Getting down to the true Caribou

These days, you can hear the Caribou Hotel before you can see it. From the moment you pull into Carcross, there is a serenade of clangs and buzzes and whirrs.

These days, you can hear the Caribou Hotel before you can see it.

From the moment you pull into Carcross, there is a serenade of clangs and buzzes and whirrs.

They’re happy sounds and telltale signs that this once-popular gathering place and designated Yukon Historic Site is receiving some long overdue TLC.

At the centre of the Caribou Hotel’s renovation is owner Jamie Toole; he and his partner, Anne Morgan, are hoping to bring some luster back to the three-storey, wood-frame building in the form of a 10-room hotel and pub.

This version of the hotel (the first one, once owned by Dawson Charlie, burned down in 1909) dates back to 1910, making it one of Yukon’s oldest, continuously operating food and lodging establishments.

With assistance from the Yukon government’s Historic Properties Assistance program to fund a portion of the work to date, the couple is now in their third season of renovations. Toole admits that it has been a long haul with the toughest day being the very first.

“I was ripping off parts of the building and there were some that were really rotted out and lumpy and bumpy,” he says. “I just wondered what the heck I was getting into.”

What Toole and Morgan were getting into was the rescue of a historic building that would require some major surgery, including a new roof, a new kitchen and back wall, and a completely new foundation.

“The building was literally sitting on the dirt,” Toole says. “If we didn’t do this renovation, I think it would be on the ground already.”

The first step for Toole and crew was to strip the building down to the bare essentials, getting it down to a cool 36,287 kilograms and enabling them to lift it and pour the new foundation.

They also set to work on bulking up the walls, adding five centimetres to the studs and insulation where previously there was none. Oddly enough, Toole figures that the fact that there was no insulation also contributed to saving the building from premature collapse.

“Insulation in the day would have probably meant sawdust. That sawdust would have retained moisture from driving rain through the cracks and whatnot.”

Recently, the crew completed the re-siding of the outdoor walls, making their pre-paint state an interesting patchwork of old and new. Toole was able to salvage about 40 per cent of the original siding and had the rest replicated.

Some of the other structural materials that will be reused in the building include the original fir flooring, the staircase, plenty of wood boards that all bear the name of William Simpson, the contractor who built the place, and even some of the original nails.

“It’s been a challenge trying to remain original, but it’s all quite doable. You just have to be patient.”

Toole also hopes to showcase many of the treasures he found over the course of the renovations. Items like old liquor bottles, medicine bottles and old newspapers, including an issue of the Toronto Star Weekly with a headline about the sinking of the Lusitania, will be on display. Some original claw-foot tubs, a nearly two-metre portion of the old bar, and the piano will also make their reappearance.

And what’s the target opening date? Toole says that they’re hoping for some time in late 2010 although he admits that that may be a tad optimistic.

“This building, to the best of our knowledge, was turned over to Bessie Gideon on October 8, 1910. I don’t think we’ll be finished (on the anniversary) because we have some major expenses to incur yet, but we’ll be definitely close and we’ll have a 100-year celebration on the main floor.”

Of course finishing the renovations on the hotel is just beginning. When the doors finally open, there will be a hotel and pub to manage. Toole says with a smile that he has that all figured out already.

“I’ll build it; Anne can run it.”

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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