History of Carcross
The village of Carcross—originally called Caribou Crossing—is located on the South Klondike Highway, between Whitehorse and Skagway. It is 74km (46mi) south of Whitehorse. The elevation is 662 metres (2,170 feet). The population is around 500 people, comprised of an even mix of First Nations and white people.
The First Nations people are the Carcross/Tagish First Nation. Their original population centres were Carcross and Tagish, and Squanga. The languages originally spoken by Carcross/Tagish people were Tagish and Tlingit. The First Nation’s Self Government Agreement came into effect in 2006. They are 1 of 11 Self-governing First Nations in the Yukon.
The original name of the village (Caribou Crossing) came from the miners, who observed large herds of caribou that swam the narrows between Bennett and Nares lakes twice a year. The name was changed to Carcross in 1902. The reason being that the postal mail for the local school kept being redirected to Caribou Crossing in British Columbia and to the one in Alaska.
While the post office adopted the name change, the railway kept the station name of Caribou Crossing until 1916. The railway station is still used during the summer months by White Pass & Yukon Route for scenic rail excursions to Bennet, British Columbia and to Skagway, Alaska. The original station burned down during a fire in 1910. That same fire also destroyed the Caribou Hotel and most of the other buildings in downtown Carcross. The station, hotel and store were rebuilt within a year.
For many years the sternwheeler Tutshi stood along the shore of the community; but it too was destroyed by fire in July 1990. The ruins of the boat have been converted into a viewing platform with interpretive displays.
On the 45-minute drive from Whitehorse to Carcross, you’ll see the spectacular Emerald Lake.
Emerald Lake is at kilometre 117.5 (mile 73.5), measured from Skagway, Alaska. The colour comes from light reflecting off white deposits of marl—a mixture of clay and calcium carbonate, at the bottom of the shallow waters. The high concentration of calcium carbonate in Emerald Lake comes from limestone gravels eroded from the nearby mountains, which were deposited here 14,000 years ago by the glaciers of the last ice age. Glacial erosion was likewise responsible for scooping out the shallow lakebed.
Famous Historical Residents
The Carcross cemetery has two famous Tagish First Nation residents. Skookum Jim and Dawson “Tagish” Charlie struck gold at Bonanza Creek—which was a significant find, as it sparked the Klondike Gold Rush. Skookum Jim’s First Nation name is Keish, and Tagish Charlie’s name is Káa Goox. Also buried in the cemetery is Kate Carmack, whose First Nations’ name was Shaaw Tláa. She was Skookum Jim’s sister; and, at the time of the strike, the wife of the third man in the Bonanza Creek strike, George Carmack.
World’s Smallest Desert
One kilometre north of Carcross is the world’s smallest desert. The Carcross Desert is a 260-hectare expanse of sand that once lay on the bottom of a large glacial lake covering the entire valley bottom. Strong winds off Bennett Lake keep the sand constantly shifting, making it difficult for plants other than Lodgepole Pine and Kinnikinnick to grow.
Things to do/see in Carcross
First visit the Carcross Visitor Information Centre in the Carcross Commons Commercial Village. The Visitor Centre is open from 1 May to 30 September between the hours of 8:00am to 8:00pm.
- Railway Station: visit the old station for information and souvenirs.
- General Store: Buy old-fashioned candy and modern conveniences.
- Caribou Café: BBQ lunch is freshly prepared and served up daily. Upgrade for the Museum package, which includes access to the Husky Village as well.
- Wildlife Museum: You’ll see wolves, bears, caribou, muskoxen, as well as a woolly mammoth.
- Dog Cart Rides and Husky Puppies: Meet dogs from the Iditarod and the Yukon Quest.
- Klondike Gold Tours: Have fun trying your luck with gold panning.
- Petting Farm: See goats, miniature donkeys, rabbits and ponies.
- Be sure to stop by the retail village known as Carcross Commons. It features a carving shed, Visitor Information Centre, bakery/coffee shop, a restaurant and an art gallery.
- Carcross also has a convenience store, RV Park and gas station.