On June 8, 2016, I played in Canada’s Yukon for the first time. And it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that this trip changed my life. The Yukon is a truly untouched forest territory- with an exciting little city in the middle.
Things started on Sunday the 5th, when I flew from Boston to Montreal to Ottawa; I stayed overnight in Ottawa so that I could catch my morning flight to Whitehorse, Yukon. It was an exhausting flight itinerary and I almost missed one of the flights… I had a two-hour layover in Montreal that quickly became one hour when my flight from Boston was delayed. But I miraculously managed to go through customs and security and catch my connection, in time to meet my first roommate from college, who lives in Ottawa. We got some great Vietnamese food downtown and saw a statue of the late Canadian pianist Oscar Peterson.
The next day, I took the Yukon’s own airline Air North to Whitehorse; the plane stopped in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Canada’s northern portion is divided into three territories (Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut), each with a significant portion of the population in the respective capital cities. The rest is wilderness!
Whitehorse is a small capital city of about 27,000 people, located on the Alaska Highway. Despite the fact that it is south of the Arctic Circle, there is still a “midnight sun” effect, with strong twilight even during the few hours of summer night. The temperature often goes above 70 and below 40 degrees Fahrenheit during the summer, so one must prepare to wear different layers. There is not too much precipitation as the Yukon is in the West; however, the snow definitely piles up in the winter.
The infrastructure is quite strong in Whitehorse; the roads are smooth because people drive long distances, and Whitehorse has some of the only grocery stores for dozens if not hundreds of miles. Many people who visit Whitehorse have driven from locations as far away as Ontario and Texas. The Yukon’s capital is an artisans’ town; there are plenty of small music halls, gourmet restaurants, artists’ studios and more. I learned that very quickly from the first meal…
But this trip wouldn’t have been possible without the amazing contributions by everyone in Whitehorse- Hailey Hechtman from the disability support organization Teegatha’Oh Zheh, Leslie Peters from Autism Yukon, and Steve Gedrose from Jazz Yukon.
There was also an exciting interview with Dave White from CBC Yukon radio, who is an avid listener of all genres of music including jazz, and who has lived in the Yukon since 1989.
Other highlights of the trip included a vaudeville revue called the Frantic Follies (check out the Can-Can and the rather silly version of Pachelbel’s Canon), a trip to Carcross (short for Caribou Crossing; the town has fewer than 500 people but it’s home to a great burger joint and the “world’s smallest desert”), a ride on Whitehorse’s downtown trolley (which only goes about 5 MPH, but offers a great view of the Yukon River), and an intense hike by Miles Canyon (up and down, up and down; don’t lose your balance).
With all the sightseeing, it was hard to get into performance mode again… especially since the show was at Teegatha’Oh Zheh’s Inclusion Expo at the Canada Games Centre, a gigantic indoor athletic facility containing two hockey rinks, a soccer field, and a pool with a full-size water slide.
After the workout, however, I went back to the hotel, got dressed, and did a one-hour speech/performance, followed later in the evening by a 30-minute solo piano jazz set. This was definitely the northernmost show I have ever done.
I wish I had more time to spend up north, but I had to head back the next day.
The Yukon will always be in my heart and I will have to come back someday- whether for a performance or just to see the North. I feel like a Yukoner already even though it also feels good to be back home.
But I’m already preparing for another mountain trip- Albuquerque and Denver in July.
It’s going to be a “cool” summer and I hope to see you soon.