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Yukon Territory /ˈjuːkɒn/ or the Yukon is the westernmost and smallest of Canada's three federal territories. It was named after the Yukon River. The word Yukon means "Great River" in Gwich’in. The territory's capital is Whitehorse.


The territory was created in 1898 as the Yukon. The federal government's most recent update of the Yukon Act in 2003 confirmed "Yukon", rather than "Yukon Territory", as the current usage standard. The largest ethnic group in the territory is English, followed by First Nations. Yukon law recognizes First Nations languages, but only considers French and English as official languages.


At 5,959 metres (19,551 ft), Yukon's Mount Logan, in Kluane National Park and Reserve, is the highest mountain in Canada and the second-highest of North America (after Mount McKinley in the U.S. state of Alaska). The territory's climate is Arctic and subarctic, resulting in long cold winters, short summers, and little precipitation.




The sparsely populated Yukon abounds with snow-melt lakes and perennially snow-capped mountains. Although the climate is Arctic and subarctic and very dry, with long, cold winters, the long sunshine hours in short summer allow hardy crops and vegetables, flowers and fruit to grow.


The territory is the approximate shape of a right triangle, bordering the U.S. state of Alaska to the west for 1,210 km (752 miles) mostly along longitude 141° W, the Northwest Territories to the east and British Columbia to the south. Its northern coast is on the Beaufort Sea. Its ragged eastern boundary mostly follows the divide between the Yukon Basin and the Mackenzie River drainage basin to the east in the Mackenzie mountains. Whitehorse is the territorial capital.


Most of the territory is in the watershed of its namesake, the Yukon River. The southern Yukon is dotted with a large number of large, long and narrow glacier-fed alpine lakes, most of which flow into the Yukon River system. The larger lakes include Teslin Lake, Atlin Lake, Tagish Lake, Marsh Lake, Lake Laberge, Kusawa Lake and Kluane Lake. Bennett Lake on the Klondike Gold Rush trail is a lake flowing into Nares Lake, with the greater part of its area within the Yukon.


Canada's highest point, Mount Logan (5,959 m/19,551 ft), is in the territory's southwest. Mount Logan and a large part of the Yukon's southwest are in Kluane National Park and Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other national parks include Ivvavik National Park and Vuntut National Park in the north.


Other watersheds include the Mackenzie River and the Alsek–Tatshenshini, as well as a number of rivers flowing directly into the Beaufort Sea. The two main Yukon rivers flowing into the Mackenzie in the Northwest Territories are the Liard River in the southeast and the Peel River and its tributaries in the northeast.


Notable widespread tree species within the Yukon are the Black Spruce and White Spruce. Many trees are stunted because of the short growing season and severe climate.


The capital, Whitehorse, is also the largest city, with about two-thirds of the population; the second largest is Dawson City, (pop. 1,250) which was the capital until 1952.




Long before the arrival of Europeans, central and northern Yukon escaped glaciation as it was part of Beringia (Bering land bridge). The volcanic eruption of Mount Churchill near the Alaska border blanketed southern Yukon with a layer of ash which can still be seen along the Klondike Highway. Coastal and inland First Nations already had extensive trading networks and European incursions into the area only began early in the 19th century with the fur trade, followed by missionaries and the Western Union Telegraph Expedition.


By the end of the 19th century gold miners were trickling in on rumours of gold, driving a population increase justifying the setting up of a police force, just in time for the start of the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897. The increased population coming with the gold rush led to the separation of the Yukon district from the Northwest Territories and the formation of the separate Yukon Territory in 1898.


According to the 2001 Canadian census, the largest ethnic group in Yukon is English (27.1%), followed by First Nations (22.3%), Scottish (21.9%), Irish (19.1%), German (14.3%), and French (13.4%) – although over a quarter of all respondents also identified their ethnicity as "Canadian."


Small communities near Tok ( Alaska)


Little Salmon/Carmacks First Nation

Kluane First Nation, Burwash Landing

Liard River First Nation, Watson Lake


The 2006 Canadian census showed a population of 30,372.


Of the 29,940 singular responses to the census question concerning 'mother tongue' the most commonly reported languages were:


There were also 130 responses of both English and a 'non-official language'; 10 of both French and a 'non-official language'; 110 of both English and French; and about 175 people who either did not respond to the question, or reported multiple non-official languages, or else gave another unenumerated response. Yukon's official languages are shown in bold. Figures shown are for the number of single-language responses and the percentage of total single-language responses.


