are Canada's Games. Everybody wants to be a part of the party."
Then the Snowshoe Shufflers came and did a dance. It was a little bit like burlesque dancing with bright-coloured costumes - while wearing snowshoes. (See photo below of me with Snowshoe Shuffler Lucky Strike Lindsay.)
Then we ate. They set out an array of Northern hors d'oeuvres, including caribou skewers, fresh salmon and whitefish. We socialized with some of the locals before splitting off into groups to visit some of the local attractions.
The Musk Oxen, Hot Springs, and Hot Coffee Tour
The 14 members of my group, along with our hosts Carla Pitzel and Garry Umbrich, crammed into a waiting van and embarked on our afternoon tour.
We drove for about a half an hour through hills and alongside the Yukon River. It was wide with large cliffs on either side. For a Vancouverite, there was a lot of snow, which was a refreshing change. Surrounding us was the Boreal forest, with endless miles of thin coniferous trees and scrub. Our first stop was the Yukon Wildlife Refuge, where we loaded into a bus with our very knowledgeable guide, Clare Daitch. (photo below)
The preserve was like a sprawling ranch, with large plots of fenced off areas holding each type of animal. We visited with caribou, elk, and thinhorn sheep. On a steep hillside, a herd of mountain goats passed the time, their off-white coats barely visible against the surrounding snow. The most interesting animal was the muskox, a mammal that is a holdover from prehistoric times. (pictures below)
Thinhorn Sheep coming in for a close look
Prehistoric musk ox
On a sadder note, a lonely lynx was cowering in the corner of its small cage (below). The preserve is raising money for a larger area to give this lynx more territory. Clare showed us the area that they had set aside for the lynx, and it looked very spacious and comfortable, but for the meantime, the lynx was not looking happy. Otherwise, there were large areas for the animals' habitat and they seemed very comfortable.
Following the wildlife tour, we visited the Bean North coffee shop, purveyors of organic Fair Trade coffee. The ruggedly handsome proprietor, Michael King (pictured below) explained the logistics of importing beans from around the world, roasting them on site, and distributing them around Canada. The coffee shop had a snug, bright atmosphere, a great place to meet a friend, or curl up with a book. Back in Vancouver you can find Bean North coffee at Nature's Garden Deli, on the SFU Burnaby campus.