The Matthew Watson General Store in Carcross was boarded up on April 2. The store will be reopening for the summer season soon. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News)

Business owners see good and bad in lack of trains to Carcross

Less tourists on WPYR trains from Skagway may help locals weather staff shortage.

While the sound of the White Pass and Yukon Route (WPYR) train pulling into Carcross may be music to the ears of some local business owners, others are relishing the prospect of another quiet summer.

For the third summer in a row, the WPYR trains will be remaining on the Alaska side of the border. Bus tours and other modes of travel will still bring visitors to the small town on the shore of Bennett Lake, but for one Carcross business operator, the trains bring irreplaceable energy along with paying customers.

Bonnie O’Connor operates the Matthew Watson General Store in Carcross. The shop’s distinctive gold rush era pink storefront is right across the street from the station where the train regularly pulled in, laden with as many as 200 tourists or Skagway residents before COVID shut the route down.

WPYR operators say the train’s routes on the Canadian side of the border will return in 2023.

Trains won’t be pulling in to the WPYR station in Carcross this summer. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News)

Trains won’t be pulling in to the WPYR station in Carcross this summer. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News)

O’Connor said that when she thinks about the past two summers without the train and the summer to come, it isn’t primarily the loss of business from tourists that is missing but the energy that the train brings to town.

As a major and probably the largest private-sector employer in Carcross, O’Connor said almost everyone in town has some connection to the WPYR. She said others simply enjoy watching the trains come in from the bench front of her store.

“We’ll miss it, it’s sad to see the boards on the windows,” O’Connor said.

Some miss the trains when they aren’t running and some miss the quiet when they are. Heike Graf, who runs Caribou Crossing Coffee, said she has come to enjoy the slower tourist seasons.

She said after 20 years self-employed in the fast-paced service industry, the slower seasons resulting from the pandemic were initially shocking, but also allowed her to think about how she lives her life and what she values about her business.

Graf said lunch rushes during the midsummer tourist season sometimes make her coffee shop feel like a “mind-numbing fast food joint” rather than the community gathering place she set out to create.

She called the scale of the tourism business in Carcross unsustainable and disrespectful to locals and the local First Nation.

Both Graf and O’Connor said that they are in the midst of a staffing pinch. Both mentioned a lack of housing in Carcross and the availability of jobs through the territorial government and First Nation that pay better than they are able to offer as contributing factors. Graf also mentioned the lack of young people from outside Canada travelling on a work visa, as was usual pre-pandemic.

Contact Jim Elliot at