The territory was split from the Northwest Territories in 1898 and was named the "Yukon Territory". The federal government's Yukon Act, which received royal assent on March 27, 2002, established "Yukon" as the territory's official name, though "Yukon Territory" is also still popular in usage and Canada Post continues to use the territory's internationally approved postal abbreviation of YT. Though officially bilingual (English and French), the Yukon Government also recognizes First Nations languages.
At 5,959 m (19,551 ft), Yukon's Mount Logan, in Kluane National Park and Reserve, is the highest mountain in Canada and the second-highest on the North American continent (after Denali in the U.S. state of Alaska). Most of Yukon has a subarctic climate, characterized by long cold winters and brief warm summers. The Arctic Ocean coast has a tundra climate.
Notable rivers include the Yukon River, after which the territory was named, as well as the Pelly, Stewart, Peel, White and Tatshenshini rivers.
Long before the arrival of Europeans, central and southern Yukon was populated by First Nations people, and the area escaped glaciation. Sites of archeological significance in Yukon hold some of the earliest evidence of the presence of human occupation in North America. The sites safeguard the history of the first people and the earliest First Nations of the Yukon.
The volcanic eruption of Mount Churchill in approximately 800 AD in what is now the U.S. state of Alaska blanketed southern Yukon with a layer of ash which can still be seen along the Klondike Highway, and which forms part of the oral tradition of First Nations peoples in Yukon and further south in Canada.
Coastal and inland First Nations had extensive trading networks. European incursions into the area only began early in the 19th century with the fur trade, followed by missionaries. By the 1870s and 1880s gold miners began to arrive. This drove a population increase that justified the establishment of a police force, just in time for the start of the Klondike Gold Rush in 1897. The increased population coming with the gold rush led to the separation of the Yukon district from the Northwest Territories and the formation of the separate Yukon Territory in 1898.
The territory is the approximate shape of a right triangle, bordering the U.S. state of Alaska to the west and northwest for 1,210 km (752 mi) mostly along longitude 141° W, the Northwest Territories to the east and British Columbia to the south. Its northern coast is on the Beaufort Sea. Its ragged eastern boundary mostly follows the divide between the Yukon Basin and the Mackenzie River drainage basin to the east in the Mackenzie mountains.
Most of the territory is in the watershed of its namesake, the Yukon River. The southern Yukon is dotted with a large number of large, long and narrow glacier-fed alpine lakes, most of which flow into the Yukon River system. The larger lakes include Teslin Lake, Atlin Lake, Tagish Lake, Marsh Lake, Lake Laberge, Kusawa Lake and Kluane Lake. Bennett Lake on the Klondike Gold Rush trail is a lake flowing into Nares Lake, with the greater part of its area within Yukon.
Canada's highest point, Mount Logan (5,959 m or 19,551 ft), is in the territory's southwest. Mount Logan and a large part of the Yukon's southwest are in Kluane National Park and Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other national parks include Ivvavik National Park and Vuntut National Park in the north.
Other watersheds include the Mackenzie River, the Peel Watershed and the Alsek–Tatshenshini, and a number of rivers flowing directly into the Beaufort Sea. The two main Yukon rivers flowing into the Mackenzie in the Northwest Territories are the Liard River in the southeast and the Peel River and its tributaries in the northeast.
Notable widespread tree species within Yukon are the black spruce and white spruce. Many trees are stunted because of the short growing season and severe climate.
The capital, Whitehorse, is also the largest city, with about three-quarters of the population; the second largest is Dawson City (pop. 2,016), which was the capital until 1952.
While the average winter temperature in the Yukon is mild by Canadian arctic standards, no other place in North America gets as cold as the Yukon during extreme cold snaps. The temperature has dropped down to −60 °C (−76 °F) three times, 1947, 1954, and 1968. The most extreme cold snap occurred in February 1947 when the abandoned town of Snag dropped down to −63.0 °C (−81.4 °F).
Unlike most of Canada where the most extreme heat waves occur in July, August, and even September, The Yukon's extreme heat tends to occur in June and even May. The Yukon has recorded 36 °C (97 °F) three times. The first time was in June 1969 when Mayo recorded a temperature of 36.1 °C (97 °F). 14 years later this record was almost beaten when Forty Mile recorded 36 °C (97 °F) in May 1983. The old record was finally broken 21 years later in June 2004 when the Mayo Road weather station, located just northwest of Whitehorse, recorded a temperature of 36.5 °C (97.7 °F).
The population of Yukon in the 2016 census is 35,874, an increase of 5.8% from 2011. With a land area of 474,712.64 km2 (183,287.57 sq mi), it had a population density of 0.1/km2 (0.2/sq mi) in 2011.
According to the 2006 Canada Census the majority of the territory's population was of European descent, although it has a significant population of First Nations communities across the territory.
The top ten ancestries were:
The 2011 National Household Survey examined Yukon's ethnocultural diversity and immigration. At that time, 87.7% of residents were Canadian-born and 24.2% were of Aboriginal origin. The most common countries of birth for immigrants were the United Kingdom (15.9%), the Philippines (15.0%), and the United States (13.2%). Among very recent immigrants (between 2006 and 2011) living in Yukon, 63.5% were born in Asia.
