Forced back to the land

When Pamela Brown and her husband moved to the Yukon this April, they didn't expect to be living in their storage trailer for five months. The Albertan couple looked everywhere for a place to live.

When Pamela Brown and her husband moved to the Yukon this April, they didn’t expect to be living in their storage trailer for five months.

The Albertan couple looked everywhere for a place to live.

“If you phoned ads in the paper – if anybody phoned you back – they would say, ‘We have 55 people that have responded to this ad,’” said Brown.

The couple couldn’t believe how outrageously expensive it was to rent in Whitehorse, either.

So with nowhere to go, Brown and her husband decided to plunk their trailer on the edge of a lake near town and live in it.

With a territorial policy allowing anybody to pitch a tent or trailer on Crown land in the Yukon for up to 400 days, they weren’t the only ones.

If you drive just outside Whitehorse you can see travel trailers set up “everywhere,” said Brown.

“It’s the only option.”

Now, Brown’s worried the government may squash the policy because of some people who’ve been recently abusing it.

Residents in Scout Lake are complaining about an unwelcome neighbour who has been squatting in their area for more than a year with a pack of unfriendly dogs.

He’s been singled out for illegally harvesting wood and fish. And he’s been criticized for snagging the best camping spot on the lake.

But problems with bad neighbours can pop up anywhere, not just on Crown land, said Brown.

“Changing the laws that govern the use of property because of the bad apples are going to put a lot of people, like us, out.”

Brown and her husband just found a cabin to live in this month.

But come spring, they’ll be booted out and replaced by tourists.

They may wind up living in their trailer again, which is why Brown was hesitant to say exactly which lake she was camping on.

However, she’s not too distressed by the idea.

Unlike the residents of Scout Lake, her neighbours were welcoming.

“They were thrilled to have us there,” said Brown.

“We (transformed) a site that they had to go into every week and clean up – because there were broken bottles and crap everywhere – to a place that was quiet and responsibly kept.”

The couple would regularly pick up bags of rusted nails and garbage and Brown even went so far as picking dandelions from around the lake.

But she never considered herself a squatter.

“In my mind, the definition of squatting is being somewhere illegal – and we certainly weren’t – we were within the laws of the Yukon,” said Brown.

She and her husband even checked with Energy, Mines and Resources before setting up their trailer to make sure it was legal.

Land policies in the Yukon allow people to set up camp for a maximum of 400 days on any Crown land without a permit, depending on the number of people that are camping.

The laws have been in place “for many, many years,” and were originally intended for hunters, trappers and miners, said Energy, Mines and Resources spokesperson Ron Billingham.

But these days it’s campers who are taking most advantage of the policy.

“If you’re hunting and you have a wall tent, nobody minds – it’s a Yukoner’s privilege,” said Billingham.

“But if you build a little more skookum wall tent with insulation and so on … (you) fall into the policy for unauthorized occupancy.”

Billingham wasn’t aware of any immediate plans by the government to change it’s recreational land policy.

With vacancy rates less than one percent in Whitehorse, tenting still remains a viable option for people who can’t find a home.

Brown hopes the laws stay the way they are.

“If you’re a responsible person you value the privilege of being someplace while you’re (looking for a place to live),” she said.

“I’d hate to see the program change.”

Contact Vivian Belik at

vivianb@yukon-news.com