Exploring The Yukon River Independent producer Jake Warga visits Whitehorse, Canada, and goes up the Yukon River. He explores the places that inspired poet Robert Service and writer Jack London. He finds the original cabin London used. And he meets various people at this northern outpost.
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Exploring The Yukon River

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Exploring The Yukon River

Exploring The Yukon River

Exploring The Yukon River

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Independent producer Jake Warga visits Whitehorse, Canada, and goes up the Yukon River. He explores the places that inspired poet Robert Service and writer Jack London. He finds the original cabin London used. And he meets various people at this northern outpost.

GUY RAZ, host:

Now, we are going far north to the Canadian territory that sits just east of Alaska. The lure of the Yukon used to be gold hidden in the rocks. Today only a few people still dig and pan. Photographer and independent producer Jake Warga recently braved the Yukon and found not gold, but characters.

JAKE WARGA: Traveling recently from Whitehorse, Canada, up the Yukon River, I came across some interesting folks.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JIM HOWDEN: (Singing) Well, way up north in a Whitehorse town...

WARGA: First, here is Jim Howden, a busker in downtown Whitehorse.

Mr. HOWDEN: I never read much about the Yukon in the history books. I was always under the impression that Yukon was part the United States when I was growing up. I just fell in love with the place and I never left.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. HOWDEN: (Singing) Yeah, putting down the bottle...

I've only ever made up one song since I've been up here, and it's about when I sobered up.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. HOWDEN: (Singing) Yeah, putting the bottle was the hardest thing for me.

(Soundbite of dogs barking)

WARGA: It's summer and the sun doesn't really set this far north. It's confusing, but it means that even the sled dogs are on summer holiday.

Ms. MARTHA TAYLOR (Owner, Uncommon Journeys): Within our working yard, there are 54 dog houses and that's the perfect number we need to run the programs in the winter.

WARGA: Martha Taylor runs Uncommon Journeys, a dog-sledding outfit just outside of Whitehorse.

Ms. TAYLOR: The lead dogs are often the smartest dog, the most outgoing dog, a real bossy personality.

WARGA: You want to introduce me to one?

Ms. TAYLOR: Sure. Yup. We'll go in to the yard here.

(Soundbite of dogs barking)

Ms. TAYLOR: Hello, Fleece(ph). Hello. So, Fleece is one of our leaders. Fleece has become a little bit of a star. He's the man on campus, and yup, he's a fan of the ladies. So, that's Fleece. Hey, hey.

WARGA: After hosing off my shoe, I continue north heading up the great Yukon River. It's easy to feel alone here, unless you count the mosquitoes, then it's a constant party.

FRAN (Manager, Upper Lake Labarge Lodge): There are strange things done in the midnight sun by the men who moil for gold. My name is Fran and I'm managing here at Upper Lake Labarge Lodge with Great River Journey. The arctic trails have their secret tales that would make your blood run cold. And one of the things I really like is the Robert Service poem. The Northern Lights have seen queer sights, but the queerest they ever did see was that night on the Marge of Lake Labarge I cremated Sam Mcgee. Oh, I suspect it probably happened just across the lake, that's where some of the paddle wheelers would have pulled in.

(Soundbite of Linda Harvey singing)

WARGA: Across the lake today, a general assembly of First Nations, or of native people of the area, is taking place.

Ms. LINDA HARVEY (Traditional Singer): My name is Linda Harvey and I live here at the Ton Kutchen(ph) Reserve here at Lake Labarge. Indian way, my name is Kooked Klama(ph). I sing traditional songs...

(Soundbite of Ms. Harvey singing)

Ms. HARVEY: If you know your language, you know your culture pretty well. Alcohol and abuse and all that stuff had not part of it. Maybe we did live on, you know, dirt floors and things like that, but it was still a lifestyle that people lived, you know, what we're used to and we're comfortable in.

(Soundbite of Ms. Harvey singing)

(Soundbite of singing)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Oh, I saw the light...

WARGA: After a few days working up the Yukon River, I arrive in to Dawson City like so many others did by boat. This is the Wild West, wooded sidewalks and dirt streets. Near the town's gazebo, the annual gold panning championships are taking place. I catch up with one of the winners, Dave Miller.

Mr. DAVE MILLER (Winner, Gold Panning Championship, Dawson City): Ah, well, now if I told you my secret it wouldn't be a secret anymore. It's the gold pan. (Laughing) It's quite simply the gold pan.

WARGA: The last place I visit out at the edge of town is Jack London's original cabin rebuilt at the site. I peer through the door of the small log cabin, there's a bed on stilts to be above the frozen air, a stove, a desk. It looks miserable.

(Soundbite of Jack London's cabin)

WARGA: Oops, sorry. Over here.

Mr. DICK NORTH (Jack London Cabin Visitor Center): Yeah, I went looking for it in 1965, came across written on back in pencil, Jack London, miner, author, January 27, 1898.

WARGA: Next to the little cabin is a museum, and maybe part of it is the man who brought the cabin in from the wild back in the '60s, Dick North.

Mr. NORTH: He came up here for the gold. He didn't come up here to write about it. He didn't start keeping notes until he left here. He got a scurvy really bad and had to go back home. Geez, I forgot to bring my teeth here. I left them at home. God, I got to go home and get them. Hey, will you do me a favor?

WARGA: Yeah, sure.

Mr. NORTH: Will you watch for this? I'm going to get my teeth. Just sit there a minute. Just stay in there. I'll be right back.

WARGA: OK.

Mr. NORTH: Yeah.

WARGA: OK. Now I'm alone in the Jack London Cabin Visitor Center. Being alone, feeling alone, waiting to collect money is the closest, I think, I've come to understanding the Yukon. I think I should increase the admission price.

(Soundbite of Ms. Harvey singing)

WARGA: I wait in the museum behind the till, but no one comes.

(Soundbite of Ms. Harvey singing)

RAZ: Our story about Yukon Territory in Canada comes from the collective Hearing Voices and independent producer, Jake Warga.

(Soundbite of Ms. Harvey singing)

RAZ: You're listening to All Things Considered from NPR News.

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