Yukon Territory

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Flag of Yukon Coat of arms of Yukon
Flag Coat of arms
Motto: No motto
Map of Canada with Yukon highlighted
Capital Whitehorse
Largest city Whitehorse
Official languages English, French
- Commissioner Angélique Bernard
- Premier Sandy Silver (Liberal)
Federal representation in Canadian Parliament
- House seats 1
- Senate seats 1
Confederation June 13, 1898 (9th)
Area  Ranked 9th
- Total 482,443 km² (186,272 sq mi)
- Land 474,391 km² (183,163 sq mi)
- Water (%) 8,052 km² (3,109 sq mi) (1.7%)
Population  Ranked 12th
- Total (2021) 40,232[1]
- Density 0.085/km² (0.2/sq mi)
GDP  Ranked 12th
- Total (2017) C$3.089 billion[2]
- Per capita C$75,141 (3rd)
- Postal YT
- ISO 3166-2 CA-YT
Time zone UTC-8
Postal code prefix Y
Flower Fireweed
Tree Subalpine Fir
Bird Common Raven
Web site www.gov.yk.ca
Rankings include all provinces and territories

Yukon, also known as the "Yukon Territory," is one of Canada's three most northern arctic territories (the other two being the Northwest Territories and Nunavut). It has the smallest population of any province or territory in Canada, about 35,000. Whitehorse is the territorial capital and Yukon's only city.

The region is named after the Yukon River, meaning "great river" in the local aboriginal language. The region is famous for the Klondike Gold Rush as well as its midnight sun. The Yukon is also home to Mount Logan, at 5,959 meters (19,551 ft) the highest mountain in Canada and second highest in North America (after Mount McKinley). People from the Yukon are known as Yukoners.

Dempster Highway with the Richardson Mountains in the background



Disputed evidence of the oldest remains of human inhabitation in North America have been found in Yukon. A large number of apparently human-modified animal bones were discovered in the caves of the Old Crow area in the northern Yukon that have been dated to 25,000–40,000 years ago by carbon dating.[3] The central and northern Yukon were not glaciated, as they were part of Beringia.

At about 800 C.E., a large volcanic eruption in Mount Churchill near the Alaska border blanketed the southern Yukon with ash. That layer of ash can still be seen along the Klondike Highway. Yukon First Nations stories speak of all the animals and fish dying as a result. Similar stories are told among the Athabaskan-speaking Navajo and Apache, leading to the conclusion by some anthropologists that the migration of Athabaskan peoples into what is now the southwestern United States could have been due to the eruption. After that, the hunting technology saw the replacement of Atlatls with bows and arrows.

Extensive trading networks between the coastal Tlingits and the interior First Nations developed, where the coastal peoples would trade eulachon oil and other coastal goods for native copper and furs found in the interior.

Nineteenth century

European incursions into what later became Yukon started in the first half of the nineteenth century. Hudson's Bay Company explorers and traders from Mackenzie River trading posts used two different routes to enter Yukon and created trading posts along the way. The northern route started in Fort McPherson, Northwest Territories along the Mackenzie River, crossed the mountains into the Bell and Porcupine Rivers to the Yukon River. The southern route started at Fort Liard, Northwest Territories, then westward along the Liard River to Frances Lake and then along the Pelly River to its juncture with Yukon River.

After establishing Fort McPherson, Northwest Territories, John Bell crossed the mountains into Yukon River watershed in 1845, and went down the Rat River (today the Bell River) to its confluence with the Porcupine River. After managing the fur trade at Fort McPherson, he returned to the Bell River, and followed the Porcupine to its juncture with Yukon River, the eventual site of Fort Yukon. Soon after, Alexander Hunter Murray established trading posts at Lapierre House (1846) and at Fort Yukon (1847) at the juncture of the Porcupine and Yukon Rivers. Murray drew numerous sketches of fur trade posts and of people and wrote the Journal of Yukon, 1847–48, which give valuable insight into the culture of local Gwich’in First Nation people at the time. While the post was actually in Russian Alaska, the Hudson's Bay Company continued to trade there until expelled by the American traders in 1869, following the Alaska Purchase. A new trading post, Rampart House was established upstream along the Porcupine, but it also proved to be just inside Alaska's boundary. Gwich’in people, especially under the leadership of Sahneuti, played off the Hudson's Bay Company against American traders from the Alaska Commercial Company.

