Clinic Stories

The End of the Earth - Part 2

Some Yukon Dirt

More on Dr. Morris's Yukon River Trip

Yukon Territory covers 186,000 square miles East of Alaska. In an area the combined size of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio & Indiana there are 36,000 people. The capital, Whitehorse, has 25,000 with the remaining 11,000 living in about 16 communities ranging from 48 to 1,300 people. Outside of Whitehorse that amounts to one person per 17 square miles. New Jersey has 1025 people per square mile. About 20% of the population is native, known as First Nations. This is desolate country, a land of swamp spruce and permafrost.

Yukon is most famous for the gold rush of 1898 when 100,000 people scrambled Northward to Dawson City. Of those 30,000 made it, swelling the population of Dawson to 40,000. With all of the good claims already taken, the population fell to 8,000 a year later. Today it is the second largest settlement in the Yukon with 1300 people. Much more gold was mined after the gold rush than during and gold mining continues today in the region.

Yukon has the highest peak in Canada and the second highest in North America – Mount Logan at 19,551 feet. The territory straddles the Arctic Circle so Summers are 24 hours of light. Yukon has no official motto but the tourism motto is Larger Than Life. Unless you have a satellite connection there is no radio or cell phone reception outside of Whitehorse, Dawson and Carmacks.

When FDR became president of the US in 1936 he wanted to partner with Canada to build a highway between mainland US and Alaska to counter Japanese threats. The Canadian Prime Minister declined as the highway would benefit only a few thousand Canadians. After Pearl Harbor resistance melted and the US Army built the 2000 mile Alaska Highway in eight months, a feat celebrated by Yukoners to this day. The command center was Whitehorse at the head of the 2500 mile long Yukon River and Whitehorse replaced Dawson as the territory capital.

The Yukon is largely a void and from the days of the gold rush until today, mental breakdown remains a leading cause of death. Survival experts say that people who get lost die not from starvation, exposure or trauma but loss of their senses. During the gold rush the Canadian Mounties listed Madness as a leading cause of death. The Yukon remains a frontier with native villages and mining camps, and life is a challenge.

Next – Into the Storm

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