Accident of Geography

Accident of Geography


This story originally ran in the Winter 2015 (V9I4) edition of Yukon, North of Ordinary.

AO7C9N2wHRvieSqJq_NRu2Wck1295r5CHeD3mZRR3eg_nP7TCf1vKZxnHfnEN5mlHVnvlVNNolDg-DGrJjCbWA4_bGYeDbDqsupL70KvGAwsvLKf6TraAyBpfImRUANGZig.jpgIt’s been called “Switzerland of the North.” When people tell me they’ve been there, I routinely find myself saying, “That scenery, huh?” A question, albeit rhetorical, that’s always answered by an agreeable nod and wide eyes. 

  This magical place with stunning and memorable panoramas is none other than Atlin, a small spot in northwestern British Columbia. Some might wonder why I’ve set aside this space to focus on a place that geographically lies outside of the Yukon. However, for those unaware, Atlin has long been considered very much a part of the territory due to its remoteness from mainstream B.C. and has been described as an “accident of geography.”

  The only way into the unincorporated community—other than flying—is through the Yukon. A short 60 kilometres south of the Yukon-B.C. border, Atlin is reachable via the Atlin Road, which only connects to the Tagish Road (or Yukon Highway #8). Not surprisingly, if you ask them, many of the approximately 400 full-time Atlinites consider themselves Yukoners.

  Found on the traditional territory of the Taku River Tlingit First Nation, its name comes from the Tlingit language: Â Tłèn, meaning “big lake” or “big body of water.” It’s a fitting term made apparent along the shores of Atlin Lake on which the community is nestled. The wide stretch of glacial-fed water is framed by striking mountains that stretch on forever on a clear day.

  Hiking, snowshoeing, and skiing trails are abundant in and around the waterfront locale with two provincial parks nearby. And the streets are peppered with historic buildings dating back to the early 1900s, when Atlin was thriving during its own gold-rush days. 

  Post-gold rush, and after the two lake steamboats ceased operation, Atlin became a sleepy spot that was largely isolated until the Atlin Road was constructed by the Canadian Army, in 1950. Now the community, which remains relatively quiet, boasts an impressive number of artists, authors, and adventurers. One of its biggest tourist draws is the annual Atlin Arts and Music Festival in the summer.

  Atlin has long been represented in the pages of Yukon, North of Ordinary—and I don’t just mean the odd mention or event listing. YNoO art director Manu Keggenhoff calls it home, and we’ve regularly featured Atlin-based writers and imagery over the years. In this issue, we decided to open up our “Yukon Questionnaire” to an Atlinite and past YNoO scribe Wayne Merry (pg. 20). You’ll also notice in our “Travel Yukon” section (pg. 23) that Atlin artisans are bringing their goods to Whitehorse for a pop-up shop this season. And even our feature on Agay Mene Natural Environment Park (pg. 44) offers a glimpse of the impressive wilderness found en route to the honourary Yukon community.

  Even though its area code is 250 (not 867) and its mailing address ends with B.C. (not Y.T.), Atlin is yet another example of the north-of-ordinary hospitality that epitomizes what the Yukon is all about. Perhaps its direct and only route to and from the territory simply clarifies our kinship.


Tara McCarthy 


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