Carcross at the crossroads

Change is underfoot in Carcross, and the community's rich history is providing the foundation for many exciting projects.

Change is underfoot in Carcross, and the community’s rich history is providing the foundation for many exciting projects.

From Carcross/Tagish First Nation traditions to the Chilkoot Trail to the many historic buildings, heritage themes dominate the area’s attractions and assets. Add in Carcross’ spectacular backdrop and natural riches, and it’s a unique combination of features with definite destination potential.

It wasn’t that long ago that Carcross was an ice-cream-and-pit-stop that saw few benefits from thousands of visitors passing through.

“The challenge was how to encourage people to stay more than 20 minutes,” says Ed Krahn, Carcross co-ordinator for the Yukon government. “It’s probably one of the highest visitation communities in the territory, but they weren’t staying very long.”

In response, residents have been working together to revitalize the community, working with the Yukon government on a Downtown Core Plan, a set of initiatives and land-use specifications that govern things like waterfront development and the protection of the cultural landscape and heritage resources, such as the Caribou Hotel.

One of the oldest buildings in the Southern Lakes and one of the last historic three-storey frame buildings in the Yukon, the Caribou Hotel was designated a Yukon Historic Site last year. The building is a central feature in Carcross, and thanks to its new owners Anne Morgan and Jamie Toole, is in the midst of receiving some major restoration work.

Other valued historic resources include the dozens of modest historic homes that still line Bennett Avenue and Waterfront Drive. These were once the residences of many of Carcross’ major figures, including Skookum Jim whose house was built in 1899 just after his Bonanza Creek gold discovery, outfitter and guide Johnny Johns and mine owner John Howard Conrad.

Another community priority is to tell First Nation stories from their perspective. Carcross/Tagish First Nation is tapping into local talent to stage cultural performances, developing retail for arts and crafts and constructing a timber frame gazebo for special events. The community is also abuzz about a new carving facility where celebrated Tlingit carver Keith Wolf Smarch will be leading demonstrations and training throughout the summer.

“The improvements and changes are extensive,” notes Krahn, listing additional projects that are changing the face of Carcross. “The community is engaged in planning, and they’re developing bylaws and zoning. They’re maintaining the historic landscape and creating walking tours. White Pass now has the ability to do point-to-point service so you can stop and explore, and Parks Canada is looking at new ways for people to experience the Chilkoot Trail.”

Local Advisory Council member and visitor information centre employee Daphne Mennell has watched significant changes unfold in Carcross in recent years and is excited that the town is beginning to get some recognition.

“We have world-class bike trails on Montana Mountain that have been written up in biking magazines,” says Mennell. “They’re getting a lot of notice. The word is that someone with a Lear jet came into Whitehorse, brought his bike out to Carcross, and said they’re the best trails he’d ever been on!”

While some changes in the Downtown Core Plan—like realigning the entrance to Carcross—are more cosmetic, projects like carving demonstrations and renovating the SS Tutshi celebrate the special stories and history of the area.

Long a diamond-in-the-rough, Carcross is beginning to shine as its cultural, heritage and natural assets become the underpinnings of the community’s economic revival.

For more information on Yukon’s historic places, please go to www.yukonhistoricplaces.ca.

This article is part of a series produced by the Yukon Department of Tourism and Culture with the support of the Government of Canada,

Historic Places Initiative.

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