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In the footsteps of Aurore of the Yukon

One of the things I have enjoyed most since we published Aurore of the Yukon is working with the kids in the MacBride camps or school programs.

One of the things I have enjoyed most since we published Aurore of the Yukon is working with the kids in the MacBride camps or school programs.

They always ask great questions, like “Why do people care so much about gold?” or “If they couldn’t fly to the Klondike, why didn’t they go by spaceship?”

It’s fun to watch the kids’ brains spin as they think about getting to Dawson City with no road, no RVs and no backseat DVD player. “Have you ever done it?” they ask.

It’s another good question, and a humbling one for most Yukon adults. How many people do you know who’ve gone from Dyea to Dawson? Not just in bits and pieces, but the whole way in one go?

So, in the spirit of Aurore, we’re going to give it a try this summer. Starting next Tuesday morning, our family - Stacy, Kieran, Aline, Pascale, Ewan and me - will leave Dyea and hike over the Chilkoot Pass to Bennett. There we’ll meet our kayaks and set off for Dawson.

We are lightweights compared to the stampeders. They shivered in soggy wool and canvas. We’ll have Goretex and Smartwool. They built their own boats and chinked the gaps with worn-out long underwear. We have sleek Boreal Design sea kayaks, delivered to Bennett by the nice folks at White Pass. They had to carry everything they needed. We plan to have lattes at Caribou Crossing Coffee and malts at Riverside as we go by.

But the journey is still over 900 kilometres. Even if we aren’t roughing it like the old Sourdoughs, we hope to get a glimpse of their experience and see our Yukon the way most people used to: from a river.

I grew up listening to river stories. You seem to hear the old names less often around Whitehorse these days; magical names like Hootalinqua, Fort Selkirk, Five Finger Rapids or the Thirty Mile. I’m looking forward to seeing them again.

We’ll also pass the remains of the Cyr Dredge, an unsuccessful mining venture by my great-uncle. My son dumped his kayak in a careless moment last time we passed, keeping the family tradition of bad luck on that stretch of river going.

The trip is going to slow us down. We live in an age where airport departures are timed to the minute. People get upset if our 3:11 flight leaves at 3:20. Mapquest tells us our itineraries to three decimal places.

Like our forebears, we will be totally at the mercy of the Yukon weather. Flooding near Finnegan’s Point or an ice-jam near Happy Camp could delay us. The upper lakes like Bennett can be dangerously windy and we may spend a lot of time beached, catching up on The Klondike Stampede by Tappan Adney or the latest wizard/vampire/alien book series.

Like many groups headed for the Klondike back in the day, some members of the party may begin to question whether the expedition was such a great idea. In the Halliday family, this will mean the other five members will wonder what dad was thinking.

We may also get brilliant Yukon weather and a nice tailwind. When the super-athletes from the Yukon River Quest blow past us, I’m hoping to be enjoying the sun rather than suffering with a north wind blowing the rain into my face.

I’m also looking forward to some pan-fried grayling or lake trout, although they won’t be as easy to catch as Adney describes in 1898 before a century of fishing took its toll.

The MacBride will be tracking our progress daily, and we’ll be posting our progress on Facebook and Twitter using a satellite gadget. The staff at MacBride promise to keep us humble by posting photos and artefacts from their collection. If we complain about the Golden Stairs, they’ve got a photo of a Tlingit porter loaded with wooden boxes. If we think Tagish Lake is too long, they’ll put up a snap of exhausted looking men rowing home-made scows past the old Tagish police post.

We shall see if we make it all the way to Dawson before we run out of time and have to return to the realities of work and PowerPoint. Since my ancestors, who were impressively tough characters, didn’t make it much past Whitehorse during the gold rush, it seems unlikely we soft 21st century Yukoners will.

But we’ll do our best. Perhaps, with a good tailwind and encouragement from friends along the river, we’ll make it. Wish us luck!

Keith Halliday is the author of the MacBride Museum’s Aurore of the Yukon series of historical children’s adventure novels. You can follow the trip at, by Twitter @hallidaykeith or on Keith’s Facebook page.