Yukon (territory, Canada)

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Yukon, territory (2001 pop. 28,674), 207,076 sq mi (536,327 sq km), NW Canada.

Geography and Climate

The triangle-shaped territory is bordered on the N by the Beaufort Sea of the Arctic Ocean, on the E by the Northwest Territories, on the S by British Columbia and Alaska, and on the W by Alaska. The highest point in Yukon is Mt. Logan, 19,551 ft (5,959 m) high, in the St. Elias Mts. in the southwest. Although most of Yukon is a watershed for the Yukon River and its tributaries, the northern and southeastern regions drain east into the Mackenzie River system.

Immediately south of the desolate arctic coast the country is uninhabited and generally unknown. The other parts of the territory have great natural beauty, with snow-fed lakes backed by perpetually white-capped mountains and forests and streams abounding with wildlife. Kluane National Park (8,499 sq mi/22,013 sq km; est. 1972) in SW Yukon includes Mt. Logan and extensive ice fields; it abuts parks in British Columbia and Alaska. Winters are long and cold, with low humidity. During the short summers the longer day and surprisingly warm sun bring a profusion of wildflowers and enable the hardier grains and vegetables to mature.

The few settlements are situated on the riverbanks. The capital and largest town is Whitehorse, where the vast majority of the population lives. Next in importance is Dawson.


Yukon's leading industry by far is mining; lead, zinc, silver, gold, and copper are the principal minerals. Tourism is the second most important industry; the area's colorful history and beautiful scenery draw visitors. Manufacturing has increased in importance, with such products as furniture, clothing, and handicrafts. There are hydroelectric facilities at Whitehorse, Aishihik, and Mayo. Trapping, the oldest industry, has declined in recent decades. Fishing is relatively unimportant.

Transportation facilities are limited. For many years the Yukon River system was the main artery. The White Pass and Yukon Railway, between Whitehorse and Skagway, Alaska, built during the Klondike gold rush of the 1890s, now handles only excursion traffic. The Alaska Highway and other all-weather roads have been built since World War II. Air transportation now plays a vital role, and there is an international airport at Whitehorse.

History and Government

The territory's history began with the explorations in the 1840s of Robert Campbell and John Bell, fur traders for the Hudson's Bay Company. Several trading posts were built on the Yukon River, and before long prospectors began to search for treasure. The Canadian government acquired the territory from the Hudson's Bay Company in 1870 and administered it as part of the Northwest Territories. After the famous gold strikes in the Klondike River region in the 1890s, thousands of fortune hunters arrived in search of gold. This colorful period was recorded in the writings of Robert Service and Jack London.

To meet the need for local government created by the influx of prospectors, Yukon was made a separate district (1895) and then a separate territory (1898) with Dawson as capital. Whitehorse became the capital in 1952. Native land claims and the desire for provincial status are two issues that have dominated territorial politics in recent years. The land claim by the Yukon, a tribe of about 7,000, was approved by the federal government in 1991. In 2003, a revised Yukon Act increased the territorial government's powers, giving it control over public land and natural resources.

The government consists of a federally appointed commissioner, an elected legislative assembly of 18 members, and a 5-member cabinet appointed by the majority party of the assembly. Dennis Fentie led the conservative Yukon party to victory in the 2002 assembly elections, ousting the governing Liberal party; Fentie's government retained power after the 2006 elections. In 2011 Fentie was replaced as Yukon party leader and as premier by Darrell Pasloski, and the party won a third term in offce later in the year. The territory sends one senator and one representative to the national parliament.


See K. J. Rea, The Political Economy of the Canadian North (1968); E. A. McCourt, The Yukon and Northwest Territories (1969); J. R. Lotz, Northern Realities: The Future of Northern Development in Canada (1970); M. Webb, The Last Frontier (1985); T. Stone, Miners' Justice: Migration, Law and Order on the Alaska-Yukon Frontier, 1873–1902 (1988); K. S. Coates and W. R. Morrison, A History of the Yukon (1988).