Four principal tributaries, draining a vast area of the Yukon Territory, feed the river in Canada. The Teslin River (393 km) rises in Teslin Lake, on the BC border, and joins the Yukon north of Lake Laberge. The Pelly River (608 km) rises in the SELWYN MOUNTAINS to the east and descends to the Yukon at Fort Selkirk. The White River (320 km) drains the glacial waters of the southwest, and the Stewart River (644 km) rises in the mountainous area to the east, in the mining region of Mayo and Keno Hill. In Alaska the major tributaries are the Porcupine River (721 km), which rises in the northwest Yukon Territory, the Tanana from the south, and the Koyukuk from the north.
The Yukon is a slow-moving, braided stream, and is shallow except when swollen by spring waters. Its gradient is even and there are few rapids; those at Miles Canyon, which proved so treacherous to the Klondike prospectors, have been drowned by a hydroelectric development. From Fort Selkirk to DAWSON, the river is sprinkled with wooded islands and its long, wide stretches are bordered by mountains. Past Dawson, the valley becomes narrow and then, as it enters Alaska, widens into the broad interior plateau called the "Yukon Flats."
The river mouth was known to Russian fur traders by 1831. The upper reaches were explored by HBC trader Robert Campbell, who explored the Pelly River and established a post at Fort Selkirk on the Yukon in 1848. John Bell of the HBC reached the river via the Porcupine River in 1846. For 3 months of the year, the Yukon is navigable from its mouth to WHITEHORSE (some 2860 km). Steamers plied the river in the 1860s, and there were at least 20 in service in 1900, at the height of the KLONDIKE GOLD RUSH. Today the steamers are antique and the area is served by road and air.
The Yukon basin is believed to be the chief migration route of America's original settlers (see PREHISTORY). However, it remains sparsely populated. Several thousand native people maintain their traditional life-style, being at least partly dependent on hunting and trapping. The forest cover of small conifers supplies local needs, but growth is too slow for a viable forestry industry; there is little agriculture. The isolation and scenic beauty of the river attracts tourists. The name Yukon was first applied to the river and is from the GWICH'IN word Yu-kun-ah, meaning "great river."
Author JAMES MARSH
Links to Other Sites
Yukon Photographers: The Gold Rush Era, 1897-1900
A photographic history of the gold rush years in the Yukon. Also features profiles of the pioneering photographers who chronicled the work and lives of the hardy gold rush prospectors. From the Virtual Museum of Canada.
Yukon: Larger Than Life
An extensive visitors guide to all there is to see and do in the scenic and historic Yukon. Includes community profiles. From Tourism Yukon.
Rivers of Canada
This site highlights the political and economic importance of Canada’s major river systems. From the Canadian Geographic Magazine.
A Look Back in Time - The Archaeology of Fort Selkirk
An informative guide to the ancient and traditional history of the Fort Selkirk area, one of the Yukon’s most important historic sites. A Government of Yukon website.
Yukon River Panel
Trace the route of the Yukon River through the Yukon and Alaska to the Bering Sea. Learn about salmon natural history and the management of local salmon stocks and fisheries. From the website for the Yukon River Panel.
Mammoth discovery: researchers find woolly beasts went extinct slowly
A news story about University of Alberta scientists uncovering DNA evidence from woolly mammoths in permafrost along the Yukon River. From the canada.com website.
Hougen Group of Companies
The website for the Whitehorse-based Hougen Group of Companies. Features a review of company history and profiles of the Hougen family. Also provides an extensively illustrated history of the Yukon Territory.
Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...