Canadian pickers find treasures in Yukon

Scott Cozens and Sheldon Smithens, hosts of the History Television show Canadian Pickers, spent a productive week in the Yukon recently, filming an episode for their upcoming third season.

Scott Cozens and Sheldon Smithens, hosts of the History Television show Canadian Pickers, spent a productive week in the Yukon recently, filming an episode for their upcoming third season.

Not only did they find some treasures, which is the premise of the show, they met interesting people, learned a lot about Yukon history and, frankly, had a great time, they said.

“It was a good trip for us. It was a good trip for a bunch of reasons,” said Cozens. “We wanted to come to the Yukon no matter what just because we haven’t been there yet and we’re trying to do all the provinces and territories in Canada. We got enough stuff to make it worthwhile for us. We got some really interesting things and some good sellable things.

“We got some traditional stuff that you’d expect to see, like snowshoes and stuff like that, but we also got some interesting things that, while indicative of the Yukon, are also commercially valuable everywhere else.”

“We had several people come up that said they know a guy with a barn full of stuff, or another guy down the road – a neighbour or relative,” said Smithens. “I’m going to be quite insistent that we come back because we had such a good time and made some really good TV. I’d like to come up for two episodes next time.”

The show’s journey into the Yukon was its first into any of Canada’s three territories. Going to the territories “presents a bit of a logistical problem,” said Smithens.

“It took a bit more time and there was probably a bit more expense to come up to the Yukon – the distances travelled and the way it worked out. Without a doubt it was well worth it. But I’d love to go to N.W.T. and Nunavut and see what we can find.”

The two pickers searched for treasures in Whitehorse, Dawson City, Marsh Lake and Tagish.

Drinking sourtoe cocktails in Dawson City, a famous, mouth-puckering drink containing a severed human toe, stands out in both pickers’ minds.

“I’d as soon forget it,” said Smithens. “If we can get involved with local stuff like that, that makes me happy. Although, let’s just say, I gagged.”

“He bit off more than he could chew, so to speak,” added Cozens.

While the sourtoe is a highlight of the trip, Dawsonites were a little less willing to open their garages, crawlspaces and barns for the pickers to poke through.

“Dawson City was a little bit tougher to buy in,” said Cozens. “It’s smaller obviously and I think people are a little more secretive up there than they are down here.

“They were happy to see us, but there weren’t a bunch of them jumping out and saying, ‘I have stuff for you to buy.’”

Cozens and Smithens both want to find treasures and possibly make a few bucks reselling them, but they mainly want to tell the history of the places they visit. That will come through well in the episode, they said.

Cozens and Smithens had to be tight-lipped about what they ended up picking. The show’s producers do, after all, want people to watch the Yukon episode. But the territory’s uniqueness is reflected by their finds.

“Things we found in the Yukon are quite different from things we find in the rest of Canada,” said Smithens. “That makes us happy. We saw really unusual things here.

“We tried to stay away from anything unique to the Yukon because we didn’t want to take it out of the territory.

“We got a lot of things associated with hunting, trapping and fishing.”

“I anticipate that that episode will be filled, in particular, with a lot of history on the Yukon,” said Cozens. “It’s always more about the place and the people than the stuff, but in this case it will be a good cross-section of stuff and people in good areas.”

Being a territory and not a province, the pickers hoped there’d be less red tape regarding the purchase of certain items, such as animal hides or prehistoric bones.

But the pickers learned the government restrictions are as stringent in the Yukon as anywhere else in Canada. And it didn’t help that practically everyone they spoke to had a different idea of the government regulations prohibiting the transportation of artifacts under the Historical Resources Act.

“You’ve also got that goofy legislation that nobody seems to be able to figure out, whether what can you buy, what can’t you buy, what do you need permits for,” said Cozens. “We’re up there talking to people about skulls – not recent ones, but prehistoric ones – tusks, and things. And one person is saying one thing and another person is saying another thing… We thought we had a pretty good handle on what we could and couldn’t do, but then we get told different things by everybody.

“It makes it difficult to buy stuff. For instance, if we saw a great grizzly-bear rug, we couldn’t buy it because you have to have a permit to buy something like that. We don’t know what we’re going to see, so we don’t have time to get a permit for it.

“We stayed completely away from anything to do with any animal that has been shot in the last 150 years.”

Another example would be caribou antlers. There are few to be found in Alberta, which Cozens and Smithens call home, but there are plenty in the Yukon. Still, the pickers had to stay away from them.

“We can’t take them out… And rightly so,” said Cozens. “All governments regulate that because they don’t want poaching.

“We can’t buy them in Alberta, by the way, either. You have to have a permit in Alberta to buy a mount as well. So we were hoping it would be a little more lax in the Yukon, but it isn’t.”

Both pickers have a personal Yukon connection. Cozens’ brother Mike is a judge in Whitehorse and will be featured in the Yukon episode. Scott has also run every leg of the Klondike Trail of ‘98 Road Relay.

Smithens visited Whitehorse about seven or eight years back. His grandfather travelled to the Yukon a century ago to work as a watchmaker.

“I love Canada and I’m a bit of a history buff, but the amount of information that I took in about First Nations and the Gold Rush and mining in general, transportation, riverboats – I must confess, the whole thing was so interesting,” said Smithens. “I learned so much, I can’t wait to go back.”

The Yukon episode will be the final episode in Canadian Pickers’ third season, which begins on August 27. They are “saving the best for last,” said Scott.

The episode from the territory will air on November 26.

“I’m really pleased. What makes me especially happy is the Yukon is pretty unique in Canada and I think our episode will reflect that,” said Smithens.

“We met some real characters and hopefully we’ll come back and meet some more characters,” said Scott.

Contact Tom Patrick at

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