How lovely the colours are this fall. My Amur maple is a blazing red and the Virginia creeper has turned maroon. A drive to Portage La Prairie yesterday was visual music to the mind — the yellows are stunning this year.
Speaking of colour, I was away in the Yukon a week ago and all the birches and poplars are a brilliant gold, glowing against the dark green of the conifers under a bright blue sky. The hills in the distance turn to purple and pink at sunset. The colours sear themselves onto your mind’s eye.
The townspeople of Whitehorse seem to appreciate this. They have taken advantage of the green and gold colour scheme by painting many of their buildings a gold colour to match the fall trees. Some of the buildings are trimmed with green. Touches of red show up here and there on the odd white or gray building. The aesthetic of the land seems burned into the essence of the people who live here.
The town of Whitehorse has grown since I was last thereabout 20 years ago. Its population is only about 30,000, but the citizens have everything they could want, including a local college that is doing some brilliant research into phytoremediation, the science of cleaning up heavy metals from ground water using plants and even bacteria. At the college, they are also testing and creating cold weather building products and, of course, testing methods to grow root vegetables in a short season. They spend a lot of time studying discontinuous permafrost and have to take this into consideration when they garden (the flower beds I saw were raised beds) and when they build.
I was very impressed with the way they are planning their city — no ugliness that I could see and the roads are as smooth as glass — very interesting considering their winters and the permafrost. The streets people took the time to add the little extra touches, such as stamping flowers and other motifs in odd places in the cement of their sidewalks and planters. Art is part of the city. In the middle of town, a monument to poet Robert Service stands in the midst of a raised flower bed. It is a quirky metal sculpture of a table with an inkwell and a chair. There are many murals featuring the history and wildlife on the Yukon. Flowers overflowed planters; big displays of rugosa roses were still blooming in the superb, sunny weather . The daytime temperatures hovered round 22 degrees.
Downtown Whitehorse is snuggled between the Yukon River and a ridge, so it is about eight blocks wide at its widest, making it seem very intimate, although there are suburbs that now sprawl across the river.
The old railway and station have been turned into a charming feature paralleling a walkway along the river. It’s a lovely place for a morning stroll and along the way you can borrow a book from the tiny public library set atop a riverside post. At rest on the river by the bridge at the end of town is an excursion paddlewheel, looking not at all out of place here.
The town is quite cosmopolitan; walking down the main streets I heard a lot of German and French being spoken. Young people come to the Yukon, fall in love with the place and stay. Audrey McLaughlin, who many will remember as a former leader of the federal NDP and who has family here in Winnipeg, says the town just keeps growing and she can’t figure out where they all work because there is so little industry outside of mining and government.
But tourism has become big business with over 300,000 visitors a year. That means that retail is a big employer; the shops are locally owned and authentic. My favourite store, though, was the Riverside Grocery which is filled with all sorts of exotic and unusual edibles and other goods, including a large assortment of imported candies.
Travellers come from everywhere. There is even a direct flight from Frankfurt to Whitehorse! Florida is another of their key sources for visitors. Visitors are treated well; I had the best meal at Antoinette’s Restaurant. It was a maple syrup sweet potato topped with grilled salmon and a thin layer of guacamole garnished with cilantro, all on a bed of sweet corn and other fresh vegetables. Exquisite!
The citizens are also an attraction, being fiercely independent and loving the land. My taxi driver grumbled that he resented all the people moving into the Territory, but there is still room for lots of individuality. Take Frank Turner, who runs Muktuk Adventures, a dog ranch for want of a better term. Frank, heavily bearded as one would expect from a dog musher, has run 14 Yukon Quest dogsled races from Whitehorse to Fairbanks, Alaska. He even won back in 1995. His kennel holds about 150 dogs which are treated like honoured guests at a dog hotel and his staff is an army of young people from all over to keep the dogs fed, exercised and interested.
In Whitehorse, out-of-doors is impossible to forget; it calls you. You want to be outside soaking up the colours and the fresh air that is so clear and clean it’s like champagne in the lungs. Nature is omnipresent. Ravens rule the air and we saw a red fox walking across the college campus.
As for gardening, the growing season is short but intense with long hours of bright sunshine to move things along.
There is so much more to see and do than I have touched on here in this brief note, and in the summer the fireweed will be in bloom adding fields of purple to the colour mix. Winter will be just as fascinating, with the short dark days and long nights. If you get a chance to go to the Yukon, take it.