The most commonly reported mother tongue among the 33,145 single responses to the 2011 Canadian census was English at 28,065 (85%). The second-most common was 1,455 (4%) for French. Among 510 multiple respondents, 140 of them (27%) reported a mother tongue of both English and French, while 335 (66%) reported English and a 'non-official language' and 20 (4%) reported French and a 'non-official language'.
The Yukon Language Act "recognises the significance" of aboriginal languages in Yukon; however, only English and French are available for laws, court proceedings, and legislative assembly proceedings.
The 2011 National Household Survey reported that 49.9% of Yukoners reported having no religious affiliation, the highest percentage in Canada. The most frequently reported religious affiliation was Christianity, reported by 46.2% of residents. Of these, the most common denominations were the Catholic Church (39.6%), the Anglican Church of Canada (17.8%) and the United Church of Canada (9.6%).
Yukon's historical major industry was mining (lead, zinc, silver, gold, asbestos and copper). The government acquired the land from the Hudson's Bay Company in 1870 and split it from the Northwest Territories in 1898 to fill the need for local government created by the population influx of the gold rush.
Thousands of these prospectors flooded the territory, creating a colourful period recorded by authors such as Robert W. Service and Jack London. The memory of this period and the early days of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, as well as the territory's scenic wonders and outdoor recreation opportunities, makes tourism the second most important industry.
Manufacturing, including furniture, clothing, and handicrafts, follows in importance, along with hydroelectricity. The traditional industries of trapping and fishing have declined. Today, the government sector is by far the biggest employer in the territory, directly employing approximately 5,000 out of a labour force of 12,500, on a population of 36,500.
On 1 May 2015, Yukon modified its Business Corporations Act, in an effort to attract more benefits and participants to its economy. One amendment to the BCA lets a proxy be given for voting purposes. Another change will allow directors to pursue business opportunities declined by the corporation, a practice off-limits in most other jurisdictions due to the inherent potential for conflicts of interest. One of the changes will allow a corporation to serve as a director of a subsidiary registered in Yukon. The legislation also allows companies to add provisions in their articles of incorporation giving directors blanket approval to sell of all of the company’s assets without requiring a shareholder vote. If provided for by a unanimous shareholders agreement, a corporation is not required to have directors at all. There is increased flexibility regarding the location of corporate records offices, including the ability to maintain a records office outside of the Yukon so long as it is accessible by electronic means.
Yukon's tourism motto is "Larger than life". Yukon's major appeal is its nearly pristine nature. Tourism relies heavily on this, and there are many organized outfitters and guides available to hunters and anglers and nature lovers of all sorts. Sports enthusiasts can paddle lakes and rivers with canoes and kayaks, ride or walk trails, ski or snowboard in an organized setting or access the backcountry by air or snowmobile, climb the highest peaks in Canada or take a family hike up smaller mountains, or try ice climbing and dog sledding. There are also various festivals and sporting events such as the Yukon International Storytelling Festival and Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous.
There are many opportunities to experience pre-colonial lifestyles by learning about Yukon's First Nations. Wildlife and nature observation is exceptional and a wide variety of large mammals, birds, and fish are easily accessible, whether or not within Yukon's many territorial parks (Herschel Island Qikiqtaruk Territorial Park, Tombstone Territorial Park, Fishing Branch Ni'iinlii'njik Park, Coal River Springs Territorial Park) and national parks (Kluane National Park and Reserve, Vuntut National Park, Ivvavik National Park) and reserves, or nearby Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park in British Columbia.
The latitude enables the view of aurora borealis in Yukon.
Although English is the main language used in the territory, as evidenced by the census, the Government of Yukon recognizes several aboriginal languages as part of the cultural heritage of the territory: the Tlingit, and the less common Tahltan, as well as seven Athapaskan languages, Upper Tanana, Gwitchin, Hän, Northern Tutchone, Southern Tutchone, Kaska and Tagish, some of which are rare. As noted above, the "aboriginal identity population" makes up a relatively small part of the total population, accounting for about 25 percent. Notwithstanding, the aboriginal culture is strongly reflected in such areas as winter sports, as in the Yukon Quest sled dog race. The modern comic-book character Yukon Jack depicts a heroic aboriginal persona. By far the strongest cultural and tourism aspect of Yukon, however, is the legacy of the Klondike Gold Rush (1897–1899), which inspired such contemporary writers at the time as Robert W. Service, Jack London and Jules Verne and which continues to inspire films and games from Mae West's Klondike Annie to The Yukon Trail (see Cultural legacy of the Klondike Gold Rush). Notable residents have included Leslie Nielsen, Erik Nielsen and Pierre Berton.
Yukon also has a wide array of cultural and sporting events and infrastructures that attract artists, participants and tourists from all parts of the world; Yukon International Storytelling Festival, Dawson City Music Festival, Yukon Quest, Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous, the Adäka Cultural Festival, the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre, Northern Lights Centre, Klondike Gold Rush memorials and activities, Takhini Hot Springs, and the Whitehorse fish ladder.
