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.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Team Yukon skip Laura Eby, left, directs her team as Team Northern Ontario skip Krysta Burns looks on at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary on Feb. 22. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)
Team Yukon reports positive experience at Scotties

Team Yukon played their final game at the national championship in Calgary on Thursday afternoon

A sign indicating a drop-off area behind Selkirk Elementary school in Whitehorse on Feb. 25. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Parking lot proposal for Selkirk Elementary criticized

Parents and school council are raising concerns about green space and traffic woes


Wyatt’s World for Feb. 26, 2021

Ken Anderson’s Sun and Moon model sculpture sits in the snow as he carves away at the real life sculpture behind Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre for the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous festival in Whitehorse on Feb. 21, 2018. Yukon Rendezvous weekend kicks off today with a series of outdoor, virtual and staged events. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Rendezvous snowpad, live music and fireworks this weekend

A round-up of events taking place for the 2021 Rendezvous weekend

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. The proposed Atlin Hydro Expansion project is moving closer to development with a number of milestones reached by the Tlingit Homeland Energy Limited Partnership and Yukon Energy over the last several months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Atlin hydro project progresses

Officials reflect on milestones reached

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

David Malcolm, 40, has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm a police officer after an incident in Whitehorse on Feb. 18. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man resists arrest, assaults officer

A Whitehorse man has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm… Continue reading

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022

Most Read