Story by Adrian Brijbassi
Vacay.ca Managing Editor
DAWSON CITY, YUKON TERRITORY — “And stayed.” Two words you will hear often when you launch into conversations with the people of Dawson City.
“I packed up my car in Toronto with everything I felt was worth keeping and I drove until I got here. I arrived on April 17, 1987,” says Brad Whitelaw, who now owns multiple businesses in Yukon. “And stayed.”
Whitelaw was a carpenter when he arrived in the historic town that was the centre of the Klondike Gold Rush. Thirty years later, he operates a hotel, a riverboat (the Klondike Spirit) that cruises the Yukon River, a horseback-riding operation and hunting outfitter, having become enthralled with the northern territory. In most places with such extreme temperatures (think Winnipeg), you will find yourself listening to people who are eager to get out. In Dawson City, residents are boastful they have moved in.
The Land of the Midnight Sun appears to also be a Bermuda Triangle for those who love fun and a way of life where cubicles are scant, traffic is a rumour and community is vital. Necessity breeds an environment where you and your neighbours are friendly and generous — just in case you require rescue if your generator were to run out of power in the middle of a winter night at minus-40 degrees.
There is character in the people and in the place itself. Dawson City retains its historic appearance thanks to bylaws that mandate new buildings in downtown maintain a heritage look. No franchises are allowed either. The closest McDonald’s is 530 kilometres (330 miles) away in Whitehorse, Yukon’s capital.
Also, many of the buildings date to the town’s creation in the late 1890s, when prospectors came from California, New York, Europe and beyond in search of gold. Dawson City grew from little more than a camp site to a flourishing destination of more than 30,000 people, many looking for riches or to exploit those who had beaten them to fortune.
Dawson City Visitor Information Centre supervisor Peggy Amendola says opportunity still exists for risk-takers, adventurers and entrepreneurs. “Dawson attracts a certain type of person and when they get here, it’s like they’ve found exactly what they’re looking for,” says Amendola, who arrived in the 1970s and — you guessed it — stayed.
With the effects of climate change, the idea of sticking around is luring more people — whether for a vacation or longer. Whitelaw predicts the town will have to find a way to satisfy travellers.
“We are going to need more hotel rooms,” he says. “A lot of TV and films are bringing recognition to Dawson and as things keep getting warmer, the number of visitors is only going to increase.”
Ueli Kunzi is doing his best to meet the demand. A 27-year-old from Switzerland, Kunzi is operating The Bunkhouse, a hotel facility with many clients who are Europeans or motorcyclists touring through the Canadian northwest.
“I love it here,” Kunzi says. “There aren’t many places in the world, if any, that are like Dawson. I feel very lucky to be here. I think I am in the right place at the right time.”
Kunzi arrived in 2010 and returned to Switzerland briefly before being lured back by Dawson City’s lifestyle and opportunities. His second time around, he was determined to stay.
MORE ABOUT VISITING DAWSON CITY
Getting There: The town operates a small airport and has daily flights from Whitehorse, which is 535 kilometres (332 miles) south. Many travellers also drive between the two centres that are connected by the North Klondike Highway. You can also drive from Alaska on the Top of the World Highway.
Where to Stay: Bombay Peggy’s Inn (2nd Avenue and Princess Streets; see map below) is a beautifully appointed Victorian-style hotel with delightful touches that evoke the city’s past. Room Rates: In the summer, private rooms start at $195 per night; rooms with shared baths start at $99 a night. Website: bombaypeggys.com.
More Coverage on Vacay.ca
- Learn how Donald Trump’s fortune can be traced back to Dawson City.
- Land amid Canada’s tallest peaks with a Glacier Landing flight. Read what that entails.
Fun Fact: Dawson City’s 2016 census population is 1,375, making it too small for “city” status. So the name of the place, as a posted sign indicates, is “The Town of the Former City of Dawson City.”