It was a bizarre 18-year episode, but at least it’s over.
Two weeks ago, high mucketymucks at the Yukon government quietly released a new style guide admitting that, yes, we all call it “the Yukon.”
Kudos to NDP leader Kate White for putting this on the agenda during the last election.
If Yukon government leaders were looking for a way to seem elitist and out of touch, trying to change what we call the place we live to make it sound more like a province would be it.
The next semantic battle is over what to call the territorial government. The approved acronym is YG for Yukon Government.
It used to be YTG for Yukon Territorial Government, but we seem to be embarrassed about our territorial status. Since YQPG for Yukon Quasi-Provincial Government was too silly, they just went for YG. This is a relatively rare acronym and doesn’t cause much confusion. Few people confuse the Yukon government with “Young Gangstas” on social media, or use the Yottagram (yg) unit of weight (it’s a billion billion tonnes in case you’re asking).
YG is functional and not inaccurate, but sounds ugly and is boring. And it violates the TLA rule; that is, Three Letter Acronyms sound best. Can the NHL, NBA, CFL, NDP, CIA, NBC and BMW all be wrong?
The Russians often use syllable acronyms. Komsomol, for example, was the short form for the Communist youth league. This was drawn from the first syllable of each word in its official name, Kommunisticheskiy Soyuz Molodyozhi.
This would give the Yukon Territorial Government the moniker Yukterrgov. This is so ugly sounding it would be a lot of fun and would add to our diminishing Colourful Five Percent brand. You could say things like “I’m not sure how the feds will react to Yukterrgov’s new negotiating gambit” or “you can plug your block heater in free at Yukterrgov parking lots.”
GY for Government of the Yukon doesn’t work. Not only is it a Two Letter Acronym, but GY is also short for Gray, one of the units used when prescribing ionizing radiation to cancer victims.
So I suggest going back to YTG. This is a time honoured classic and has three letters. Furthermore, it allows us to keep using the old joke about the guy who came to the Yukon to get a cushy job but couldn’t find “Whitey Gee” in the phone book.
It would also be wonderful if the Department of Highways would have some fun and make their next order of pickups in the classic orange-and-black colour scheme. Air Canada painted one of its jets in its 1950s livery and no brand managers had heart attacks.
There’s also the question of how to keep Cheechakoes on their toes. The way you refer to things around the Yukon gives subtle clues as to how long you’ve lived here.
If you call the territory “Yukon,” refer to the Alaska Highway as “Highway 1” and ask for directions to NVD Place, you are probably wearing a Canada Goose parka you bought in Toronto without any duct tape on it and have Cheechako tattooed on your forehead. Everyone else calls NVD Place the “old Canadian Tire building,” including the Contact Us webpages of some of the businesses that operate there.
The hotel located at Second and Steele is like a layered palimpsest. Do you call it the Westmark or the Sheffield? Do you ask people to meet you at the Travelodge for coffee and then wonder when they don’t show up? Ditto for the YWCA and Klondike Inn, now known as the High Country and Days Inn respectively.
You’ll let people know you’ve been here 50 years or more by referring to Horwood’s Mall at Front and Main as the T&D building.
It’s also important to call the road going to Mayo the “Mayo Road.” Don’t get distracted by its later extension to Dawson City and rebranding as the Klondike Highway.
If you really want to show you’re in touch, your next trip to Dawson is your opportunity. You have to say you’re going “down” to Dawson, as do all the folks who grew up when the river was the main mode of travel to Fort Selkirk and the former capital.
Saying you’re going “up” to Dawson tells everyone you’ve been captured by the routine mapping convention that puts North at the top. Because Dawson is downriver from Whitehorse, it is also lower in elevation so you are also driving downhill.
While the battle of “the Yukon” has been won, the forces of homogenizing modernity have not gone away. What will they go after next? Perhaps the goldminer on our license plates, or the 1980s-era dot-matrix printers that produce the stickers for our health cards. Just keep telling your friends to meet you for a beer at the YWCA to plan your trip down to Dawson on the Mayo Road.
Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the MacBride Museum’s Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels. He is a Ma Murray award-winner for best columnist and received the bronze for Outstanding Columnist in the 2019 Canadian Community Newspaper Awards.