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Published: October 3rd 2006
Robert Service; The Men That Don't Fit In
"There's a race of men that don't fit in,
A race that can't sit still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will."
I'm lost for words. The scenery in the far North of Canada is spectacular and beautiful. It has to be seen to be believed.
Large parts of Canada remained the exclusive territory of Aboriginal First Nations until the late 19th century. It was the discovery of gold in the Yukon that changed the far North. The Klondike Gold Rush
of 1898 drove tens of thousands of men into the far North looking for instant wealth.
The far North has two histories - an official respectable history and a secret one. Church historians gave Mrs T.H. Canham credit for being the first white woman into the Yukon. Of course there had been women in the Yukon for thousands of years - the women of Canada's First Nations. The First Nations have lived in the far north for over 10,000 years.
In fact the first white woman in the Yukon was "Dutch Kate" Wilson, a prostitute. She crossed the Chilkoot Pass from Skagway on the coast of Alaska to Whitehorse in 1887. It is a journey that takes several days through rugged countryside. It is possible to follow the same
route today. There is a Chilkoot trail with rest camps today, which follows the route that the pioneers used. "Dutch Kate" was the first of many women who went to the far North to mine the miners. (Source: Good Time Girls; Lael Morgan, ISBN 978-1-55110-994-7)
At the end of the last blog I was in Seattle in Washington State. On Sat 9th of September I crossed the border into Canada arriving in Vancouver in the evening. Vancouver
has been listed as among the top ten places to live in the world. That reputation may be in danger. I saw far too many homeless people on the streets of downtown Vancouver. It seems that the city has been spending a lot of money on the upcomming Winter Olympics and not much on dealing with its homelessness problem. I stayed in Vancouver for a few days. For most of that time I was concentrating on my last blog entry
. I only toured around the city on my last day in Vancouver when I had finished the blog.
On Tuesday 12th of September I left Vancouver. I caught the ferry to Victoria on Vancouver Island. Victoria
is the provincial capital of British Columbia. The ferry journey to Victoria was spectacular, I saw beautiful green islands and clear blue waterways from the ferry deck on a day when the sun was shinning. There are lots of rain jokes about Vancouver, so good weather is something to celebrate, but in fact Vancouver had a very good summer this year.
A perfect Eden
, was the description of Victoria by Sir James Douglas the founder of Port Victoria in 1843. The city is now sold by the marketing people as the Garden City. I was in Victoria for a couple of days. I toured the city and went on a whale watching trip during which I saw Orcas's (Killer Whales) and seals.
I continued my journey north on Vancouver Island
to Courtenay in the Comex Valley. The Comex Valley has beaches, luxuriant forrests, crystal clear lakes and rivers rushing from the mountain tops. From the centre of town the Comex Valley Glacier is visible. I had to take a photo of that view. I was only in Courtenay for one night.
At 10.30am on Friday the 15th I caught the bus to
Port Hardy, which is the last town on the north bound road. It is also the starting point for the ferry along the Inside Passage to the far north of British Columbia. The ferry leaves at 6am in the morning. The bus though arrives in the afternoon. So, I had to get a room for the night. In order to get the 6am ferry I had to wake up at 4am.
THE INSIDE PASSAGE
The journey along the Inside Passage to Prince Rupert took all day. It is a very scenic route but it rained all day. It was also very cold, but we would all rush onto the deck whenever the captain announced that he had spotted another Humpback Whale.
The ferry pulled into Prince Rupert after midnight. The city of Prince Rupert
is at the edge of wilderness. It has a harbour that is ice free in the winter because it is sheltered by the islands of the Inside Passage.
The modern city started in 1906 with the arrival of the Grand Trunk Pacific Railway.
Prince Rupert lies in the territory of the Tsimshian First Nation. For thousands
of years the first nation communities lived in post and beam cedar houses along the coast in sheltered bays, with magnificent canoes drawn up on the beach and tall crest poles telling the story of each house and family. The first nations are best known for their monumental art, particularly their Totem Poles, which can be seen throughout Prince Rupert and the region.
I spent a couple of nights in Prince Rupert. I then took the Greyhound bus north to Watson Lake in the Yukon. A 35 hour bus trip! The bus stops in a couple of places for several hours including at stop at Dawson Creek.
