Dawson City is seen during tourism season on July 23, 2018. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News)

Dawson City is seen during tourism season on July 23, 2018. (Dana Hatherly/Yukon News)

Reduced hours, shorter season planned for Little Gold-Poker Creek border crossing

Little Gold-Poker Creek border crossing has been closed throughout pandemic

An international border crossing that connects the Klondike to Alaska along the Top of the World Highway is re-opening under reduced operations later this spring.

The Little Gold-Poker Creek point of entry has been effectively closed since 2020.

The Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) announced in a May 5 news release the border crossing west of Dawson City will be resuming seasonal service for travellers and commercial purposes daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. between June 1 and September 1.

The border agency’s website notes the opening of the point of entry is currently delayed. The season is also ending a few weeks earlier than pre-pandemic times.

The hours have also changed — the border closed at 9 p.m. daily before the pandemic.

Weather and building occupancy preparations come into play when planning for the opening and closing for the season at Little Gold Creek, CBSA spokesperson Judith Gadbois-St-Cyr said in an email.

Gadbois-St-Cyr said the hours of service have been tweaked this year, aligning with the U.S. Customs and Border Protection port of entry’s hours.

“It’s really unfortunate,” Dawson City mayor Bill Kendrick said about the reduced hours of operation and the shortened season. “One would think there should be really good extenuating circumstances to necessitate that, and I’m not aware of those.”

Kendrick said his council wants to support local businesses and associations that are pushing to have the border open like old times.

In particular, Kendrick wants to see the border stay open later in September.

Tourism communications analyst Cameron Webber made data available about border traffic and historical dates of opening and closing.

Between 2012 and 2019, the border opened as early as May 19 and as late as May 27.

During that same time frame, it closed between Sept. 20 and Sept. 25.

There were 557 border crossings tracked in May 2019 and 1,710 border crossings in September 2019, with an annual total of 13,193 border crossings for the full season.

The highway linking the border crossing to Dawson City is unpaved and seasonal, depending on road and river conditions. The Klondike region had experienced elevated flood risk earlier this spring due to high snowpack levels and late ice breakup on the Yukon and Klondike rivers.

In a news release issued May 10, the Yukon Party argues the border service changes are already weighing down on tourism operators who say they have experienced cancellations.

During the last day of the 2022 spring legislature session, Yukon Party tourism critic Geraldine Van Bibber asked if it would be business as usual in terms of operations at the border.

“We know that many tourism operators are looking forward to an increase in visitors this summer,” Van Bibber said. “Hopefully, we will see a return to higher visitation numbers and our resilient tourism operators return to pre-COVID operations this season.”

In response, Pillai said a border working group had been trying to ensure the border would be “open as normal” and serviced.

“I appreciate the member opposite’s concerns — and some of the business folks from Dawson who have reached out on that one,” Pillai said in the legislature.

In an interview on May 12, Tourism Minister Ranj Pillai said his government has heard from “maybe one” operator in Dawson City who was hoping to see more traffic around the long weekend.

Steve Nordick, a former Yukon Party MLA for the Klondike who runs the Aurora Inn hotel and restaurant in Dawson City, expressed that he was “very disappointed” about the reduction in border operations.

“It’s like closing the doors,” Nordick said, adding he has faced cancellations.

In an email, the tourism department said some travellers have asked about the border opening date at visitor centres in Whitehorse and Dawson.

“Some Yukon tourism businesses will be affected by the earlier closure date (approximately 20 days earlier than normal). This includes motorhome rental companies, car rental companies like CanaDream, Fraserway and Driving Force, and tour companies such as Ruby Range Adventure,” the department said in an email.

“Ruby Range Adventure, the Yukon’s largest locally-based tour company, is anticipating possible whole trip cancellations as a result of the early closure.

“Dawson City tourism businesses also typically receive a high number of Alaska residents over the Labour Day weekend, which will result in decreased visitation to businesses and attractions such as Diamond Tooth Gerties Gambling Hall.”

Neil Hartling, chair of the Tourism Industry Association of the Yukon, said anything short of May 2019 operations is “disappointing,” although he emphasized the closing date as the primary issue.

The association is lobbying for a Sept. 25 closing date, he said.

At this point, cabinet communications advisor Renée Francoeur said by phone May 13, the Yukon government is trying to understand what the impact of the change in terms of hours and date of closure means ahead of discussing the issue at the federal level.

In the May 12 interview, Pillai reasoned the service changes are the result of several moving parts and is “something we can work through.”

“I still think we’re going to have a great summer in Dawson when it comes to tourism,” he said.

Contact Dana Hatherly at dana.hatherly@yukon-news.com