At about the same time, Robert Campbell, coming from Fort Simpson explored a large part of the southern Yukon and established Fort Frances (1842) on Frances Lake in the Liard River basin and Fort Selkirk, Yukon (1848) at the juncture of the Yukon River and the Pelly River. In 1852, Fort Selkirk was sacked by Tlingit warriors from the coast who objected to its interference with their trade. Fort Selkirk was abandoned and not reestablished until 1889.

Anglican and Roman Catholic missionaries followed in the wake of the fur trade. Of note is William Carpenter Bompas who became the first Anglican bishop of Yukon. Catholic missionaries were mainly from the order of Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, who still retain a presence in Yukon today.

In 1859, Robert Kennicott set off on an expedition to collect natural history specimens in what are now the Mackenzie River and Yukon River valleys and in the Arctic tundra beyond. Kennicott became popular with Hudson's Bay Company fur traders in the area and encouraged them to collect and send natural history specimens and First Nations artifacts to the Smithsonian Institution. In 1865, the Western Union Telegraph Expedition was mounted to find a possible route for a telegraph line between North America and Russia by way of the Bering Sea. Kennicott was the chief scientist for this expedition and the party of naturalists sent to assist him included W.H. Dall. Kennicott died of a heart attack while travelling up Yukon River. However, Kennicott's efforts brought what is now Yukon to the world's attention.

Rumors of the presence of gold in the area had been reported by Hudson's Bay Company traders, but little had been done about them. Following the Alaska purchase and the abandonment of Rampart house, Alaska Commercial Company traders started working along the upper Yukon River. Three miners — Alfred Mayo, Jack McQuesten and Arthur Harper — having heard of these rumors, went to work for the Alaska Commercial Company as traders, although their main interest was in the gold prospects. In 1874, Mayo and McQuesten established Fort Reliance, a few miles downstream of what later became Dawson City. Miners and prospectors slowly trickled in, and gold was found in many areas but rarely in paying quantities. In 1885, a paying amount of gold was found on the Stewart River, and McQuesten convinced the Alaska Commercial Company to start catering to miners rather than focusing only on the fur trade. The following year, paying quantities of coarse gold were found on the Fortymile River, and a new trading post, Fortymile, Yukon was established at the confluence of the Fortymile with Yukon River

At the same time as the initial gold discoveries were being made, the US Army sent Lieutenant Frederick Schwatka to reconnoiter Yukon River by the US Army. Going over the Chilkoot Pass, his party built rafts and floated down Yukon River to its mouth in the Bering Sea, naming many geographic features along the way. Schwatka's expedition alarmed the Canadian government, who then sent an expedition under George Mercer Dawson in 1887. William Ogilvie, a surveyor who was later to become famous during the Klondike gold Rush and was part of Dawson's expedition surveyed the boundary with Alaska.

In 1894, concerned about the influx of American miners and the liquor trade, the Canadian government sent inspector Charles Constantine of the Northwest Mounted Police to examine conditions in Yukon district. Constantine forecast that a gold rush was imminent and reported that there was an urgent need for a police force. In the following year, he went back to Yukon with a force of 20 men who were in place when the Klondike Gold Rush started in 1897.

Klondike Gold Rush

Skookum Jim Mason

The Klondike Gold Rush was the seminal event in Yukon's history. A party led by Skookum Jim Mason discovered gold on a tributary of the Klondike River in August 1896. An estimated 30,000 to 40,000 people braved numerous hardships to reach the Klondike gold fields in the winter and spring of 1897-1898 after the discovery became known in 1897. With the influx of American stampeders, the Canadian government decided to create a separate territory to better control the situation. In 1901, after many had gone back, the Census put the population of the territory at 27,219, a figure that was not reached again until 1991. The influx of people greatly stimulated mineral exploration in other parts of Yukon and led to two subsidiary gold rushes in Atlin, British Columbia and Nome, Alaska as well as a number of mini-rushes. Transportation needs to the gold fields led to the construction of the White Pass and Yukon Railway.

Twentieth century

After the gold rush, the population of the territory declined precipitously, reaching a low of 4,157 in 1921 and remained fairly steady until the 1940s. This was despite the development of other mining areas including silver in Conrad, Yukon and especially near Mayo, gold in the Kluane Lake area, and copper near Whitehorse. In the Klondike, individual miners' claims were bought out and consolidated with the help of the government by a small number of companies, including the Guggenheim's Yukon Gold Corporation who used large floating dredges. The Yukon Consolidated Gold Company continued to dredge for gold until the 1960s. A brief period of prosperity ensued during the 1930s when the price of gold rose.

