I’ve spent hours poring over vivid accounts of Keno Hill’s glory days, watched the northern lights dance across Watson Lake’s fabricated sky, and imagining myself driving across Teslin’s ice-packed lake in George Johnson’s classic Chevrolet sedan.
Accounts of the Klondike Gold Rush and its wild-eyed prospectors are some of the most compelling tales in recent history.
But stories from the Yukon’s past tap a richer vein beyond the well-know lore.
And like most good things you have to dig (and drive) a little bit to find them.
So dig (and drive) I did.
Thanks to the Yukon’s department of Tourism and Culture (and my almost fanatical love of games and contests), my three summer months were spent travelling around the territory mining for my own chunk of gold.
Both literally and figuratively.
The Yukon Gold Passport Program, which has been going on since the late ‘80s, challenges locals and tourists alike to visit 13 Yukon museums and collect colourful stamps from each in a readymade passport.
The stamps must be collected between June 1st and August 31st.
After collecting them all, or half, or one, you flash it around at museum staff, get a poster to take home and put your name in a draw for prizes.
The top prize — five troy ounces of gold.
That’s worth about $3,500 depending on the exchange rates of the day.
Each year Tourism and Culture prints 30,000 passports and garners several thousand entries, according to museums manager Ed Krahn.
There are museums in Keno, Mayo, Dawson, Faro, Burwash Landing, Teslin, Watson Lake and six in Whitehorse.
All of the trips can be accomplished with a couple tanks of gas and a few free days to take it all in.
So two-and-a-half months and 13 museums later, I know that Whitehorse Copper isn’t just a new subdivision. I know that the lynx has funny tufts of hair protruding from the tips of its ears and I know how to identify silver galena.
Beyond the natural and cultural history lessons, I’ve discovered gems in the Yukon’s communities along the way.
I sang campfire songs at a late night ‘kitchen party’ in Faro, hiked through the abandoned mining camps near Keno, and set my tent against the strong breezes coming off of Kluane Lake.
As the saying goes — sometimes you only realize how nice your hometown is when you start showing it to a visitor.
For me, it took the challenge of the Passport contest to make me climb in the car and discover the territory’s past and present. (LC)