In the 19th century, Yukon was a segment of North-Western Territory that was administered by the Hudson's Bay Company, and then of the Northwest Territories administered by the federal Canadian government. It only obtained a recognizable local government in 1895 when it became a separate district of the Northwest Territories. In 1898, it was made a separate territory with its own commissioner and an appointed Territorial Council.
Prior to 1979, the territory was administered by the commissioner who was appointed by the federal Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. The commissioner had a role in appointing the territory's Executive Council, served as chair, and had a day-to-day role in governing the territory. The elected Territorial Council had a purely advisory role. In 1979, a significant degree of power was devolved from the commissioner and the federal government to the territorial legislature which, in that year, adopted a party system of responsible government. This change was accomplished through a letter from Jake Epp, the Minister of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, rather than through formal legislation.
In preparation for responsible government, political parties were organized and ran candidates to the Yukon Legislative Assembly for the first time in 1978. The Progressive Conservatives won these elections and formed the first party government of Yukon in January 1979. The Yukon New Democratic Party (NDP) formed the government from 1985 to 1992 under Tony Penikett and again from 1996 under Piers McDonald until being defeated in 2000. The conservatives returned to power in 1992 under John Ostashek after having renamed themselves the Yukon Party. The Liberal government of Pat Duncan was defeated in elections in November 2002, with Dennis Fentie of the Yukon Party forming the government as Premier.
The Yukon Act, passed on April 1, 2003, formalized the powers of the Yukon government and devolved additional powers to the territorial government (e.g., control over land and natural resources). As of 2003, other than criminal prosecutions, the Yukon government has much of the same powers as provincial governments, and the other two territories are looking to obtaining the same powers. Today the role of commissioner is analogous to that of a provincial lieutenant governor; however, unlike lieutenant-governors, commissioners are not formal representatives of the Queen but are employees of the federal government.
Although there has been discussion in the past about Yukon becoming Canada's 11th province, it is generally felt that its population base is too sparse for this to occur at present.
At the federal level, the territory is represented in the Parliament of Canada by a single Member of Parliament and one senator. Members of Parliament from Canadian territories are full and equal voting representatives and residents of the territory enjoy the same rights as other Canadian citizens. One Yukon Member of Parliament, Erik Nielsen, was the Deputy Prime Minister under the government of Brian Mulroney, while another, Audrey McLaughlin, was the leader of the federal New Democratic Party from 1989 to 1995.
The entire territory is one riding (electoral district) in the Canadian House of Commons, also called Yukon. The current holder of the seat is Liberal Member of Parliament Larry Bagnell following his victory in the 2015 federal election.
Yukon is allocated one seat in the Senate of Canada and has been represented by three Senators since the position was created in 1975. The Senate position is held by Conservative senator Daniel Lang, who was appointed by then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper on December 22, 2008. It was previously filled by Ione Christensen, of the Liberal Party. Appointed to the Senate in 1999 by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, Christensen resigned in December 2006 to help her ailing husband. From 1975 to 1999, Paul Lucier (Liberal) served as Senator for Yukon. Lucier was appointed by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.
Before modern forms of transportation, the rivers and mountain passes were the main transportation routes for the coastal Tlingit people trading with the Athabascans of which the Chilkoot Pass and Dalton Trail, as well as the first Europeans.
From the Gold Rush until the 1950s, riverboats plied the Yukon River, mostly between Whitehorse and Dawson City, with some making their way further to Alaska and over to the Bering Sea, and other tributaries of the Yukon River such as the Stewart River. Most of the riverboats were owned by the British-Yukon Navigation Company, an arm of the White Pass and Yukon Route, which also operated a narrow gauge railway between Skagway, Alaska, and Whitehorse. The railway ceased operation in the 1980s with the first closure of the Faro mine. It is now run during the summer months for the tourism season, with operations as far as Carcross.
Today, major land routes include the Alaska Highway, the Klondike Highway (between Skagway and Dawson City), the Haines Highway (between Haines, Alaska, and Haines Junction), and the Dempster Highway (linking Inuvik, Northwest Territories to the Klondike Highway), all paved except for the Dempster. Other highways with less traffic include the "Robert Campbell Highway" linking Carmacks (on the Klondike Highway) to Watson Lake (Alaska Highway) via Faro and Ross River, and the "Silver Trail" linking the old silver mining communities of Mayo, Elsa and Keno City to the Klondike Highway at the Stewart River bridge. Air travel is the only way to reach the far north community of Old Crow.
Whitehorse International Airport serves as the air transport infrastructure hub, with scheduled direct flights to Vancouver, Kelowna, Calgary, Edmonton, Yellowknife, Inuvik, Ottawa, Dawson City, Old Crow and Frankfurt. Whitehorse International Airport is also the headquarters and primary hub for Air North, Yukon's Airline. Every Yukon community is served by an airport or community aerodrome. The communities of Dawson City and Old Crow have regular scheduled service through Air North. Air charter businesses exist primarily to serve the tourism and mining exploration industries.