pronounced YOO kahn, is a region in northwest Canada. It is part of a vast subarctic
region, with long, cold winters and short, cool summers. The Yukon Territory is sparsely
populated due to its harsh climate and rugged terrain. The territory has rich mineral
deposits and magnificent scenery. Many prospectors hurried to the territory during the
Klondike Gold Rush in 1897 and 1898. Today, mining remains the most important industry.
Tourism and government are also important.
The Yukon is one of Canada's two political units called territories. The other is the
Northwest Territories. Whitehorse is the Yukon's capital and largest city.
The land and its resources
Location, size, and description. The Yukon Territory covers 186,661 square miles (483,450
square kilometers) in the shape of a rough triangle. The base rests on the border of
British Columbia, and the peak on the Arctic Ocean. Alaska lies to the west of the
territory, and the Northwest Territories lies to the east.
Ranges of the largest mountain system of North America almost entirely cover the Yukon.
The Rockies form part of this system but spread out into smaller chains in the southeast,
near the Liard River. The highest peaks rise in the Saint Elias Mountains in the
southwest. Mount Logan (19,524 feet, or 5,951 meters), in this range, is the highest point
The territory derives its name from the Yukon River. The word Yukon probably had its
origin in the Kutchin Indian word Youcon (greatest or big river). The Yukon River drains
more than half of the territory. Most of the rest is drained into the Mackenzie River
through the Peel and Liard river systems.
Natural resources. The territory has large deposits of asbestos, coal, copper, gold, lead,
nickel, silver, and zinc. Valuable forests of white spruce cover much of the land. Other
trees include birch, fir, pine, and poplar.
Varieties of numerous fur-bearing animals live in the Yukon Territory. Animals of the
region include bear, caribou, Dall's sheep, elk, moose, and mountain goats. Among the game
birds are grouse, ptarmigan, and waterfowl. Rare gyrfalcons and peregrine falcons also
live in the Yukon Territory. Grayling, northern pike, lake and rainbow trout, salmon, and
whitefish swim in the territory's streams and lakes.
Climate. The Yukon Territory has cold winters and cool summers. Average January
temperatures are -2 °F (-19 °C) at Whitehorse and -16 °F (-27 °C) at Dawson. The
coldest temperature ever recorded in the territory was -81 °F (-63 °C), at Snag Airport
near the Alaska border on Feb. 3, 1947. Summer temperatures average from 50 °F (10 °C)
in the north to 60 °F (16 °C) in the south. The territory's record high temperature, 97
°F (36 °C), occurred in Mayo on June 14, 1969. Annual snowfall varies from 28 inches (70
centimeters) in the north to more than 79 inches (200 centimeters) in the south. Rainfall
averages from 4 to 10 inches (9 to 26 centimeters) per year.
The 1996 census reported that the Yukon Territory had 30,766 people. Most Yukoners have
some British ancestry. There are about 3,500 North American Indians. Another 2,300 people
have some American Indian ancestry. Almost all the people speak English. French is the
native language of about 600 Yukoners. Tlingit, an Indian language, is spoken in some of
About two-thirds of the territory's people live in Whitehorse, the capital. Other Yukon
communities include Dawson, Watson Lake, Faro, Ross River, and Haines Junction.
Most people live in modern houses. Electric heaters, oil, and wood are used to heat
houses. The burning of wood has caused air pollution problems in some suburbs of
Whitehorse. Daily airline and trucking services bring perishable foods and other goods to
Service industries contribute more to the economy of the Yukon Territory than any other
economic activity. Important community, business, and personal services in the territory
include health care, education, and the operation of restaurants and hotels. Government
services employ many people. Other service industries include transportation and
communication; wholesale and retail trade; finance, insurance, and real estate; and
utilities. Information on transportation and communication appears later in this section.
Every year, more than 400,000 people travel across the Yukon on the Alaska Highway. The
Yukon section is regarded by many to be the most scenic part of the highway. Tourists also
visit the Yukon to see scenes of the Klondike Gold Rush. Dawson has preserved many
landmarks of that era. Many visitors to the Yukon Territory have read the works of the
poet Robert William Service, who wrote his first famous works in Whitehorse. Tourist
attractions in Whitehorse include the MacBride Museum and the S.S. Klondike, an old Yukon
paddlewheeler. Kluane National Park lies in southwestern Yukon. Northern Yukon National
Park lies at the northern tip of the territory. Spending by tourists contributes heavily
to the service industries.
Mining. The Yukon Territory's mining industry is based almost entirely on the production
of metal ores. The value of Yukon mineral production often varies greatly from year to
year because the price of metal ores is unstable. When the value of a particular metal is
low, mines that produce that type of ore may close. But when metal prices rise, many of
these mines reopen.
Zinc provides the most income for the Yukon's mining industry. A large zinc mine operates
at Faro. Other leading mineral products include gold, lead, and silver.
