Great Canadian Parks / Yukon Territory

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The Parks / Yukon Territory / Kluane National Park

For as long as 4500 years, ancestors of the Southern Tutchones have lived in camps on the lakeshores and valleys hunting caribou and moose and fishing for salmon or char, their most reliable food. Permanent villages along the Tatshenshini and Alsek watersheds were centres of trade and contact with coastal tribes. While the major ice sheets withdrew 12 500 years ago, several long glaciers in the interior still sporadically push forward and fall back, affecting landforms. When a lakebed turns to grassland, which gradually becomes forest, hunting grounds and encampments must also be modified to follow altering terrain and animal habitats. In 1850, when the Lowell Glacier dam suddenly broke, the waters of the lake roared to the ocean in a wave of water 7 metres high and 15 metres wide. Oral history of the Tutchones tells of the tragedy at Dry Bay when many villagers were swept into the sea by the great wall of water.

 

One of the most extraordinary characters of this time was Kohklux, chief of the Chilkat nation. It is recorded that in 1854, Kohklux traveled 320 kilometres inland to the HudsonĘs Bay trading post at Fort Selkirk and burned it to the ground. Years later, as a favour to an American surveyor, George Davidson, who would later describe him as -“a commanding presence who carried a bullet hole in his cheek [and] was held to be the greatest warrior of all the tribes north and west of the [Stikine River]”-, he drew up a fairly detailed map of the southwestern Yukon Territory. Over 30 years later, when the Canadian-Alaskan boundary was in dispute, Davidson published this map.

 

History also tells of Jack Dalton, the first white man to explore the Kluane interior in 1890-1891. He would later build his own trading post at Neskatabeen and, when gold was discovered at Dawson Creek, he was able to charge prospectors $2.50 per horse to cross his part of the trail or as much as $250 to guide miners from the coast to the Yukon gold fields. He later drove and rafted herds of cattle to Dawson to capitalize on the demand for beef.

 

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