Gateway to the Exotic Yukon Experience

With population of just over 27,000, Whitehorse, the largest and capital city of Yukon, offers some of the most spectacular natural scenery, living standard and business opportunities. Whitehorse continues to add value for its residents through offering direct international connection, big city amenities, small town charm, and direct contact with nature.

Lying on the shores of the Yukon River in southern Yukon, along the Alaska Highway, the city owes its name to the White Horse Rapids [today submerged in Schwatka Lake reservoir outside the city]. Its economic base includes mining, transportation services, tourism, and government services. Whitehorse’s location offers a much milder climate compared to that of other northern Yukon communities, along with gorgeous scenery and great outdoors, and vibrant city lifestyle with small town values; all of which make Whitehorse truly a city to live, to work, and to thrive.

The Canadian Business Journal spoke to Whitehorse’s City Manager Stan Westby about the latest developments within the city, and while Westby has been serving the city for only a short period, he has nothing but praise and excitement for the developments and the atmosphere within the community. To the question “What’s happening within the community,” Westby says, “This is a very easy question to address for us, because the people, the infrastructure, the attitude, and the energy is just fabulous within the community, and there are many development initiatives happening within the community today.”

The city noted an exponential economic and community growth in the past few years, compared to other communities in Canada, and the city is currently managing all the challenges that come with such rapid development. One on the largest challenges for the municipal government is infrastructure development and maintenance, as well as land development connected to the new infrastructure. “We are servicing all groups within the city — individuals, communities and business; and given our northern climate, we are facing very unique challenges in regards to infrastructure, and unique ways of dealing with these challenges.”

While the city continues to grow at a fast rate of more than three per cent a year, the City Council focuses on sustainable growth well into the future, sticking to the principles of smart growth. These principles are well-ingrained not just with the City Council but also Whitehorse residents. To this Westby said, “For example, we held a public hearing in regards to few relatively minor developments recently, and we heard from the community, with main concerns relating to environment and sustainability. This way of public enquiry, as well as engagement and interest of the public in the issues within the city creates an open dialogue and a sense of participation and togetherness within the community.”

Whitehorse’s Canada Games Centre facility provides the community with affordable access to sport, training programs, and physiotherapy. However, the community lives and breathes for the winter activities. There are over 700 kilometres of trails across the city, used mainly for hiking in the summer and cross country in the winter; and a ski hill outside the city. To the quality of life Westby said, “What I like to tell people is that we have the big city amenities, without the big city lineups. We have access to culture just as residents of cities such as Vancouver, Edmonton or Toronto, while we live together with nature in a small town fashion.”  

While Whitehorse’s economy spins around the resource, tourism, and government sectors, the city works with all businesses in the community, and adapts strategies to support them through infrastructure enhancement and business development incentives. To this Westby said, “There are more principles to economic sustainability than a simple economic diversification. Besides diversification, our fiscal sustainability is very well structured well into the future from the financial perspective. As a growing community, we are offering many business incentives including one of the lowest – if not the lowest – municipal taxes in the country.”  

What the city sees as a very unique approach to the infrastructure and city development, is its close work with the Government of Yukon. The heart of this cooperation lies with the city taking care of all the processes related to the projects’ development [planning, public hearings, etc.], while the territorial government provides financing for the projects. Through this close cooperation, the City started building several new infill subdivisions within the city.

To those who wish to experience Yukon’s nature, or do business in Yukon, Whitehorse international airport is the gateway to do so. Originally built in the late 1920s, Erik Nielsen Whitehorse International Airport accommodates flights of Air Canada, Air North, Condor, and WestJet. These airlines either take travellers from Whitehorse right around the world, from Vancouver to Frankfurt, or further into the heart of Yukon, flying with Air North to Dawson City, Old Crow, and Inuvik, or to Fairbanks, Alaska.

While the preconceptions of Yukon and the Canadian North as a whole still exist among Canadians, Whitehorse challenges these biases by its ability to satisfy even the most demanding resident in regards to standard of living. Whitehorse offers a complete lineup of services for residents and businesses, as well as a direct connection to the rest of the world, whether its via its international airport, or the direct line to Skagway’s deep sea port in Alaska; and today, Whitehorse has no place to go but up.