Whitehorse was so much weirder than expected. Sure, I had wholesome northern adventures chasing the aurora borealis, ice fishing, snowmobiling and touring craft breweries. And yes, I did the important stuff like visit the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre and MacBride Museum and admire the S.S. Klondike sternwheeler. But while friends tried glassblowing at Lumel Studios, I wandered in search of quirk. Yukon’s capital city — which is vastly underrated as a great Canadian winter getaway — has all kinds of offbeat things to do all year long.

  

Sign strange guestbooks

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I was so busy perusing the souvenirs that I almost missed it. Inside the Midnight Sun Emporium, look up and see sagging lines autographed wooden clothes pegs hanging from the ceilings and walls. “Please sign our guestbook and become part of a history that began in the 1920s,” reads a sign by a bowl of clothes pegs (aka clothes pins). “Sign your name, where you’re from and today’s date.” According to legend, a woman known as “Grandma Osborn” started the creative guestbook in her cabin kitchen near Dawson City in 1927 and continued for decades. Her granddaughter eventually passed the collection on and this store proudly continues the unusual tradition.

 

Ponder super-sized weathervanes

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When you drive down the highway from the airport, you’ll spot a DC-3 bush plane mounted on a stone pedestal outside the Yukon Transportation Museum. This particular “Model T of the Skies” flew for the United States Army and then for several Yukon airlines with the registration letters CF-CPY before being retired and mined for spare parts. Eventually aircraft maintenance engineer Joe Muff stepped in with a plan and sold her to the Yukon Flying Club, which lovingly restored the old girl in vintage Canadian Pacific Airlines colours. “Pivoting on its mount, the aircraft always points into the wind,” reads a plaque. Working with the wind, instead of against it, CF-CPY is a local landmark and contender for the title of world’s largest weathervane.

  

Have a liquid breakfast

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My most treasured souvenir is a beer mug pin that proves I took part in the 98 Hotel Breakfast Club. I was warned that breakfast at this beloved dive bar would be entirely liquid and available as soon as the doors opened at 9 a.m., so I deliberately ignored the tiny sign offering four kinds of meat pies and nursed a Lead Dog (a strong craft beer made by Yukon Brewing). Without giving anything away, let’s just say that to earn my pin, my server led me through a colourful quiz that had the regulars howling. Founded in 1948, The 98 proudly claims to have “the oldest liquor licence issued west of Winnipeg” and to be “the last of the genuine old-time bars.” Be cautious around the golden bell at the bar. Ring it and you’re buying drinks for the room.

  

Admire offbeat architecture

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Whitehorse boasts two famous log skyscrapers — one double decker and one triple-decker — on a residential lot downtown on Lambert Street. Canada’s Historic Places says the eye-catching rental homes — with cantilevered wraparound balconies, pole railings, low-pitched gable roofs and extended eaves — are historically and architecturally significant. The city was booming after the Second World War when prospector turned urban planner Martin Berrigan built the skyscrapers that are said to be one of a kind (two of a kind?) in Canada and that have become the most photographed sites in the city.

 

Ogle roadside attractions

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If the sight of woolly mammoth statues outside the Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre confuses you, remember that during the last ice age a region called Beringia ran from eastern Siberia to the northern Yukon through Alaska. Untouched by glaciers, the region was a refuge for all kinds of prehistoric animals, including the hairy, hump-backed, herbivore with the impressive tusks known as the woolly mammoth. Inside the centre, there’s a cast of North America’s largest woolly mammoth, dioramas of extinct ice age animals, and the remains of a 26,000-year-old extinct Yukon horse. The centre’s controversial design has famously been called “butt ugly.”

 

Honour the city’s name

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Legend has it that Whitehorse was named after foamy rapids that resembled the flowing manes on charging white horses. On an eclectic city tour with guide Mia Lee of Who What Where Tours, I stopped outside the Public Safety Building on Two Mile Hill to admire a stunning metal sculpture known as the Whitehorse Horse that overlooks the city. Artist Daphne Mennell and journeyman welder Roger Poole created the rearing horse with scrap metal donations from people across the territory to represent the origins of the city’s name “and the fact that we are all responsible for the shaping of the Yukon each in our own small way.”

  

Count moose and Mounties

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How many moose and/or Mounties can you find within the city limits? For starters, there’s a taxidermied bull moose head hanging above a Mountie statue in the Best Western Gold Rush Inn lobby, and a human-sized stuffed animal moose wearing the RCMP’s red dress uniform outside the Midnight Sun Emporium. But my favourite is the 12-metre tall wooden Mountie who guards the entrance to the Coast High Country Inn. Prince William and Kate Middleton famously had a “date night” away from their kids at this modest hotel during their last royal tour. No word on whether they could see the giant Mountie from their presidential suite.

 

When you go

Sleep

The Best Western Gold Rush Inn in downtown Whitehorse boasts a free airport shuttle and saloon. In the woods on the edge of town, the Yukon Pines has two self-catering log cabins.
  

Eat

Try the new Wayfarer Oyster House for West coast seafood, house-made pasta, local meats, smoked fish and killer cocktails. Burnt Toast Café and Bullet Hole Bagels offer excellent daytime eats. The Woodcutter’s Blanket serves craft beer and cocktails with a light menu inside a heritage log building. Hue Oasis, hidden in the Skky Hotel, makes stellar Korean food. Antoinette’s Restaurant has served Caribbean fare for more than a decade under a chef/owner who was born in Tobago. Ask to see the mummified house cat at the Dirty Northern Bastard Public House, which makes fantastic thin-crust pizzas.
  
 

Drink

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Beer lovers must visit Deep Dark Wood Brewing Co. for its small batch, mixed culture, barrel fermented offerings. Winterlong Brewing Co. has a tasting room and small menu. Yukon Brewing offers tours and houses sister company Yukon Spirits and its award-winning whisky.
  

Shop

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Vanessa Ægirsdóttir creates stunning jewelry and textiles from ethically harvested fur that her Indigenous partner traps on his family’s trapline. Her tiny shop, V. Ægirsdóttir, is downtown in Horwoods Mall.
  

Get there/around

Air Canada and WestJet fly to Whitehorse. Air North, Yukon’s airline, flies to select Canadian cities. Rent a car or get by with a mix of walking, taxis and tours.

  

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