The Caribou Hotel is the grand old lady of Carcross and the oldest operating hotel in the Yukon.
The original was built during the Klondike Gold Rush only to burn down a few years later. It was rebuilt in 1910.
The decades have been hard on her facade and the sagging structure, sloping floors and tired interior decor indelibly mark every year of her existence.
All this is about to change due to the efforts and enthusiasm of her new owners Jamie Toole, of Watson Lake, and Ann Morgan, of Whitehorse.
They acquired the hotel from the previous owner’s sister, who inherited it after Bob Olsen was murdered on Christmas Eve 2004.
Toole and Morgan are seeking official historical status for the hotel, so this entails keeping the exterior as much to the original as possible.
The interior changes must also follow the strictures of the era in which she was built, so the original wood floors, windows and moldings will be refinished to resemble the originals.
A great wooden staircase winds up to the upper floors and this will be kept and upgraded as well.
The duo discovered the original wooden bar hidden beneath a newer bar when they began the renovation. Final approval by the historical society as not yet been granted and the application process is arduous, said Toole.
However, the process is underway.
The renovation work began in this summer.
All of the furnishings have been removed and the inside has been gutted to prepare for framing this winter.
The foundation has been completed ahead of schedule and now she will no longer sag.
The upper two floors of the hotel originally had 10 rooms each, but will now have only six.
The projected date for opening is summer 2010.
The vision is to create a turn-of-the-century Yukon atmosphere for the hotel, said Toole.
They would like to serve authentic local food in the restaurant, including wild game.
The bar will become a cozy pub where customers can relax over a drink and feel the history that surrounds them.
The pub will only keep limited hours to accommodate guests and will close early each evening.
Toole and Morgan both bring different skills to the hotel.
Toole is a lifelong Watson Laker and has no intention of being involved in the day-to-day operation of the hotel.
He owns a construction company in Watson Lake and his role is to get the hotel back in shape.
Morgan is involved in getting the paperwork done for the historical society and she will be involved in the daily operation of the hotel once it is finished.
Carcross surpasses even Dawson City for the distinction of being the most visited town in the Yukon.
This is going to become even more pronounced with this summer’s announcement that White Pass intends to run four trains per week from Skagway to Carcross starting next year.
Until now, the trains have only run to Bennett or to Fraser where people are put on buses for the final leg to Carcross.
The work being done this summer to upgrade the tracks beyond Bennett into Carcross will translate into many more tourists visiting this scenic little town.
The history of Carcross is still evident in the many turn-of-the century buildings and log cabins lining her streets, but an often-heard refrain from tourists who do stop in Carcross is that there is no place to stay beyond a few B&Bs and the RV park.
With the restoration of the hotel, people will not only be able to stay and enjoy Carcross longer but will be able to experience Carcross surrounded by the ambience of a bygone era.