Tales of Two Northern Cities: Whitehorse and YK, PT. 2

We’ve both got cold, natural beauty, and colourful names that confuse southerners. It’s hard not to compare Yellowknife and Whitehorse. In this second installment of a series exploring ties between the two cities (find Part 1 here), EDGEYK.com talks with former Yellowknifers who moved to Whitehorse to see if the grass is greener there… (wait, do they even have grass? Because we don’t… really.)

When you live in Yellowknife for any period of time, there’s bound to come a moment when you ask yourself, “I wonder if I would like Whitehorse better?”

Sure, Whitehorse boasts a lot of superlatives — biggest city in the North (28,000 people), driest city in Canada, least air pollution of any city in the world — and yes, it’s got gorgeous mountains, downhill skiing, a river pulsing through its heart, and it always seems to be at least 10 degrees warmer.

But is it better? Here’s a few ex-Yellowknifers who became Whitehorsians… (OK, straight up, that’s a terrible proper name, and they know it, preferring “residents of Whitehorse”), wading in on the question.

Heather Avery (Yellowknifer 2002-2009)

Phil Jackson (Yellowknifer 1997-2006)

“I think I struggled with it a little bit. I didn’t find it as welcoming,” Heather Avery says of her move to Whitehorse, where she is a reporter with CBC North. “But since we had the baby, that changed… people have been giving away baby stuff, helping us.”

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She and geophysicist Phil Jackson were acquainted in Yellowknife, but it wasn’t until both had moved to Whitehorse and mutual friend Jasmine Budak kept insisting they meet, that they became a couple. They now own a house in the leafy Porter Creek subdivision, where they live with daughter Sadie, born Feb. 5.

Jackson, who transferred to Whitehorse while working with Aurora Geosciences Ltd, says he enjoys Whitehorse because it’s not as isolated.

“You can go somewhere easily. In a couple hours you can be in Skagway, and it’s never as cold in the winter,” he says. If he misses anything, it’s “probably the people more than the place.”

His partner, on the other hand, is a bit more nostalgic. A former instructor at Taiga Yoga, Avery says she misses the studio, Old Town (and its fun people), Folk on the Rocks, Yellowknife’s hot summers, and the lake.

“We don’t have any good places to swim,” she says.

As her cat Bandit — adopted from the Yellowknife SPCA — saunters by, she casually mentions that their other cat was taken by a coyote last summer, proving there is one thing the two frontier cities absolutely share in common. Nature.

Line Gagnon misses Yellowknife’s edgy beauty

Line Gagnon (Yellowknifer 1988 – 2004)

Chris Rodgers (Yellowknifer 1979 – 2004)

“In Yellowknife, if you sit at the post office for a week you’ll see everybody,” says Chris Rodgers.

“A week?” exclaims his wife, Line Gagnon.

“Well, okay, a day. Here, if I don’t call my friends, I’ll never see them,” he adds, dishing out dinner at their home in Riverdale, a central subdivision in Whitehorse.

The pair made their way to Yellowknife separately — Gagnon, 51, moved from Montreal in 1988 to work as a reporter, eventually becoming a communications manager with Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada. Rodgers, 56, moved to Yellowknife from Toronto in 1979 to take a summer job and worked many years in video and sound production with Pido Productions.

Each had two children with other partners before they married, blended their families and moved to Whitehorse. All of them say they miss Yellowknife.

“I miss the fact it’s a northern town. This is a southern town in the North,” says Gagnon, who recently left the federal government and now runs her own consulting company. She’s also busy with her first grandchild, Azra, a year and a half old.

“Your friends become your family very fast, and people welcome you in Yellowknife. Whitehorse is so big, you go 45 minutes and you’re still in town, it’s very spread out.”

Chris’s daughter Sylvia Mackenzie, now 24, says she misses her Tlicho culture.

“And I miss Old Town, we don’t have an Old Town here, and I miss being out on the big lake and having the lake like glass,” she says.

The couple has been able to buy some land and build a cabin, for which Gagnon says they’re grateful.

“It’s a postcard here. We live in beauty,” she says. “It’s a very easy beauty and Yellowknife is a raw beauty. It has an edge and it’s a beautiful edge if you take time to know it.”

Elise Maltin calls Whitehorse “North-lite”

Elise Maltin (Yellowknifer 2004-2012)

“You won’t be able to shut me up about how much I miss the community of Yellowknife, the cohesiveness, the funky, artsy people and the easy accessibility to everyone… and the Inuit, Metis and First Nations communities… and on and on…” Elise Maltin responded by email when asked if she’d be interviewed about her move to Whitehorse.

That wasn’t entirely true.

Maltin, who left to become an external relations manager with Parks Canada’s Yukon field unit, eventually did shut up, after four days of thoughtfully mulling over comparisons between the two cities, and concluding comparisons are futile.

First, at the Burnt Toast Cafe in Whitehorse, she added to her list of what she misses about Yellowknife.

“I miss Folk on the Rocks, I miss the big lake, I miss throwing my kayak on the car and paddling in the Yellowknife River after work. All the people I run into who moved here from Yellowknife, they all say the same thing. They still miss Yellowknife.”

Having also lived in Iqaluit and Jasper, Maltin says Whitehorse, because it’s warmer and along the Alaska Highway, has more of a West coast vibe.

“It’s not the cohesive small town, that’s the main difference, and it’s more southern in temperament. It’s north-lite.”

What does she like about her new city? A lot.

“The outdoorsy people, road access to amazing places — you can live here and still be a tourist and go to Skagway (Alaska) or Kluane National Park — the visual arts, the bookstore, birding, mountains and great coffee and beer!”

Note: Air North provided the flight to make this story possible. While we’re incredibly thankful for their contribution, the company did not influence the story’s content.

 

 

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