The Language Act of Yukon "recognises the significance" of aboriginal languages in Yukon; however, only English and French are available for laws, court proceedings, and legislative assembly proceedings.


Yukon's population is highly secularized. The largest denominations by number of adherents according to the 2001 census were the Roman Catholic Church with 5,985 (21 %); the Anglican Church of Canada with 3,795 (13 %); and the United Church of Canada with 2,105 (7 %).




Yukon's historical major industry has been mining (lead, zinc, silver, gold, asbestos and copper). The government acquired the land from the Hudson's Bay Company in 1870 and split it from the Northwest Territories in 1898 to fill the need for local government created by the population influx of the gold rush.


Thousands of these prospectors flooded the territory, creating a colourful period recorded by authors such as Robert W. Service and Jack London. The memory of this period and the early days of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, as well as the territory's scenic wonders and outdoor recreation opportunities, makes tourism the second most important industry.


Manufacturing, including furniture, clothing, and handicrafts, follows in importance, along with hydroelectricity. The traditional industries of trapping and fishing have declined. Today, the government sector is by far the biggest employer in the territory, directly employing approximately 5,000 out of a labour force of 12,500.




Yukon's tourism motto is "Larger than life". The Yukon's major appeal is its nearly pristine nature. Tourism relies heavily on this, and there are many organised outfitters and guides available to hunters and anglers and nature lovers of all sorts. Sports enthusiasts can paddle lakes and rivers with canoes and kayaks, ride or walk trails, ski or snowboard in an organised setting or access the backcountry by air or snowmobile, climb the highest peaks of North America or take a family hike up smaller mountains, or try ice climbing and dog sledding.


Yukon also has a wide array of cultural and sporting events and infrastructures that attract artists, participants and tourists from all parts of the world (Yukon International Storytelling Festival, Frostbite Music Festival, Dawson Music Festival, Yukon Quest, Sourdough Rendezvous, the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre, Northern Lights Centre, Klondike Gold Rush memorials and activities, "Takhini Hot Springs", and the Whitehorse fish ladder.


There are many opportunities to experience pre-colonial lifestyles by learning about Yukon's First Nations. Wildlife and nature observation is exceptional and a wide variety of large mammals, birds, and fish are easily accessible, whether or not within Yukon's many territorial parks (Herschel Island Qikiqtaruk Territorial Park, Tombstone Territorial Park, Fishing Branch Ni'iinlii'njik Park, Coal River Springs Territorial Park) and national parks (Kluane National Park and Reserve, Vuntut National Park, Ivvavik National Park) and reserves, or nearby Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park in British Columbia.


On the long, cold, and clear nights of winter, nature provides the ultimate natural spectacle in the form of aurora borealis.


Before modern forms of transportation, the rivers and mountain passes were the main transportation routes for the coastal Tlingit people trading with the Athabascans of which the Chilkoot Pass and Dalton Trail, as well as the first Europeans.


From the Gold Rush until the 1950s, riverboats plied the Yukon River, mostly between Whitehorse and Dawson City, with some making their way further to Alaska and over to the Bring Sea, and other tributaries of Yukon River such as the Stewart River. Most of the riverboats were owned by the British-Yukon Navigation Company, an arm of the White Pass and Yukon Route, which also operated a narrow gauge railway between Skagway, Alaska, and Whitehorse. The railway ceased operation in the 1980s with the first closure of the Faro mine. It is now run during the summer months for the tourism season, with operations as far as Carcross.


Today, major land routes include the Alaska Highway, the Klondike Highway (between Skagway and Dawson City), the Haines Highway (between Haines, Alaska, and Haines Junction), and the Dempster Highway (linking Inuvik, Northwest Territories to the Klondike Highway), all paved except for the Dempster. Other highways with less traffic include the "Robert Campbell Highway" linking Carmacks (on the Klondike Highway) to Watson Lake (Alaska Highway) via Faro and Ross River, and the "Silver Trail" linking the old silver mining communities of Mayo, Elsa and Keno City to the Klondike Highway at the Stewart River bridge. Air travel is the only way to reach the far north community of Old Crow.


Whitehorse International Airport serves as the air transport infrastructure hub, with direct flights to Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Fairbanks, and Frankfurt (summer months). Every Yukon community is served by an airport. The communities of Dawson City, Old Crow, and Inuvik, have regular passenger service through Air North. Air charter businesses exist primarily to serve the tourism and mining exploration industries.





