The Original Inhabitants
Over 20,000 years ago, the Yukon's original people inhabited an area near what is now known as Old Crow. It is believed that they migrated across a land bridge from Asia in what must have been a long and difficult journey of endurance and dedication.
These people came in search of food. In the Yukon they hunted wooly mammoths, bison, horses and caribou. They survived and thrived in the Yukon's unforgiving climate. Over time, the ancestors of Yukon's First Nations people established permanent settlements, some of which remain today as modern-day towns.
The culture of Yukon's First Nations people evolved over millennia into the rich tapestry of dialects, arts, crafts, cuisines, and practices that we still enjoy today.
It wasn't until the 18th century that Yukon's First Nations people met with visitors from other parts of the world. That's when Russian explorers arrived in search of furs and other resources. The fur trade developed as explorers from Europe, such as Alexander Mackenzie and Sir John Franklin, arrived.
The First Modern Economy
First Nations people traded furs for tobacco, guns, and other goods. This new economy was incorporated into their traditional semi-nomadic lifestyle. During the mid 1800s, the Hudson's Bay Company established posts throughout the Yukon, but the company's presence was not always welcomed by the Yukon's original inhabitants.
European explorers also brought new ideas of spirituality to Yukon's First Nations people in the form of Christianity. Missionaries established themselves in several communities, such as Fort Yukon, Rampart House, and Fort MacPherson.
A Modern Legend: The Yukon Gold Rush
In 1896, three prospectors struck it rich in the Yukon. George Carmack, Skookum Jim, and Dawson Charlie found a rich deposit of gold in Bonanza Creek. This discovery inspired thousands of would-be prospectors to head north and turned Dawson City into the largest city west of Winnipeg by the turn of the century. It was during this time, in 1898, that the Yukon earned its current political status.
When the Gold Rush ended in 1903 more than 95 million dollars had been extracted from the Yukon's rivers. Though most of the gold is gone, some Yukoners continue to make a living as placer miners today.
Easy Access: The Alaska Highway
Most prospectors who headed north to the Gold Rush had to make an arduous trek up the Chilkoot Trail carrying a ton of supplies on their backs. Thanks to a massive construction project that began in 1942, it's now much easier to access the Yukon by land.
More than 30,000 US Army personnel were involved in the construction of the Alaska Highway, which was built to transport war supplies. This road stretches over 2,230 kilometres from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, to Fairbanks, Alaska.
The Alaska Highway forever changed the culture, economy, and political system of the Yukon. First Nations people drifted away from their traditional riverside communities to the highway. Boats and trains were replaced by the more efficient road system. Whitehorse grew to become the largest town in the Yukon, eventually becoming the capital city in 1953.
The Yukon today strikes a balance between the conveniences of modern living and the beauty of a pure and natural environment. The territory's heart is made of the Klondike Gold Rush's bounty, and it beats like a traditional First Nations drum. Throughout the Yukon's history, visitors have been welcomed with open arms and that's no different today.