SITES AND SOUNDS
• Learn about the gold rush at the Atlin Museum and take a historical walking tour through downtown.
• Catch a film, talk, or live-music at the historic Globe Theatre.
• Walk the Pioneer Cemetery and visit tombstones that date back to the gold rush.
WHERE TO STAY
Atlin has several accommodation options, including the Brewery Bay Chalet, the Atlin Mountain Inn, Glacier View Cabins, and the Atlin Cabins. There are also several places listed on AirBnB. Pine Creek Campground and Norseman Adventures RV Park are great options for campers and RVers.
• For breathtaking views and a vigorous hike, head up the Monarch Mountain Trail and Como Lake Trail, or take a relaxed stroll along the Crocus Trail and visit Pine Creek Falls. Pine Creek Trail starts across the road from the campground and meanders up the creekside.
• Go for a picnic and take a dip at the Atlin Warm Springs.
• Explore the wilderness by mountain bike. (Check out atlinmountainbiking.weebly.com.)
• Bring a canoe, kayak, or powerboat and explore the largest natural freshwater lake in B.C.
The town Yukoners want to adopt
By Fiona McGlynn, Photos by Manu Keggenhoff
“But what about the bugs? Will they be bad?” my mother asked over the phone. “We’ve got lots of nets and bug dope,” I replied, hoping to allay her (and my own) concerns about her looming trip up north.
I grew up in North Vancouver, and before I met my husband (a born and raised northerner), I’d never heard of Atlin. Like many Vancouverites, I assumed northern B.C. began and ended in Prince George.
Atlin (population 300–500, depending on the season) is B.C.’s northernmost village. It’s so far north you have to travel through the Yukon to get here. Just a two-hour drive from Whitehorse, the Yukon’s capital, and over 17 hours from Smithers, B.C., the closest city south, many northerners consider Atlin an honourary Yukon community. Some Atlinites even proudly placard their Subarus with “Atlin, Y.T.” bumper stickers, leaving me to ponder if the playful rumours of a movement to cede Atlin to the Yukon are more than wishful thinking.
The name Atlin comes from Áa Tlein, Tlingit for “big body of water.” It’s an apt description. Atlin Lake is the largest natural lake in B.C.
I lived in the community for a year when I invited my family from B.C. and Ontario to visit. I had reason for concern. My father-in-law, Doug Urquhart, told me a story about bringing his parents from Toronto. Proud and excited to show them a cabin he and his wife had built in the woods, he exuberantly swung open the door only to reveal an unbelievable sight: a mummified porcupine stuck in the middle of the floor after chewing its way through the previous winter. Shock quickly turning to mortification. Doug tried to stomp the poor, desiccated rodent back under the cabin to no effect. Finally, he resorted to sawing off the top half of the porcupine while his mother looked away. The bottom half resides under the floorboards of the family cabin to this day, an ever-present reminder to those who dare invite their southern families up for a vacation.
Of course I was worried.Would they balk at the lack of cellphone service? Be disgusted by an outhouse? Would they see the charm in chopping firewood—not for Instagram but because it’s actually cold at the end of August? Would they fall in love with the North the way I had?
I thought the best way to ease them in was with a historical walking tour of downtown Atlin. So, with cans of bug spray at the ready, we took to the streets trimmed with colorful clapboard buildings. Starting on Discovery Street, named for the ghost town of Discovery just 9 km east along Surprise Lake Road, we visited a dozen or more historical buildings, including Kershaw’s Hardware Store, the Globe Theatre, and the Courthouse. Our guide, the vice-president of the Atlin Historical Society, informed us that Atlin’s gold rush started in the fall of 1898 and that gold mining continues today. In the early days, the town of Discovery hosted more than 10,000 people. By 1900 there were nine hotels, our guide explained. The Atlin placer-gold camp would eventually rank as the second largest producer of placer gold in the province and Spruce Creek would hold the provincial record for the largest nugget, which weighed 2.6 kg, the equivalent weight of approximately half a porcupine.
My family oohed and aahed as we took in the MV Tarahne, the historic vessel resting on the lakeshore below Atlin Mountain’s slopes. Some say Atlin’s second gold rush came in the form of tourists, who started visiting in 1917. According to some accounts, these visitors—as well as some of the first gold miners—actually mistook Atlin for the Klondike Goldfields.
Riding the success of our tour, it was time to show my family another of Atlin’s great treasures: local artwork. From world-renowned painters, fashion designers, and writers to stained-glass artisans, smithies, weavers, woodworkers, and jewellers, artists of every medium live here. Much of their work can be viewed and bought at local galleries and gift shops.
Felted flowers, glittering lights, and ravens hang from the walls of one such store, Magpie, Etc. The place is bursting at the seams with colourful textiles, eclectic baubles, and one-of-a-kind jewelry.
Magpie was started by Karyn Armour, who, after a 30-year career as the Yukon’s chief land-claims negotiator, retired to Atlin with her husband, in 2014.
When I asked Armour why so many artists live in Atlin, she said, “It’s got that out-of-the-way appeal to it and certainly the scenery. There’s also lots of time in the winter for people to work on their craft.”
Time for a bite
Perhaps it says something about my cooking, but everyone in my family soon found a favourite local spot to refuel.
My dad, after being introduced to Corrinne’s famous cinnamon rolls, regularly snuck out to the Atlin Bakery. More than once I found him enjoying a mid-afternoon nap with a telltale, icing-encrusted, brown-paper bag on the kitchen counter.
One of my aunts got her morning java jolt at Atlin Mountain Coffee Roaster’s wagon, where she would order a cappuccino, chat with locals, and take in the lake and Atlin Mountain in the morning sun.
Atlin Provincial Park is home to two other giants: the Llewellyn Glacier, one of the largest glaciers in the province, and Birch Mountain, the highest mountain in the world on an island in a freshwater lake. (How’s that for small-town qualifiers?)
I was especially keen to do something special for our last evening, so I bought the gastronomic highlight of late summer in Atlin: Taku River salmon.
Atlin is just 80 km from some of the best salmon runs on the Taku, a river that flows from B.C. to Juneau, Alaska, where it meets the Pacific Ocean. The river basin covers 27,500 square kilometres; an estimated two million salmon return to the river annually.
The Taku River Tlingit have fished the Taku River and lived on the surrounding lands for thousands of years. Each spring, fishers would head to the Taku River and return in the fall with a bounty of dried and smoked meat.
Tlingit people still fish the Taku River and play an important role in protecting it. Taku
Wild was formed by the Taku River Tlingit First Nation to sustainably catch, package, and sell the salmon, the proceeds going to conservation efforts in the Taku River Basin.
Taku Wild’s smoked sockeye Pacific salmon comes in a range of tasty seasonings and can be purchased locally.
Big Lake; Big Mountains
On the last day of my family’s visit, we rented a houseboat from Atlin Cabins and set out on Atlin Lake for a much-anticipated salmon dinner.
Puttering from shore with the sound of water lapping the hull, we were plunged into stillness. The lake doubled the immensity of Atlin and Birch mountains. We pressed between the great peaks and slipped into Torres Channel. Mountain goats watched from their lofty perches. Great rock buttresses swept up towards Cathedral Glacier. Our surroundings poured in as the activity of touring and visiting melted away. A solemn hush fell over our group and I heard an awe-inspired voice, “The Yukon really is magical.” “Well, act—.” I caught myself mid sentence, about to correct the geographical gaffe. I smiled and said, “Well, actually, yes. Yes, it really is.”