Agriculture. Because of the short summer, most farmers plant only quick-growing
vegetables. Several farmers have market gardens, and others grow hay. Excellent vegetables
are grown in greenhouses during the long hours of sun in the spring and summer.
Manufacturing. The Yukon has several small manufacturing industries. Goods manufactured
there have a value added by manufacture of about $12 million a year. This figure
represents the increase in value of raw materials after they become finished products. The
region's leading manufactured products are printed materials, fabricated metal products,
and processed foods, especially fish. Other industries in the Yukon make chemicals,
eyeglass lenses, jewelry, wood products, and Indian-style winter coats called Yukon
Fishing industry. A small amount of commercial fishing for salmon takes place mainly on
the Yukon and Alsek river systems. Whitefish and trout are caught in Lake Laberge and
Fur industry. Some people of the Yukon make a living as trappers. The chief animals
trapped are beavers, lynxes, martens, muskrats, and wolverines.
Transportation and communication. Three airlines connect the Yukon Territory with Alaska,
Alberta, British Columbia, and the Northwest Territories. The Alaska Highway extends for
about 600 miles (970 kilometers) through the Yukon. The 450-mile (725-kilometer) Dempster
Highway connects the Yukon with Inuvik in the Northwest Territories. Bus service provides
connections to cities in Alaska, Alberta, and British Columbia.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) has a radio station at Whitehorse. Automatic
relays transmit its programs to the entire territory. Two other radio stations also serve
Whitehorse. Live CBC television service reaches nearly all Yukon communities via
communications satellite. Many communities also have cable TV. Telephone service is
widespread. Two newspapers publish in Whitehorse.
Education and social services
Education. The territorial government maintains public and Roman Catholic schools. Most of
the population centers have elementary and junior high school programs (kindergarten
through grade 9). Senior high school programs (grades 10 through 12) are offered in
Carmacks, Dawson, Faro, Haines Junction, Mayo, Pelly Crossing, Watson Lake, and
Whitehorse. Yukon College, in Whitehorse, is the only school of higher education.
Social services. Resident doctors live in Dawson, Faro, Mayo, Watson Lake, and Whitehorse.
Resident dentists have offices in Whitehorse and visit other settlements periodically.
Dawson, Mayo, Watson Lake, and Whitehorse have hospitals. Other settlements are served by
The Canadian government appoints a commissioner to serve as honorary head of government
for the Yukon Territory. The commissioner acts on recommendations from an Executive
Council (cabinet), whose members direct government departments. A government leader
presides over the council and is the actual head of the territorial government. The
government leader is a member of the territory's 17-member elected Yukon Legislative
Assembly and the leader of the majority political party. The Assembly is the territory's
lawmaking body. The territorial government deals with such regional matters as education,
public works, social services, and taxation. The people elect one representative to the
Canadian House of Commons. The territory is also represented by one member in the Canadian
Indians have lived in the Yukon area since prehistoric times. In the 1840's, Robert
Campbell, a British fur trader of the Hudson's Bay Company, became the first white person
to explore the Yukon region. Campbell built a trading post on the Pelly River at Fort
Selkirk in 1848. But Chilkat Indians looted and burned the post a short time later. The
Yukon area was a part of the company's fur-trading empire until 1870, when the company
began moving its operations to the Northwest Territories. The Yukon was made a district of
the Northwest Territories in 1895. In 1898, it became a separate territory.
On Aug. 17, 1896, George W. Carmack and his Indian friends Skookum Jim and Tagish Charlie
made a gold strike on Bonanza Creek. This led to the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897 and 1898.
The creek is a tributary of the Klondike River, near the present site of Dawson. Thousands
of prospectors poured into the Yukon when news of the discovery reached the rest of the
world. Simple methods of hand mining produced $22,275,000 of gold in 1900. A fleet of gold
dredges soon began digging gold. Dredges still dig gold from the deposits.
The miners in the Yukon were often rough and unruly. At the beginning of the gold rush, a
detachment of the North-West Mounted Police entered the region to preserve order. The
influx of prospectors increased the Yukon's political importance. In 1898, the Yukon
became a territory, and Dawson became the capital.
At the height of the Klondike Gold Rush in 1898, an estimated 35,000 people lived in the
Yukon Territory. Records show that 7,080 boats passed down the Yukon River in 1898,
carrying 28,000 people. Approximately 5,000 people came to the territory by other routes.
After much of the surface ore had been exhausted, many prospectors left the Klondike area.
Whitehorse had railroad service. Because of this, it became the distributing point for the
territory and grew more rapidly than Dawson. Whitehorse became the capital in 1953.
In 1979, the federal government transferred authority over a number of local matters from
the commissioner to the elected council. These areas included education and taxation.
During the early 1980's, the economy declined, mostly due to low metal prices. But by the
end of the 1980's, the territory's economy had improved because of higher metal prices and
the addition of new businesses and new jobs.
For many years, Indians in the Yukon Territory have pushed for self-government and have
sought title to their traditional lands. In 1995, federal laws went into effect which
granted self-government to some Yukon Indians and settled their land claims.