A recent business trip took me to Sweden, where I had a chance to see firsthand why all the best travel guides refer to Stockholm as “the Whitehorse of Scandinavia.”
The two cities have many similarities. Both are winter-loving capital cities North of 60, and are the centres of their respective spheres of influence.
However, despite the superficial similarities, even the most patriotic Swedes will have to admit Stockholm is no Whitehorse.
You can’t ski home from work like you can in Whitehorse (or even Oslo).
Instead of a dynamic river coursing through the middle of town, all the Swedes have is the boring old Baltic Sea.
The Swedish word for mountain appears to be “hill,” severely limiting the mountain biking action.
And no northern capital can truly be top shelf unless you can downhill ski within 15 minutes of the city centre, like in Whitehorse.
Despite its flaws, though, Stockholm has a few things going for it. Maybe even a few things Whitehorse could learn from.
First, Stockholm also has a very pleasant downtown core to pass a winter afternoon. In Kungstradgarden, a park at Stockholm’s equivalent of Second and Main, children skate outdoors on a Wednesday afternoon. Cafes abound, with stylish Swedes enjoying strong coffee and an astonishing array of tasty pastries. Encouraging pedestrian traffic downtown makes the city lively and enjoyable, especially when the city is oriented towards the water. Hopefully Whitehorse’s new waterfront centre will bring more people back to the river, and in the winter Baked Cafe can swap out its gelato bar for warm Swedish blabarsrulltarta.
Part of the downtown appeal is the shopping. Nordiska Kompaniet, their version of Hougen’s, is a lovely old department store just up the street from the skating rink. While NK, as it is known, shockingly does not stock cross-country ski gear (unlike Hougen’s) it does have heated sidewalks. Hougen’s should get on this.
Downtown Stockholm also has some lovely museums. Similar to how Yukon tourism marketers sometimes seem slightly embarrassed about the Klondike Gold Rush, Swedes cringe when foreigners ask about the Vikings. I barged into a museum demanding to see a Viking ship, and they fobbed me off with the Vasa, a 17th-century royal man-of-war painstakingly raised and preserved in the 1960s. Very nice in its own way, but there’s no hiding that it is less than 500 years old. Fortunately we have the MacBride Museum, which does a very nice job covering the gold rush, a topic you need to cover to really understand Whitehorse’s history.
In a similar vein, it seems very strange that Stockholm doesn’t have an Abba museum. But I suppose Whitehorse doesn’t have a Hank Karr museum yet, either.
Another good thing about Stockholm is that local food is widely available in the restaurants. After an arduous meeting, I enjoyed a plate of Reindeer Rydberg in a cozy restaurant in Gamla Stan, the old town. Legend has it that if you slip the waiter 100 krona, he will slip a maraschino cherry on the side of a foreigner’s plate (cue the jokes about “Rudolph’s nose”). Lingonberry sauce and other Swedish specialties are widely available. In Whitehorse, a summer highlight is enjoying an elk burger at the farmer’s market and our local restaurants offer halibut, wild salmon and game. We should all follow the Swedish example and order local food more often.
Stockholm also has an ice bar, where the bar, seats and even glasses are made of ice. Given how much ice we have in the Yukon, this seems like a no-brainer for us too. The Stockholm one is sponsored by Absolut, but the idea could easily be copied by a Yukon distillery.
Then there is the monarchy, with the kings mostly named “Gustaf” to keep it easy for foreigners. King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia smile benignly from airport welcome posters to hotel front desks. Tourists love the palaces and statues, and last summer’s royal wedding between the crown princess and her personal trainer was a highlight of the season. Perhaps the Yukon Department of Tourism should do some focus groups to see if we would attract more visitors with a King. And given how Premier Dennis Fentie has clearly tired of any oversight by cabinet or the legislature, I am sure he would be happy to oblige. In fact, with this fall’s tedious election coming up he may already have a plan in place.
Tourism should also focus-group whether he should change his name to Gustaf, since, to be honest, “King Dennis” sounds silly.
Keith Halliday is a Yukon economist and author of the Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels.