When the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge arrive in Whitehorse next Wednesday, they might expect to find a sleepy town that is little more than a gateway to the surrounding wilderness. That’s not what they’ll find, though. Whitehorse is a creative, cosmopolitan hub full of hip cafés and shops, with gold-rush era history and a vibrant arts scene.
I was born and raised in Whitehorse, and I delight in telling curious southerners about the little-known treasures that my hometown contains.
It is a long trip to get here – a 2.5-hour, 1,500-kilometre flight from Vancouver – but the remoteness and rugged landscape provide creative inspiration for 26,000 hardy residents. Across Canada, Yukon has the highest percentage of its labour force in cultural occupations, and with daily low temperatures averaging below freezing for seven months of the year, it is no surprise Whitehorsers focus much of their energies on creative indoor pursuits.
But for those who brave the outdoors, the hiking, biking, canoeing and skiing opportunities around Whitehorse rival the best in the world.
Will and Kate will be leaving their kids with the nanny in British Columbia, which means they can let loose and spend two days experiencing the best of Whitehorse and nearby Carcross.
Food and drink
Whitehorse residents like to fatten up for the winter season. Get started at one of the two excellent breweries in town – the award-winning Yukon Brewing Company and newly established Winterlong Brewing Company. They both offer tours and tastings, after which you can take home a growler of Bonanza Brown, Yukon Gold or Midnight Sun espresso stout.
If drinking in the bar is more your scene, check out the Dirty Northern, a rustic-chic pub with an impressive Caesar menu and delicious thin-crust pizza. If you are looking for a more intimate experience, Woodcutter’s Blanket is a tiny cocktail bar in a heritage log cabin with two life-size replica moose antlers interlocking on the roof.
You can satisfy both your inner gourmet and history buff simultaneously during a locally sourced meal at the Wheelhouse restaurant, a fine-dining establishment tastefully decorated with artifacts from Yukon’s sternwheeler steamship era. For a more casual experience, consider the Portuguese bison chorizo mussels at the Burnt Toast Café, or sit down to a bowl of Caribbean chicken stew at Antoinette’s.
Whitehorse has maintained a vibrant Main Street, anchored at its eastern end by a collection of shops housed in a squat century-old building known as the Horwoods Mall. It contains a dozen small stores and is bustling at all hours.
You can find dozens of flavours of macaron at Le Gourmet, a range of Canadian and imported cheeses at Cultured Fine Cheese, luxurious wools at the Yarn shop and quirky local crafts at the Collective Good. The front of the mall is occupied by Baked Café, an excellent third-wave coffee shop that serves beans from the two local roasters, Midnight Sun Coffee Roasters and Bean North. A few blocks away is the Fireweed Market, offering locally grown vegetables during the summer and artisan crafts year-round.
If you’re looking to take home a piece of Whitehorse art, Yukon Artists at Work is an artist-run shop that contains the work of dozens of local painters, potters, sculptors and jewellers.
The royal couple could walk in the steps of the Klondike gold seekers just a couple kilometres from downtown Whitehorse. The red basalt cliffs of Miles Canyon border a narrow section of the Yukon River, and you can cross a century-old red and white suspension bridge to access miles of walking trails, with old camp stoves and beer bottles from the pioneer days nestled amongst the kinnikinnik bushes beside the path. This section of the river is actually the city’s namesake; the pioneers thought the rough waters looked like the mane of a white horse.
Rugged adventurers can hike up Grey Mountain for views of the surrounding landscape. If you hike up at summer solstice in June, you can revel in the midnight sun, with more than 20 hours of daylight. If you are hiking in the fall, pick tart, wild lingonberries as you go to make jam or juice later.
Paddlers start their trips down the Yukon River to Dawson City from Whitehorse. You can make the journey in under a week, and along the way you will see some of the most stunning scenery the territory has to offer.
Visitors who arrive during the winter months should borrow a pair of cross-country skis and explore the Mount McIntyre recreational area, with dozens of kilometres of tracked trails, making it one of the most extensive in Canada.
William and Kate are set to learn a little of Yukon’s enthralling gold-rush history at the MacBride Museum. The Queen stopped by the museum when she visited the city in 1959, so it is clearly worth a look.
It may not sound like much fun, but the Yukon Transportation Museum, located near the airport, gives an alternate and fascinating look at the Yukon’s past, including the traditional use of dogsleds, the rugged journey made by the gold seekers up to Dawson City and the construction of the Alaska highway.
Your last stop might be the S.S. Klondike national historic site where the sternwheeler sits at the southern end of town. It’s hard to miss. The S.S. Klondike was the largest steamship to ever navigate the Yukon River, and the tours offered during the summer months are a must-do.