LAKE LABERGE INFO
Lake Laberge is a 40-minute drive north of Whitehorse on the North Klondike Highway. The territorial campground, at the end of the Deep Creek Road, has a boat launch, cook shelter, and access to a rocky beach.
WHEN TO GO
• Fall (starting in August):
This is a good time to capture stunning images of the foliage turning yellow and red. This is also when northern lights start dancing across the sky again.
Far from the light pollution of Whitehorse, Lake Laberge makes a good base for viewing aurorae. (See accommodation suggestions below.)
• Winter/Spring: Ice fishing, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, fat biking, and kick sledding are popular activities on the lake when conditions are right. Make sure you check with locals about ice conditions and safety before you venture out.
• Spring/Summer: With its blue waters and limestone cliffs, Lake Laberge can be exciting to explore for canoeists, kayakers, and boaters; however, don’t underestimate its dangers. Lake Laberge’s size means conditions can quickly change, from flat and calm to stormy and terrifying. Check the weather before you head out, take proper safety gear, and stay close to shore. The water is very cold.
In addition to the activities mentioned above, there are some hikes in the area. Pick up a copy of Whitehorse and Area Hikes and Bikes for more details on the following routes:
• Mud Lake
• Grizzly Valley
• Derosiers Trail
There’s also a short network of mountain-biking and walking trails at Pilot Mountain, off the Takhini Hotsprings Road. Details are on the Trailforks app.
WHERE TO EAT
Check out Mom’s Sourdough Bakery on Deep Creek Road or the Takhini Gas diner at the Takhini Hotsprings Road junction. The latter also has booze, snacks, and showers.
• Aspen Breeze B&B (yukonbedandbreakfast.ca)
• Cathers Wilderness Adventures (cathersadventures.com)
• Lake Laberge campground (yukon.ca/camping)
• Sundog Retreat (sundogretreat.com)
• The Lodge on Lake Laberge (lakelaberge.ca)
A quiet place, a famous lake, a long history
By Karen McColl, Photos by Janet Webster
To the traveller and average Yukoner, Lake Laberge, for all its grandness and fame, can be elusive. Although the southern reaches of its 200-square-kilometre mass parallels the North Klondike Highway, drivers will catch just a glimpse of its blue waters as they pass and only if they look at the right moment. To get a closer view requires a side trip down the Deep Creek Road to the territorial campground and boat launch. But even then, peering out at Richthofen Island and the far shore more than five kilometres away, there’s little hint of the area’s historic and contemporary significance or the lake’s 50-km length.
Lake Laberge is named for Michel Laberge, from Quebec, who travelled the Yukon River looking for a telegraph route and, it’s said, might never have set eyes on his eponymous lake. That the lake is named for someone with little or no connection to it isn’t surprising. In that era, surveyors and explorers named landmarks for their colleagues and funders, showing either ignorance or disregard for their pre-existing Indigenous names. To the Ta’an Kwäch’än, this lake is Tàa’an Män, meaning “flat lake place” or “head of the lake.” For generations, Indigenous people have fished these waters and hunted in the mountains above its rocky, wooded shores. Historic fish camps dot the perimeter of the lake, and footpaths lead through the forest into the hills beyond, connecting with other important sites. The First Nation says there have been many settlements around the lake, and Indigenous people still live in the area.
The lake’s history is also interwoven with the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898, as it was one of many hurdles faced by gold seekers travelling down the Yukon River to the goldfields. Then, in 1907, Robert Service put the lake on the lips of people around the world with his famous poem “The Cremation of Sam McGee,” which opens with the following:
There are strange things
done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have
their secret tales
That would make
your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights
have seen queer sights,
But the queerest
they ever did see
Was that night on the
marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.
Service, who was born in England and lived in the Yukon between 1904 and 1911, spelled the lake’s name with the first two vowels switched so it rhymed with “marge.” His pronunciation of the lake’s English name, said with a hard G, prevails today.
The few people who live on the margins of Lake Laberge are mostly centered in the Deep Creek area. A scattering of houses in the woods belong to people who, like Janet Webster, may have been drawn to the area for its solitude and scenery. “I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather live,” says the retired educator. “I came because I wanted a quiet life.”
Webster bought a 660-square-foot off-grid cabin 17 years ago. What the cabin lacked in amenities, it made up for with its spectacular lake view. Over the years, Webster expanded the cabin and added running water, electricity, and a separate guest suite. The large windows and wraparound deck provide inspiration for her many hobbies as a writer, photographer, and jewellery maker. “The lake is so big. It’s like a sea,” she says.
Webster is among a handful of people in the area who offer lodging. She says her property attracts people looking for “gentle adventure.” One summer, a couple from the U.S. held an impromptu wedding on Webster’s property, saying their vows in matching plaid jackets. Another couple built a raft nearby with the intention of floating the Yukon River to the Bering Sea. Webster says by the time the raft was completed, only one of them was still keen on that mission. Such is the nature of life in the North and on the marge. Many people love it, but it’s not for everyone