WHERE TO START
• The Binet House is your first stop in the summer. Otherwise, enquire at the village office (villageofmayo.ca) or stop a local.
When to go
• Summer is the best time for visiting, but the bonspiel’s a party worth attending in spring, and autumn offers incredible hunting opportunities.
What to do
• Stroll the Trans-Canada Trail.
• Visit Binet House.
• Spend a day or several at Five Mile Lake, a perennial favourite for best Yukon campground, with floating platform, sandy beach, and, that needle-in-the-haystack of Yukon lakes, warm water.
• Hike Mount Haldane.
• Charter a floatplane and explore from above.
• Canoe the Stewart River to the Stewart River bridge or McQueston airstrip or continue on to the Yukon River and Dawson City.
• Discover Mayo’s north-Yukon-famous Free Store.
WHERE TO STAY
• Bedrock Motel and RV park. bedrockmotel.ca
• Gold & Galena B&B. goldandgalenabandb.com
• North Star Motel. northstarmotel.business.site
• Mayo Cabin Rentals. mayocabinrentals.com
• Five Mile Lake campground, eight km from town.
• The municipality-run McIntyre Park, northwest of town, offers free camping.
Where to Eat
• The Big Red food truck and takeout restaurant is 92 steps from the post office and serves made-in-house baking, pasta, and Asian, East Indian, and Mediterranean dishes.
• Mayo Bigway Foods, the local grocery store, will surprise with its selection of foodstuffs and meals to go.
Turn right for history, hiking, and hospitality
By Wayne Potoroka, Photos by Taylor Smith/Arrowsmith Production
Holidayers heading north from Whitehorse on the Klondike Highway encounter one stop sign the entire length of road, at the Stewart River bridge, where they have what’s usually an uncomplicated, premeditated decision: turn left for Dawson or right for Mayo.
Most folks choose the left and the polished touristic offerings of the Klondike. But there’s plenty to recommend the right and a few unhurried days in Mayo.
“It’s not nearly as busy as Dawson,” says Trevor Ellis, an elected official with an impossible-to-say-five-times-fast title: Mayo Mayor. “It’s pretty quiet around here if you’re looking for something a little more low key.”
The community of roughly 450 people is 407 km north of Whitehorse, on the banks of the Mayo and Stewart rivers, and in the south end of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun First Nation Traditional Territory. It was christened Mayo Landing (the abbreviated moniker took hold in the late ’50s), when the community was established, in 1903, and has served as a service hub for the area, especially its mining industry, ever since.
A summer visit begins by getting acquainted with the region’s history at Binet House, a museum that is itself an historic piece. (Gene Binet built the structure in 1904, one of the first in town, as a hotel). The building also pulls double duty as a gift shop stocked with local crafts and de-facto tourist-information kiosk, where visitors can find the Yukon government’s walking tour brochure, trail maps, and a friendly local who can provide area intel.
Just outside is the start of the Prince of Wales Trail, opened by the future King of England in 2001. It’s part of the Trans-Canada Trail and takes walkers along Mayo’s historic waterfront, a much busier place 100 years ago, when sternwheelers crowded the riverbank and loaded up with silver, zinc, and lead ore bound for Whitehorse.
An afternoon is easily spent ambling Mayo’s several sleepy streets, most of which host an example of the community’s built heritage. The Yukon’s walking-tour brochure is dense with the history of the town’s structures and adds insight into Mayo’s well-remembered families. And while many Mayoites grumble about the SS Keno, a steamship that mostly serviced the Mayo district, ending up permanently drydocked in Dawson, they can take comfort that they’ve made off with one of the Klondike’s churches. The Christ the King Church started out as St. Patrick’s, in Grand Forks near Dawson, and was later dismantled, in 1922, and barged to Mayo, where it was reconstituted at 17 Centre Street.
There are a number of family-friendly and strenuous walks in the surrounding trails, including to the top of Mount Haldane. The hike to the peak is doable in a long day and rewards summiteers with soul-altering views of the region.
“When you’re walking down Centre Street, [Mount Haldane] is what you see,” says Joella Hogan, owner of Mayo-based Yukon Soap Company and a Na-Cho Nyäk Dun First Nation citizen. “It’s such a landmark.”
“There’s always cool cultural stuff happening. You just have to ask around,” she adds. “In the summer, there’s usually hide tanning happening down by the river…. Someone is always sewing or working on something. Just ask somebody at the store or the post office or even at the Binet House and you can usually find out where something is happening.”
Mayo is a launching pad for hunting and fishing excursions. Floatplanes are available for accessing remote locations and there are many well-stocked lakes within driving distance. The town also makes for a decent springboard for trips to Keno, 60 km away via unpaved road with an option to loop back through untrammelled wilderness on the Duncan Creek Road.
“You may not want to take a car down that [Duncan Creek] road, but a pickup, even hauling a camper, should be fine,” advises Ellis.
Mayo is known for throwing great parties, including an arts-festival-augmented Canada Day and the Irene Hutton Memorial Curling Bonspiel, held the first week of April and the perfect way for sweeping out a winter’s worth of cabin fever. And while it might attract a more niche crowd, the Firefighter’s Ball, a charity shindig hosted by the Mayo Volunteer Fire Department, is held the first weekend of December and raises money for children’s programming. And although these may seem like locals-only events, everyone is welcome; people arriving as strangers don’t stay that way for long.
And that warm Yukon hospitality is perhaps the best reason of all for turning right.
“We like people here, enjoying what we love about this place,” says Hogan.