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Haines Junction and the adjacent Kluane National Park has something on offer year-round. In winter months, an abundance of lakes in the area offer opportunities for ice fishing and an expansive network of trails provide great cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and snowshoeing options.
Summer brings lots of activity to the village, with seasonal art galleries, a vintage clothing shop, and restaurants opening their doors. 

A visitor’s first stop should be The Champagne and Aishihik First Nations’ Da Kų (Our House) Cultural Centre. The facility also houses the Kluane National Park Visitor Centre and the Yukon Government’s Visi-
tor Information Centre
Several arts and music events are held throughout the year, including the Haines Junction Mountain Festival (yukonmountainfest.ca) on Feb. 7–9. Many other events are facilitated by the Junction Arts and Music Society (junctionjam.ca).

Haines Junction is a 154-km drive west from Whitehorse on the Alaska Highway and a 238-km drive from Haines, Alaska, on Alaska State Highway 7 and the Haines Highway. 

In addition to several motels and RV parks, Raven’s Rest Inn (ravensrestinn.ca) puts you right in the middle of everything Haines Junction has to offer. If you’d like more of a home-away-from-home experience, check out Aspen Place Suite (aspenplacesuite.com) or Kluane Green Sprout (867-334-1266). Those wanting to make new friends might want to check out the Wanderer’s Inn Backpacker’s Hostel (wanderersinn.ca).

During the summer season in particular, Haines Junction offers a surprising number of restaurant options—from Greek food at Guys and Dolls Bistro, to burgers and ice cream at Frosty’s, and fresh baked goods and coffee at the Village Bakery. Don’t let the winter cold deter you, though. Reliable fare is offered any day of the year at 1016 Pub, Lucky Dragon, and the Kluane Park Inn Restaurant, among other locations. Also open year-round is the Little Green Apple, a small grocery store offering fresh produce, pantry and freezer items, and fresh baked goods. 

Where Land Meets Sky

By Justin Freeman

At the foot of the Saint Elias Mountains, Haines Junction—or Dakwäkäda as originally known by First Nations people—harbours a sense of quiet, juxtaposing the power of the mountains with the blanket of spruce on the foothills that absorb any sound that might threaten the calm of the village below. Easily mistaken by those in a hurry as a mere widening of the road leading somewhere else, Haines Junction offers much more to those willing to slow to the village’s speed and explore this gem of a community.

Dän nätthe äda Kaaxnox (Chief Steve Smith) of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nations (CAFN) says that land and sky fundamentally informs the life of the community and Southern Tutchone culture. The vistas outside are muted by unseasonable rain as he speaks, but his love for the land he sees himself a caretaker of shines through.

“Many of the people who come here are just blown away by the vastness of nature and this really cool community that is growing in response to the amazing backdrop that we have,” he says.

Chief Smith sees in that landscape an opportunity to diminish differences between people. “We continue to want to bring together the community and celebrate this really amazing place,” he says. Part of how CAFN does that is by hosting the biennial Dákų Nän Ts’èddhyèt (Our House is Waking Up the Land) Festival, which features Indigenous song and dance, cultural workshops, and more–all free to the public.

Chief Smith explains the name has a dual meaning: recognizing the land waking up in spring and celebrating an awakening of cultural pride in his community. Far from being an insular event, the festival also represents an opportunity to welcome visitors. “For the guests who come out, it’s an amazing celebration,” he says. “They do get a first-hand look at how intimately related we all are and that we all have to live together in this wonderful country. It’s about us building the community.” The next festival is scheduled for June 2021.

Haines Junction, with a year-round population of about 600, was developed during construction of the Alaska Highway, in the 1940s, and is now popular destination for arts and cultural events. One successful example of this is the Augusto Children’s Festival. Since 2017, it has offered a wide range of performances and workshops by professional artists, geared to kids under 12 and their parents. It’s all facilitated by dozens of passionate volunteers, like Darlene Sillery, who feels the festival benefits from being in Haines Junction.

“We have a perfect location,” Sillery says, citing Haines Junction’s proximity to Whitehorse—it’s less than a two-hour drive. She says this makes a day or weekend attending the festival an easier venture for area parents and, increasingly, grandparents. “We’re finding there are a lot of people who live here, and their grandkids are coming out for the weekend, and that’s become a real thing for them to do, a special thing to do every year.” The 2020 festival will be held Aug. 7–9. For more information, visit augustokids.ca.

Another popular event is the Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival—yukonbluegrass.com—which will be held Jun. 12–14, 2020. Since 2003, the festival has showcased the finest bluegrass acts in North America. Festival president Mark Nelson cites a combination of factors Haines Junction provides as the recipe for the event’s success.

“You’ve got this amazing facility—the St. Elias Centre Theatre—in this amazing place, mixed in with amazing people,” he says. “The festival has really been able to pull top-shelf talent, punching way above its weight. You’re getting people in the bluegrass world who are winning entertainer of the year who are coming up to play.”

The festival’s artistic director, John Faulkner, agrees. “People come and camp out and they’re there to listen. We have workshops going on through the day, various things…. It’s as interactive as you want it to be.”

The rain slackens, unveiling slopes which evoke deep reverence in Chief Smith. He recounts ancestors who were part of the land’s rhythm as they moved from the salmon runs up to big-game hunting on the hills and back again. He likens the dynamic to breathing—the land inhaling, drawing snow to its mountain peaks, before exhaling again.

Perhaps the distillation of Dakwäkäda, the heart of Haines Junction, is just that: a chance to breathe and allow the towering mountains to humble one’s sense of self-importance while joining them in spending a moment in time, or a lifetime, living beneath—borrowing the words of Samuel Taylor Cole-ridge—their “crystal shrine.”

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