By 1920, the elected territorial council had been reduced to three members and the territory was directly ruled by the Gold commissioner, a federal civil servant reporting to the Minister of the Interior.

Bonanza Creek

The next important event in Yukon's history was the construction of the Alaska Highway during the Second World War, which, after its badly needed reconstruction by the Canadian Government in the late 1940s, opened up the territory to road traffic. The war also saw the construction of a number of airfields as part of the Northwest Staging Route. However, the influx of southern highway construction crews had a devastating effect on some First Nations, who suffered from a large number of deaths from diseases to which they had no immunity.

Other highways were built during the 1950s and 1960s, resulting in the decline and disappearance of the riverboats that had provided the main means of transportation until the 1960s. In the 1950s, the White Pass & Yukon Route pioneered the use of intermodal containerized shipping. Mining activity also revived, including copper mining in Whitehorse, silver and lead in Keno and Elsa, asbestos in Clinton Creek. The world's largest open-pit zinc and lead mine was opened in Faro in the early 1970s. Gold mining came back to the Klondike and other areas with the large rise in gold prices in the late 1970s.

In the 1980s and 1990s, mining declined and the role of government increased considerably with larger and larger transfers from the federal government. In 1978, responsible government was achieved and party politics were established. On another front, First Nations started lobbying and entered in land claims negotiations in the 1970s which culminated in the signing of an "Umbrella Final Agreement" in 1992. Although most First Nations have signed agreements, land claims and self-government negotiations are still going on today. The First Nations are now considered a fourth level of government and the specific nature of inter-governmental relationships is still being worked out.


Map of the Yukon.

The territory's historical major industry is mining, including lead, zinc, silver, gold, asbestos and copper. Indeed, the territory owes its existence to the famous Klondike Gold Rush of the 1890s. Having acquired the land from the Hudson's Bay Company in 1870, the Canadian government divided the territory off of the Northwest Territories in 1898 to fill the need for local government created by the influx of prospectors during the Klondike Gold Rush.

Thousands of these prospectors, led by the chance at gold, flooded the area, creating a colorful period recorded by authors such as Robert W. Service and Jack London. The memory of this period, as well as the territory's scenic wonders and outdoor recreation opportunities, makes tourism the second most important industry.

Manufacturing, including furniture, clothing, and handicrafts, follows in importance, along with hydroelectricity. The traditional industries of trapping and fishing have declined.

Today, the government sector is by far the biggest employer in the territory.


In the past, the major transportation artery was the Yukon River system, both before the Gold Rush and after. As well, the coastal Tlingit people traded with the Athabascan people using passes through the coastal mountains, such as the Dalton Trail through the Chilkoot Pass.

From the Gold Rush until the 1950s, riverboats plied the Yukon River, most between Whitehorse at the head of navigation and Dawson City, but some going further into Alaska and down to the Bering Sea, and others along tributaries of Yukon River such as the Stewart River.

Most of the riverboats were owned by the British-Yukon Navigation co, an arm of the White Pass and Yukon Route, which also operated a narrow-gauge railway from Skagway, Alaska to Whitehorse. The railway ceased operation in the 1980s with the first closure of the Faro mine. It is now operated as a summer time tourist train, with operations running as far north as Carcross.

Today, major land transportation routes include the Alaska Highway, which passes through Whitehorse; the Klondike Highway going from tidewater in Skagway, Alaska through Whitehorse to Dawson City; the Haines Highway from Haines, Alaska to Haines Junction, Yukon, and the Dempster Highway from the Klondike Highway to Inuvik, Northwest Territories. All these highways, except for the Dempster, are paved. Other highways with less traffic include the Campbell Highway which goes from Carmacks on the Klondike Highway, through Faro and Ross River, and veers south to join the Alaska Highway in Watson Lake, and the Silver Trail which forks off the Klondike Highway at the Stewart River bridge to connect the old silver mining communities of Mayo, Elsa and Keno City. All Yukon communities except one are accessible by mostly paved roads, but air travel is the only way to reach one remote community in the Far North (Old Crow).

Whitehorse International Airport serves as the air transport infrastructure hub, with direct flights to Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Fairbanks, Juneau and Frankfurt (summer months). Every community is served by an airport, and an air charter industry exists primarily to serve the tourism and mining exploration industries.

