If you’re looking for Anto Yukon soap, you could hit up the closest Holt Renfrew, but that’s a 1,900-kilometre trip.
Rather than go all that way, only to have to dig past the Gucci purses and Chanel coats to get your hands on a bar of Kluane soap — complete with glacial silt gathered near the national park — you could just drive to Carcross.
That’s where Anto soap maker Kym Rempel runs Whoa Bear!, a micro storefront that sells her soap alongside work from a variety of artists from across Canada.
Born in Manitoba, Rempel didn’t move to the Yukon to open a store in Carcross Commons. She landed here by chance, and maybe a bit of teenage rebellion.
Growing up, Rempel’s family moved around a lot, including, much to her chagrin, to Ontario while she was in high school.
“The month I graduated I took the Greyhound bus as far from Ontario as it would go and that was the Yukon,” she says. “It was great. I fell in love with it.”
She bounced back and forth between the Yukon and other places before moving here permanently in 2009.
With a background in resource management and GIS mapping, she worked in government for a while. She started making soap on the side in 2013, and eventually decided to focus on creative work full-time.
She says one of her “made-it” moments was when Holt Renfrew contacted her about a wholesale order of her soap. Rempel thought it was a joke, but the high-end department store chain had found her through Instagram.
That’s where a lot of her suppliers find her, Rempel says. Now she stocks dozens of shops across Canada, in the U.S., and online.
Rempel decided to open her own bricks-and-mortar shop two years ago. Making soap is a solitary, studio-based practice, and Rempel wanted a social outlet as well.
In the summer of 2017, she ran the store under the name Anto Yukon.
Because she was also carrying goods from other artists, she changed the name this year to Whoa Bear! — a nod to the Parks Canada video Staying Safe in Bear Country. “Not as many people get it as I thought would,” she says.
Rempel opened for the season on May 4. She says foot traffic at the store is funny. In the summer, tourists travel by bus from cruise ships, descend on Carcross Commons in 15-minute bursts, and disappear.
There’s also a local market made up of people on day trips or showing family around the territory.
“In a way I’m trying to cater to both I feel,” she says. “In Yukon, I feel like when I go places and go into some shops, there’s a lot of them that are catering to more that kind of cruise ship vibe.”
Rempel says she wants to offer interesting Yukon souvenirs for tourists alongside the kinds of things locals might be looking for day-to-day.
Her soaps sell well, partly because of their $10 cost. They’re also an easy sell for locals (everybody bathes, after all) and for tourists because most are made with local ingredients.
Fox Lake soap includes fireweed, which has covered the Fox Lake landscape since a 1998 forest fire. Dawson City soap is blackened with activated charcoal and split by a vein of gold mica. Log Cabin is scented with pine and fir, and contains coffee grounds for exfoliation.
Rempel makes 16 scents altogether. It’s a lot, she says, especially considering the work. Each batch of soap takes only a couple hours to make, but then there are the hours of curing and cutting. It takes four weeks before the soap can be wrapped. Rempel does this by hand, in packaging she designed herself after licensing images from Yukon-born painter Megan Hildebrand.
If there’s a unifying theme to the rest of the work Rempel sells, it’s that she likes all of it. It’s also all-Canadian, and it’s all made in small batches, by individual artists.
“Basically everybody I’m ordering from is the maker of the product,” she says.
There’s pottery from Yukon’s Astrid Cruz and Toronto’s Shayna Stevenson. There’s lasercut wood jewellery from Vancouver-based Moonshine Dreams, and concrete earrings from Winnipeg’s Dconstruct.
Though Rempel has been open since May 4 (closed Mondays and Tuesdays), her grand opening is in two weeks. She says that’s when all the shops and services in the Commons are supposed to be open.
For a complete list of shops, amenities and hours, visit destinationcarcross.ca/shop
Contact Amy Kenny at firstname.lastname@example.org