The End of the Road is Getting a Fresh Start
A Summer 2015 Yukon Prospector Web Extra
When thinking of the Yukon, thoughts of escape and adventure often crop up.
Escape from the banality of the rat race, from the stressed out masses, from pretension, expectation, and the creeping suspicion that buying more things won’t eventually make you happy.
Adventure into the great unknown, discovery, exploration, self-sufficiency, natural beauty, “the real”. All those fine tenets of the early romantics.
Thoreau would have creamed his jeans if he happened upon modern day Keno City.
Not just for the town’s isolation and abundance of nature, but also for the simple, self-regulated way it operates.
"Everyone sort of pulls together up here."
Keno is an “end of the road” town with a population of about 12 people in the winter, and 30 in the summer. But it's quickly on its way to something more.
The "city" is nestled at the very end of the Yukon’s Silver Trail about 109 km from the Klondike highway, and boasts an endless supply of gorgeous alpine terrain.
That’s part of what brought Scott Buchanan to the area.
He speaks in a soft, calm timber while walking around the Keno City Mining Museum. He manages the place. And his look isn’t part of the job. That’s just him, he says.
Scott has been an archaeologist for the last 30 years. He’s done grad studies at Memorial, Kings and Simon Frazier.
Two years ago he started working with a small company surveying the Yukon, trying to assess the cultural impact of mining in certain regions.
When his job took him to Keno, he fell in love with the place. So last year he moved there.
Scott’s now one of the few people who live there year round, and he loves it.
“Everyone sort of pulls together up here. When one person is heading into town for groceries, they usually ask a few others if they need to pick up anything,” he says. “It’s just peaceful.”
Peaceful, and a bit quirky.
Last Victoria Day, Scott says one of the women in the town dressed up like the queen and paraded up and down the street handing out baked goods.
They also have a Keno-Graw party, and on Canada day they get dressed up in funky costumes and put on a makeshift parade.
“It was like a dream"
For Mike Mancini, this is part of what makes Keno feel like home.
Like Scott, his voice is tranquil. He was more than happy to take time showing visitors around his kitsch laden pizza place/café/backup inn. Even though it’s not technically open until June.
Unlike Scott, Mike has always called Keno home. He grew up in Elsa, once a thriving mining community a few minutes away.
“It was like a dream. There were people from all over the world. And we grew up without TV, we just used our imaginations. We were one big family,” he said.
Keno has TV these days. “We’re still plugged in, it’s just peaceful,” says Scott.
When the mine shut down in 1989, Mike said a few people hung around to keep the memory alive.
“There was a danger that all this history would just be lost.”
Before Scott came along, Mike was running the Museum. Something he helped start.
Mike said he believes word of Kenos beauty and tranquility are finally getting out there.
"The potential is astronomical.”
Bonnie Lynch agrees. She works at the recently restored Keno City Hotel.
“The place is ripe for eco-tourists,” she said. “The potential is astronomical.”
The Keno City Hotel opened just last year. It’s been a restoration project of brother’s Leo and Marc Martel since 2006.
Bonnie said the brothers were also worried the history would be lost.
“They spent six or seven years just restoring the foundations,” she said.
Now the hotel has ten rooms, runs 365 days a year and serves as a designated historical site.
The bar downstairs is gorgeous and carefree. There’s a stage for musicians and a pool table. Seasonal decorations are strewn about the place, with no regard for the season. It all adds to the quirky fun personified in Keno.
"The first time Dirk brought me here, I just fell in love with the place"
Down the road another accommodation sprung up fairly recently.
Tracy de laBarre and Dirk Rentmeister opened up their Silvermoon Bunkhouse 4 years ago.
They didn’t intend to be spending their summers in Keno so soon. But a small silver rush a few years ago had them chomping at the bit, so they got to work on their “not quite a hotel” a few years early.
It’s part of what makes Keno so unique. Its population will fluctuate wildly with the price of silver.
There are several mines still active in the area, but unless the price of silver goes over $22 an ounce, it’s not profitable to operate them says Scott.
Even though the silver rush that brought them there ended quickly, Tracy didn’t mind getting a jump-start on the business.
“The first time Dirk brought me here, I just fell in love with the place,” she said.
According to Tracy, there’s a certain kind of person who likes “end of the road” towns.
“Most everyone here gets along. Sure there are some glitches. Some people come up here because they don’t like other people, but this place is really evolving,” she said.
According to Tracy, Keno is the place to be the weekend before Dawson City Music Festival. Some of the musicians like to stop off at the town for a laid-back jam.
“It’s a bit of a local secret,” she said.
Hopefully the allure of peace, quirk, and silver doesn’t change the town too much.
“We have some great local businesses that are low-key, and we don’t really want to lose that,” Scott says.
“All we really have to do is host people, welcome them, you don’t need to add a lot of glitz. It’s a place to enjoy peace and quiet.” Y