Government and politics

In the nineteenth century, Yukon was a segment of the Hudson Bay Company-administered North-Western Territory and then the Canadian-administered Northwest Territories. It only obtained a recognizable local government in 1895 when it became a separate district of the Northwest Territories. In 1898, it was made a separate Territory with its own Commissioner and appointed Territorial Council.[4]

Prior to 1979, the territory was administered by the Commissioner who is appointed by the federal Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. The Commissioner used to chair and had a role in appointing the territory's Executive Council and had a day to day role in governing the territory. The elected Territorial Council had a purely advisory role. In 1979, a significant degree of power was devolved from the federal government and Commissioner to the territorial legislature which, in that year, adopted a party system of responsible government. This was done through a letter from Jake Epp, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development rather than through formal legislation.

The Yukon Act, passed on April 1, 2003, formalized the powers of the Yukon government and devolved a number of additional powers to the territorial government (for example, control over land and natural resources). Other than criminal prosecutions, the Yukon government has much of the same powers as provincial governments. Today the role of Commissioner is analogous to that of a provincial lieutenant-governor; however, unlike lieutenant-governors, Commissioners are not formal representatives of the The Crown, but are employees of the Federal government.

Although there has been discussion in the past about Yukon becoming Canada's 11th province, it is generally felt that its population base is too sparse for this to occur at present. As well, the government of British Columbia did propose to take over the territory on a number of occasions.

At the federal level, the territory is presently represented in the Parliament of Canada by a single Member of Parliament and one senator. In contrast to United States territories, Canadian territories' members of Parliament are full and equal voting representatives and residents of the territory enjoy the same rights as other Canadian citizens.

Yukon was one of nine jurisdictions in Canada to offer same-sex marriage before the passage of Canada's Civil Marriage Act, along with Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador, and New Brunswick.

First Nations governments

Much of the population of the territory is First Nations. An umbrella land claim agreement representing 7,000 members of fourteen different First Nations was signed with the federal government in 1992. Each of the individual First Nations then had to negotiate a specific land claim and a self-government agreement. Eleven of the 14 First Nations have negotiated and signed comprehensive land claim and self-government agreements. The First Nations speak eight different languages.

The fourteen First Nation governments are:

Government Seat
Carcross/Tagish First Nations Carcross
Champagne and Aishihik First Nations Haines Junction
First Nation of Na-cho Nyak Dun Mayo
Kluane First Nation Burwash Landing
Kwanlin Dun First Nation Whitehorse
Liard First Nation Watson Lake
Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation Carmacks
Ross River Dena Council Ross River
Selkirk First Nation Pelly Crossing
Ta'an Kwäch'än Council Whitehorse
Teslin Tlingit Council Teslin
Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Dawson City
Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation Old Crow
White River First Nation Beaver Creek

The territory once had an Inuit settlement, located on Herschel Island off the Arctic coast. This settlement was dismantled in 1987 and its inhabitants relocated to the neighboring Northwest Territories. As a result of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement, the island is now a territorial park and is known officially as Qikiqtaruk Territorial Park,[5] Qikiqtaruk being the name of the island in Inuktitut.


  1. Population and dwelling counts: Canada, provinces and territories Statistics Canada, February 9, 2022. Retrieved September 12, 2022.
  2. Gross domestic product, expenditure-based, provincial and territorial Statistics Canada. Retrieved September 12, 2022.
  3. J. Cinq-Mars On the significance of modified mammoth bones from eastern Beringia The World of Elephants - International Congress, Rome 2001. Retrieved September 12, 2022.
  4. Ken S. Coates and William R. Morrison, Land of the Midnight Sun: A History of the Yukon (Hurtig Publishers, 1998, ISBN 0888303319).
  5. Herschel Island - Qikiqtaruk Territorial Park Retrieved September 12, 2022.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Erdélyi, S.A. Yukon: The Land of the Midnight Sun. BookSurge Publishing, 2006. ISBN 978-1419644191
  • Coates, Ken S. and William R. Morrison. Land of the Midnight Sun: A History of the Yukon. Hurtig Publishers, 1998. ISBN 0888303319
  • Service, Robert W. The Spell Of The Yukon, and other verses. Reprint ed. Kessinger Publishing, [1907] 2004. ISBN 978-1419183256
  • Zuehlke, Mark. The Yukon Fact Book: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Yukon. Whitecap Books, 1998. ISBN 978-1551107165

External links

All links retrieved June 4, 2023.


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