A man carrying a giant cardboard box is awkwardly making his way down the basement stairs of the newly opened Lead Dog Backpacker’s Inn. “Do you need a hand with that?” says Mike Tribes, one of the hostel’s co-owners.
“Not anymore,” says the tenant, standing the box upright on the floor while he catches his breath.
The box contains a closet. The two week-old hostel is still putting its furniture into place.
“Maurice does some work around here for us, and we’ll give him a break on rent,” said Tribes. “But we haven’t negotiated that though, eh?”
“It’s slave labour, I tell you,” says Maurice with a grin. “Ten cents an hour ain’t worth it.”
Maurice likely wouldn’t say the same thing about having a roof over his head. The Yukon – with the closure of one hostel and two hotels in the last few years – is teaming with visitors, said Tribes.
“There is a demand,” he said.
Before opening, Tribes and his business partner Marie-Pierre Leblanc-Demers consulted with the only other hostel in Whitehorse, the Beez Kneez Backpackers, who overwhelmingly supported the idea of a competitor.
“The Beez Kneez are sending their overflow to us right now,” said Tribes. “They’re turning people away every day and they feel bad turning people away.”
“The first time I talked to them about opening another hostel, they were very happy about that,” said Leblanc-Demers. “There’s a need for it.”
The Hide on Jeckell Guesthouse closed last year to make way for a youth shelter. And the closures of both the Taku and Pioneer hotels have further tightened visitors’ access to affordable rooms.
“(The hotels) had low-end cheap rent rooms in the basement and those are both gone,” said Tribes.
When the Lead Dog opened September 6, only one of the hostel’s eight spaces was vacant. And the place has been packed since.
Tribes bought the property that now houses the Lead Dog Inn two years ago to use it as a rental space. It’s a 1960s-built two-floor home at the corner of 5th Avenue and Lowe.
The walls are still pretty sparse. There are two four-bed dormrooms and two private rooms. Long-term guests are allowed to stay in the basement, which has its own kitchen and features games and puzzles.
The rooms are named after sled-dog breeds – malamute, husky, laika and samoyed.
Despite room for more than a dozen tenants, the hostel can only harbour eight people a night due to fire regulations. Any more would require a sprinkler system.
And due to its tiny size, Hostelling International wouldn’t include it on its global roster of recommended hostels. It only allows hostels with 25-person or more capacity to join its ranks. In the Yukon, only Dawson City’s Yukon River Hostel is registered with the UK-based hostelling association.
That hasn’t stopped Tribes from creating his own network. He’s reached out to a hostel in Victoria and the owners have agreed to promote each other’s services.
And in the true spirit of goodwill shared by hostellers, the owners of the Beez Kneez Backpackers are going to send any excess visitors down the road to the Lead Dog.
“Mostly is just people who show up,” said Tribes.
Tribes is a computer consultant by day and Leblanc-Demers works in book keeping. They met while working on an adventure race and this is their first business partnership together.
“I travelled the world, and I’ve always used backpackers, as they’re called elsewhere, and I always had in the back of my mind the idea of running a hostel,” said Tribes.
He remembers fondly a trip along the south coast of South Africa.
“It was a really homey place, they had a little restaurant bar in there and beautiful location right on the ocean,” he said.
Leblanc-Demers has done the same and wanted to run a hostel for a long time.
“It’s a good thing to have cheap places for travel,” she said.
Contact James Munson at firstname.lastname@example.org