The bus arrived in Dawson Creek at 6.30am for a connecting bus at 9am. So, I had a few hours to kill in a small town with nothing open. Although I did eventually find a cafe open at 8am. Dawson Creek
is the start of the Alaskan Highway. In the centre of town a signpost marks mile zero of the road. Before the Alaskan Highway was built Dawson Creek was the end of the road. The Alaskan Highway was built during the 2nd World War. It provides a
connection for the lower 48 states of the USA to Alaska. When the States entered the war they realised that Alaska was undefended. The road was driven through 1,500 miles of wilderness in 8 short months by the American military. The Americans were worried that the Japanese could use Alaska as a bridgehead for invading the States. Alaska is a long way from the lower 48 States. In fact Anchorage in Alaska is closer to Tokyo than New York.
My journey along the Alaskan Highway was spectacular, through forests, along lakes and clinging to the sides of mountains. The Greyhound driver stopped a number of times because wildlife was squatting in the middle of the road.
Finally I arrived in Watson Lake at 11pm on the 20th of September. The true beginning of Watson Lake
came with the building of the airport and the Alaskan Highway during the 2nd World War.
The town was an accommodation and supply centre for the construction workers. Some of the construction workers started a tradition that continues...
Some construction workers put up a sign post showing the names of places in the States that they called home.
Now the town has a 'signpost forest' where travellers put up signs. I was amused to see a sign for Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire, England. Hebden Bridge was a working class textile town. But in recent years it has become a home for ageing middle class hippies.
Watson Lake is now a transport and distribution centre for mining and logging in the South Yukon. It is a small town of 1,700 people, the wilderness is a short stagger from the centre of town. I stayed a couple of days, exploring the many trails into the wilderness from the town. It only takes a few minutes to get away from civilization and into wilderness where bears outnumber people.
I then continued to Whitehorse the capital of the Yukon. It is the largest city in the province with a population of 19,000. Its a low rise city with no buildings over 4 stories high. The city is on the side of the River Yukon, overlooked by snow capped mountains. Whitehorse
grew out of the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898. The city started as a tent city. The stampeders of '98 had to stop in Whitehorse after
finding their way around the treacherous waters of the Miles Canyon and White Horse Rapids. But a dam built in 1958 has tamed the river. Whitehorse became an important transport hub to the gold fields near Dawson City. Until the 1950's hundreds of steamboats travelled downriver from Whitehorse to Dawson City. The Yukon River flows north from Whitehorse past Dawson City, through Alaska and drains into the Bearing Sea. The trip to Whitehorse was made easier in 1900 with the building of a railway from Skagway in Alaska. In fact the streets of down town Whitehorse were owned by the railway company until the 1950's. But the building of the Alaskan Highway killed the steamboats and the railway. The railway was closed in the 1980's but was later re-opened as a tourist attraction. The train only runs during the summer tourist high season. So, it was closed when I was in town. In fact, nearly all the tourist facilities were closed.
I had to spend nearly a week in Whitehorse. There was no bus to Alaska for a week. Normally the Alaska Direct bus runs 3 times a week but the driver
out of Whitehorse was on holiday -
so no bus!
Although most of the tourist facilities were closed there are spectacular trails around the city which I explored. The Chilkoot trail runs all the way to Skagway - I didn't go that far! Also the trails around Whitehorse link with the trans- Canadian Trail, which runs for 18,000 km's through every province of Canada.
Finally I caught the bus out of Whitehorse - a day long trip into Alaska.
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Stuart don't forget that Hebden Bridge is also the Lesbian capital of the UK, after all some of your readers might need to know this! On the serious side Canada looks great, the sort of place where it would be better to own a sea-plane than a car, just wher I'd like to live.
A great read
As usual it's a pleasure to follow your journey. We've (me and my girlfriend) have had a lot of use for your blogs about West Africa, all the way to Cameroon which we now have left behind us. Your pictures are getting better and better with the blogs too, keep up the good work. And say hi to White Fang and that wolf-dog in "Call of the Wild" from me, will you.
Seattle > Vancouver
Hi Stuart, it's the Irish girl you met at Boeing again. I departed Seattle on the same day as you and also headed to Vancouver that day. I got the morning Amtrak train. I'm curious to know how you travelled? Were we coincidentally on the same train? The views are meant to be stunning but the weather was pretty terrible that day!
Stuart Morgan Hurlbut
Seattle to Vancouver
Hi Ruthann, no I used the Greyhound bus - saving a few pennies! The weather was bad that day, so I didn't see much.