Whitehorse moves closer to having a whitewater park

Although the actual construction process would still be a ways off, Whitehorse and the Yukon Canoe and Kayak Club have moved a step closer to building a competition-grade whitewater adventure park.

Although the actual construction process would still be a ways off, Whitehorse and the Yukon Canoe and Kayak Club have moved a step closer to building a competition-grade whitewater adventure park.

SDLqWe’re still in the planning stages, so nothing is carved in stone yet,” said Yukon Canoe and Kayak Club president John Quinsey. “As a club, we want more waves – a few more waves would be nice. Maybe we’d further develop the ones we already have. We would like to see one wave that would be competitive, in terms of hosting events here.

“There’s a world championship that’s held in different places around the world and there’s the potential that it could be held here. If it isn’t the worlds, it could be a national competition.”

Last week, the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency (CanNor) announced it has allocated $15,000 to the “preplanning” stage of developing a whitewater park, dubbed “Rock the River.”

The proposed location, between the Yukon Energy dam and the salmon spawning channels on the Yukon River, is already a hotspot for paddlers and is the location for the club’s annual Whitewater Rodeo.

Features being proposed for the park include a slalom course, more eddies along the banks and manmade waves, which kayakers can surf and perform tricks on.

Four years ago the location was deemed acceptable for the park when the club hired a firm to do a feasibility study to identify potential areas to develop.

“It’s very expensive and it’s a holistic approach to the health and life of the river, so they considered things like bird population, animal population, plants and the river itself,” said Quinsey.

“It revealed that there’s a lot of potential here to make a very unique and special whitewater park that would be as good as anything else you see in the world.”

With the appraisal complete, the $15,000 will be used to complete the next stage: “the preparation of terms of reference, project team analysis and scope of work package,” said a CanNor media release.

The construction process, which could begin next fall and could as much as $400,000, could take a year or longer to complete.

“We’re hoping CanNor will be interested (in investing more), but I think the money would come from various sources,” said Quinsey.

Contrary to expectations, Quinsey believes a whitewater park could actually increase boat safety in the territory, providing an ideal location to teach proper boating safety and river riding techniques to locals and tourists.

“I wouldn’t be exaggerating to say that potentially this could save lives and prevent instances that occur out in the wilderness,” said Quinsey. “You can’t make rivers safe. I get asked about this project, ‘Will it make the river safer?’ And I have to say it won’t make it safer – it won’t make it more dangerous either. Rivers are powerful, dynamic entities and the only way to make them safer is to educate people.

“It provides an area for training, for education, and therefore safety. Schools here have their outdoor education program, and can get the canoes out, they can teach paddling. And then they can go out and do their trips out in the wilderness.”

An example of some of the work being proposed can already be seen under the Millennium Trail Bridge where the club enhanced a pre-existing wave a decade ago, positioning rocks to create and eddy and build up the wave. The enhanced wave is the main attraction at the Whitewater Rodeo.

“We just moved a few rocks that were kind of in the way and that changed the shape of the wave and made it better,” said Quinsey. “Piling some rocks made an eddy and that’s all it took.

“It takes an eddy and a wave – you need both.”

Making the location even more ideal, the flow of water through that section of the river can be controlled by the Yukon Energy dam. For example, before the Whitewater Rodeos, the utility built up the water supply in order to increase the flow during the competition.

“Other areas are subjected to hours a day where they don’t have any flow, like the dam is shut down,” said Quinsey. “Paddlers in those areas need to keep track of a schedule to go paddling.

“We’re really lucky here because we don’t have to deal with that. You can paddle anytime of the day – or night for that matter. That’s another unique aspect to Whitehorse: our 24 hours of light.”

Contact Tom Patrick at

tomp@yukon-news.com