Yukon Region

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YUKON REGION, an area associated with the Yukon River and the Yukon Territory in northwest North America. The Yukon River, formed by the confluence of the Lewes and Pelly Rivers, flows northwest through the Yukon Territory into Alaska and then southwest from the junction with the Porcupine River to empty across an immense delta (eighty to ninety miles wide) into the Bering Sea. At 1,979 miles in length, the Yukon River is the third longest river in North America. Due to its extreme northern location, much of the river is frozen from October through June.

The Yukon Territory takes its name from the Yukon River, which drains more than two-thirds of the Yukon's 205,345 square miles. Yukon probably derives from the Gwich'in Indian word "Youcon" meaning "great river." The Yukon's human history is thought to have begun in prehistoric times with the crossing of humans from Eurasia. By the time of the first known European explorer, Martin Frobisher (1576), the region was home to many Native American peoples such as the Dene, the Inland Tlingit, the Gwitch'in, the Han, the Kaska, the Tagish, and Tutchone. These groups led a mostly nomadic life, migrating with their primary food source, caribou. Frobisher was in search of the Northwest Passage while subsequent explorers were seeking new sources for fur trade and new knowledge of the region.

The Canadian government acquired the Yukon from the Hudson Bay Company in 1870 and administered it as part of the Northwest Territories. The famous gold rush in the Klondike River region in the 1890s brought thousands of people to the Yukon. This great influx prompted the Canadian government to pass in 1898 the Yukon Act, which created a separate Yukon Territory with its capital at Dawson. In 1952, the capital was moved to Whitehorse.

In 1999 the population of the Yukon Territory was 31,070 with the majority of the people living in the capital city. The region is dominated by the great mountains that form the western margin of North America. The Saint Elias range in southwestern Yukon Territory contains Mount Logan (19,850 feet), the highest mountain in Canada. The location of the mountains influences the climate, which is primarily continental subarctic, with long, cold, dry winters and short, dry, warm summers. The mountains

block the mild Pacific air from reaching most of the region. Much of the Yukon has continuous permafrost, which limits road and building construction. In the early 2000s the Yukon's economy was dependent on mining (zinc, silver, gold, and copper), forestry, and tourism. Nearly a quarter of a million people annually visit the largely pristine wilderness and the historic sites of the Klondike Gold Rush.


Coates, Kenneth S., and William R. Morrison. Land of the Midnight Sun: A History of the Yukon. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada: Hurtig, 1988.

Janet S.Smith

See alsoKlondike Rush .