Quest for the right trail

Coming south from Dawson City the Yukon Quest route this year will often follow the old Overland Trail. The territorial government contracted the White Pass and Yukon Route to build the original winter road from Whitehorse to Dawson in 190.

Coming south from Dawson City the Yukon Quest route this year will often follow the old Overland Trail. The territorial government contracted the White Pass and Yukon Route to build the original winter road from Whitehorse to Dawson in 1902.

Workers cleared the 3.6-metre right of way by hand with axes and cross cut saws. It took only about six months for the 530-some-kilometre trail which crosses the Stewart, Pelly, Yukon and Takhini Rivers on the way south, to be readied for the first sleigh in November 1902.

But which Overland Trail is the right one? New mining camps, flooded trails and host of other reasons lead to a series of major trail route alterations in the nearly two decades that the WP&YR; operated it. Sections of the original 1902 trail, though, can still be found.

Up along the Pelly River on many a cold February night I have helped maintain a fire beside the trail while waiting for mushers to bring their teams into Stepping Stone, a popular stop on the Yukon Quest. Often you could hear just the faintest whisper of the sled runners on the snow before you saw the blueish light of the musher’s headlamp far down the dark tunnel of trees arching over the trail. At least on that portion of the Overland Trail the way is still clear, making it easy for the teams to stay on course.

Regrettably no clear trail marks our quest to find our way a just, environmentally sustainable future. Competing ideologies, cultural perspectives, traditions, corporate interests and an array of other factors all bolstered by self interest, contradictory statistics or deeply held beliefs confound our ability to find the trail forward. Maybe the fact has to be acknowledged that there just is no one, single path. Maybe we have to come to the realization that our common goal will have to accommodate many different approaches at the same time.

Can we let what may appear to be fundamental divides weaken our quest for commonly held goals? How can we learn to really listen to others concerns and challenges to our strongly held points of view? We somehow must if a way forward is to be found.

In 2008 two Latin American countries, Bolivia and Ecuador, adopted new constitutions. Wracked by the fundamental failure of the dominant global economic system to provide for their people’s needs and protect the environment, leaders there sought out new frameworks. Andean ancestral beliefs rooted their models of the societies they hope to build.

According to Margot Bremer, writing in the 2010 Latin American Agenda (, “the two constitutions stipulate the following fundamental principles: To live together respectfully with nature and relate to it as a living being; To search for a sustainable way of living together with balanced relationships between people and nature; To respect and protect the earth, rationally using renewable resources and, since these are limited, rejecting what is superfluous, seeking out what is essential for a decent living for all; and an integrating perspective in the face of the complexity and diversity of life.”

Fundamental principles like these can serve to keep us heading towards our common goal no matter what trail we choose to follow.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact

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