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Airport Links . Air North . Tourism . Whitehorse. Parks . Yukon

Whitehorse: Gateway to Canada's Yukon Wilderness Safaris
by Jerry W. Bird

Jerry W. BirdAs capital of the Yukon, Whitehorse is strategically located at the headwaters of the Yukon River, which flows all the way to Nome and the Bering Sea. My partner, the late Gary Chaloner and I spent several weeks there while producing a Canadian Government video for the Alaska Highway's 50th Anniversary. It was a happy homecoming for myself, a native son born in Dawson City, where the Yukon River meets the historic Klondike of Gold Rush fame. More information on Whitehorse Airport and connecting transportation is now on-line. In addition, here are some historical excerpts, including one from the souvenir video.

The Alaska Highway
magine yourself a time traveler. The year is 1942; the month, February. Our whole world is gripped by total war. For the moment, Axis forces hold the initiative, and for weeks following the Pearl Harbor disaster, every ship leaving North America's Pacific ports is threatened. The president's directive is clear: Furnish a supply route to the network of northern airfields - an overland route to supplement our air and sea lanes; one secure from attack."

Approval comes swiftly, and the task begins, with end points set up by the military at Dawson Creek, BC. and Big Delta, Alaska. Overnight, the entire North mobilizes, as the rugged Trail of '42 rivals the famous Trail of '98 in worldwide focus. Those of us living in the Yukon at the time felt suddenly in the forefront of the action. What some called North America's greatest construction project since the Panama Canal began as a marvel of mobility at the time.

The Alaska Highway was also a massive sea-bridge, spanning the coastal fjords of the Inside Passage to historic Skagway, then over the White Pass by narrow-gauge railway to Whitehorse on the Yukon River, or up-coast to Valdez, Alaska, near Anchorage. Inland, a 500-mile connection existed via rail and dirt road, from Edmonton to the staging point at Dawson Creek, BC. Mere dots on the map soon became feverish anthills of activity, as mountains of supplies and acres of equipment were stockpiled along the way. The fleet of paddle wheelers that had plied the Yukon (from Whitehorse) since the Gold Rush of the 1890s was pressed into service, since there were no real roads connecting the territory's main communities. From the Canadian Government Video "Alaska Highway: The 1st 50 years," by Jerry W. Bird. Continued.

The Railway Built of Gold
My real-life experience with railways and railroad memorabilia goes back to childhood days, when the White Pass & Yukon Railway of Gold Rush fame was linked via Skagway, Alaska, to a vast transportation system of Alaska-bound steamships and Yukon riverboats. Each trip I made from Dawson City to Vancouver involved four days upstream on the Yukon River by paddle wheeler; a day trip by the White Pass & Yukon narrow gauge train from Whitehorse to Skagway. I am pleased to see that a section of the railway line may soon be restored - to Carcross, a short drive from Whitehorse. Now they've gone that far, why don't the powers that be seize the moment and return the train service the rest of the way? If I hear any such announcement, it will be on this site in a wink. With the reinstalled service - a total of 108 km, the WP&YR is now the longest-operating narrow-gauge railroad in North America.

Whitehorse International Airport (IATA: YXY, ICAO: CYXY) is located in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada. It is part of the National Airports System, and is operated by the government of the Yukon Territory. The airport has one Fixed Base Operator for fuel, limited aircraft maintenance facilities. The control tower operates from 7 a.m. - 9 p.m. local time, and the Whitehorse Flight Service Station provides Airport Advisory Service during the remaining hours.

In addition to scheduled commercial service, numerous small charter operators and bush pilots use the airport and it serves as a major base for water bombers used in forest firefighting operations. The airport also controls a float plane base on Schwatka Lake.

Whitehorse is also a major stopover point for private flyers who make the trip to Alaska. During the September 11, 2001 attacks, two aircraft approaching the United States from Asia were diverted to Whitehorse as part of Operation Yellow Ribbon, they were two Korean Air 747s, one of which was feared hijacked but this was not the case &emdash; the plane was low on fuel. Many of the buildings in the downtown area below the airport were evacuated. Those who witnessed the plane's landing saw the Royal Canadian Mounted Police order the crew out at gunpoint.

The airport's parking lot is graced by an old Canadian Pacific Air Lines Douglas DC-3 on a pedestal that serves as a wind vane. That particular craft first served for the United States Army Air Force in southeast Asia during World War II, before being sold after the war for commercial airline service.

Airlines and destinations

• Air Canada

• Air Canada Jazz (Vancouver)

• Air North (Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Dawson City, Inuvik, Old Crow, Fairbanks)

• Condor Airlines (Frankfurt) [seasonal]

• First Air (Fort Simpson, Yellowknife)