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Yukon Territory enters Confederation

For the week of Monday June 11, 2001

On June 13, 1898, the Canadian government established Yukon Territory. This was not the beginning but a transition in Yukon's long history.

The District of Yukon separated from the Northwest Territories to become Yukon Territory

The District of Yukon separated from the
Northwest Territories to become Yukon Territory

Map based on information from the
National Atlas of Canada
© 2001. Government of Canada with permission from
Natural Resources Canada

"Yukon" derives from local Aboriginal words referring to the river that is a dominant geographical feature of the territory. The Aboriginal peoples were the earliest permanent inhabitants. The Athapaskans, the predominant language group, consist of Gwich'in, Hän, Tutchone, Kaska, Tagish and Tanana. There are also Inland Tlingit and Inuvialuit. For thousands of years these Aboriginal peoples prospered in the region.

The first Europeans, Russian traders and British Hudson Bay Company (HBC) traders, arrived in the 18th and 19th centuries respectively. Competition and conflict resulted as both explored the Yukon River and surrounding area seeking abundant furs. In 1825, their respective diplomats negotiated a boundary line at the 141st meridian to divide the region. At first the boundary was not enforced, but it remained as the western-most boundary of Canada.

In 1867 the United States purchased Alaska from the Russians for $7.2 million. Then in 1869-70 Canada took over the HBC territories. Yukon became part of Northwest Territories, and in 1895 that territory was divided into four administrative districts, including the District of Yukon. Canada was indifferent, maintaining no government presence. In contrast, Americans were present, promoting commercial trade development. Fortune-seeking prospectors also sparsely populated the region, mostly during summer months. Americans enforced the 1825 border and Canadians profiting on Alaskan soil were expelled.

As a small gesture, Canada sent a detachment of 20 North West Mounted Police (NWMP) officers to the town of Fortymile, Yukon, in 1895 to establish sovereignty over the district. Once the gold rush began in 1896, the Canadian government increased the NWMP presence to maintain law and order, and to collect customs, duties and other taxes.

Kluane National Park and Reserve

Kluane National Park and Reserve
© Parks Canada

In addition to American activity, the territorial government in Regina attempted to sell liquor licences in Dawson, intercepting revenue from the federal government. The Canadian government established a separate Yukon Territory to assert Canadian sovereignty in the far north. A Territorial Commissioner, advised by a Council, governed. Yukon has since obtained representative government with an elected Premier. One federal Member of Parliament has represented Yukon since the early 1900s.

Discovery Claim (Claim 37903) on Bonanza Creek marks the first gold discovery and Dawson Historical Complex, Yukon's capital during the gold rush, are both national historic sites. National Parks that capture the unique geography of Yukon include Ivvavik, Kluane and Vuntut.

For more information please visit Klondike National Historic Sites, Ivvavik National Park, Kluane National Park and Reserve, and Vuntut National Park.

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