Dawson City is one view of the Yukon. Whitehorse is another.
In every sense Whitehorse is the capital. It’s a recognisable urban centre. With 30,000 people, more than half of the Territory’s population lives there, and the streets are full of three-story buildings, with lots of space for parking around them. It’s very different from the 1890’s sense of Dawson, with its old buildings cheerfully jammed side by side.
The airport (and in the Yukon all flight paths lead to Whitehorse) is situated above the town, which makes an idle traveller start to wonder why every airport is not located so sensibly. But there is a real downtown, down near the Yukon River, where we stayed at the, yes, “Edgewater Hotel”. It’s on Main Street, just a couple of blocks from a splendid bookstore, Mac’s Fireweed Books, where Jane and I were stopped in our tracks by a window display of my books. Inside, it was just as delightful (talk to any author about what it’s like to find a display of her books!) and I found myself babbling and signing the stock they had. I resisted the temptation to sign the displays of Terry Fallis’s books, and Terry was in to sign them all the next day.
The Northern Lights Literary Festival this year featured me, Terry, and the storytelling Ivan Coyote. All of us were lucky enough to do events at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre, a magnificent building along the river from downtown. To get there we had to jostle our way through the high excitement and the many big trucks and instant marquees of Ron MacLean’s travelling “Hometown Hockey” event, which was in Whitehorse that weekend, and was A VERY BIG DEAL.
I gave my evening show at The Old Fire Hall Theatre, supported by a very professional group of assistants, and attracted about 80 book-lovers, many of whom stayed to buy signed books. Later I gave a couple of workshops with 25 keen local writers. There was a magical moment when one writer was talking about her fascination for ravens, and I turned the room’s attention to the omnipresent ravens outside…..just as a bald eagle flew beside our building, along the river!
The kind organisers (thank you, Lily Quan) had arranged for Jane and me to get out of town, into the real Yukon. We were picked up by the writer, Al Pope, who lives with his impressive politician wife Lois about 20 miles out of town, near Watson River. Lunch of goat curry was unforgettable, and so was the snowy walk along the edge of the lake (“That track’s a martin! See where the hare took off there. Look at the moose track across the trail here!”) Later, in Whitehorse, we bought a powerful winter landscape painting by J. Dowell-Irvine that will bring Yukon memories of our hike that day to our placid Toronto dining room.
Finally, in the Departure Lounge at the Whitehorse Airport, there was great excitement when Ron MacLean came in to wait for the flight to Vancouver. He chatted easily with fellow-travellers, then after a bit I edged over to have the “Ron, I don’t know if you remember me, but…” conversation. Before I could begin he leaped to his feet and said “Doug Gibson! Hey, everybody, let me introduce you to the man who…” followed by lots of kind compliments. I was able to introduce him to Jane and Terry, and he was able to say that he had been too busy to attend our shows, although he really had wanted to.
A very nice guy, Ron MacLean
Oh, yes, where did Whitehorse get its name? From the rapids (since removed) on the Yukon River near downtown, where the constant foam looked like the mane of a herd of galloping white horses. A fine poetic origin for a great place for a lucky author to visit.



  1. Will says:

    Beautiful. Sounds like a great place. And can’t wait to see you taking over from Don Cherry… 🙂

    • Douglas Gibson says:

      Will, Awright awright lissen up here….if ya don wanna hear what Ron Maclean thinks, don waste your time lissenin ta him. Jus lissen ta me…an buy books with my name on the cover, if thas wadya call it.

  2. Lidia Pietrovito says:

    Have been to White Horse several times. I can never get enough! The second hand bookstore on the Main Street, kayaking on the Yukon River, the train ride to Skagway. As for Dawson City, I would love an opportunity to experience the Pierre Burton writers’ retreat!

    • Douglas Gibson says:

      Lidia, Well, I think applying for time at the Pierre Berton House is an excellent idea. Contact The Writers Trust people to find out how you go about applying. My cousin Claire Caldwell is a young writer who’s been accepted for this year. So good luck! Doug

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