In the 19th century, Yukon was a segment of the Hudson's Bay Company-administered North-Western Territory and then the Canadian-administered Northwest Territories. It only obtained a recognizable local government in 1895 when it became a separate district of the Northwest Territories. In 1898, it was made a separate territory with its own commissioner and appointed Territorial Council.


Prior to 1979, the territory was administered by the commissioner who was appointed by the federal Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. The commissioner used to chair and had a role in appointing the territory's Executive Council and had a day to day role in governing the territory. The elected Territorial Council had a purely advisory role. In 1979, a significant degree of power was devolved from the federal government and commissioner to the territorial legislature which, in that year, adopted a party system of responsible government. This was done through a letter from Jake Epp, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development rather than through formal legislation.


In preparation for responsible government, political parties were organised and ran candidates to the Yukon Legislative Assembly for the first time in 1978. The Progressive Conservatives won these elections and formed the first party government of Yukon in January 1979. The Yukon New Democratic Party (NDP) formed the government from 1985 to 1992 under Tony Penikett and again from 1996 under Piers McDonald until being defeated in 2000. The conservatives returned to power in 1992 under John Ostashek after having renamed themselves the Yukon Party. The Liberal government of Pat Duncan was defeated in elections in November 2002, with Dennis Fentie of the Yukon Party forming the government as Premier.


The Yukon Act, passed on April 1, 2003, formalised the powers of the Yukon government and devolved additional powers to the territorial government (e.g., control over land and natural resources). As of 2003, other than criminal prosecutions, the Yukon government has much of the same powers as provincial governments, and the other two territories are looking to obtaining the same powers. Today the role of commissioner is analogous to that of a provincial lieutenant governor; however, unlike lieutenant-governors, commissioners are not formal representatives of the Queen but are employees of the federal government.


Although there has been discussion in the past about Yukon becoming Canada's 11th province, it is generally felt that its population base is too sparse for this to occur at present.


At the federal level, the territory is presently represented in the Parliament of Canada by a single Member of Parliament and one senator. Canadian territories' members of Parliament are full and equal voting representatives and residents of the territory enjoy the same rights as other Canadian citizens. One Yukon Member of Parliament — Erik Nielsen — was the Deputy Prime Minister under the government of Brian Mulroney, while another — Audrey McLaughlin — was the leader of the federal New Democratic Party.


Yukon was one of nine jurisdictions in Canada to offer same-sex marriage before the passage of Canada's Civil Marriage Act.


In the Canadian House of Commons, Yukon is represented by Larry Bagnell, representing the Liberal Party. Mr. Bagnell was first elected to the House of Commons in 2000. Previous Members of Parliament include Louise Hardy (NDP, 1997–2000), Audrey McLaughlin (NDP, 1987–1997), Erik Nielsen (Progressive Conservative Party of Canada, 1957–1987), James Aubrey Simmons (Liberal, 1949–1957).


Yukon is allocated one Senate of Canada seat and has been represented by three Senators since the position was created in 1975. The Senate position is currently held by Daniel Lang, who was appointed on 22 December 2008. It was previously filled by Ione Christensen, representing the Liberal Party. Appointed to the Senate in 1999 by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, Mrs. Christensen resigned in December 2006 to help her ailing husband. From 1975 to 1999, Paul Lucier (Liberal) served as Senator for the Yukon. Lucier was appointed by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.


Much of the population of the territory is First Nations. An umbrella land claim agreement representing 7,000 members of fourteen different First Nations was signed with the federal government in 1992. Each of the individual First Nations then has to negotiate a specific land claim and a self-government agreement. As of December 2005, eleven of the 14 First Nations had a signed agreement. The fourteen First Nation governments are:


The territory once had an Inuit settlement, located on Herschel Island off the Arctic coast. This settlement was dismantled in 1987 and its inhabitants relocated to the neighbouring Northwest Territories. As a result of the Inuvialuit Final Agreement, the island is now a territorial park and is known officially as Qikiqtaruk Territorial Park, Qikiqtaruk being the name of the island in Inuvialuktun. There are also 14 First Nations that speak 8 different languages.


Ten largest communities by population


22,898 (metro)


21,405 (metro)


21,808 (metro)


1 Part of "Metro" Whitehorse Census Agglomeration



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