‘No 9-1-1 Service Beyond this Point. Call Local Community Nursing Station if Help Needed.’
It was midnight on a June evening in 2012, the sun was up, and I was fresh off a transcontinental flight from my Nova Scotia home, just in time to report to my new job with a Yukon-based wilderness outfitting company the next morning. One of my new co-workers had met me at the terminal, led me to a growling dirt-dusted pickup and we were headed to headquarters, 70 kms beyond Whitehorse.
The roadside sign jumped out of the boreal forest edging Yukon’s Highway 2, its painted letters peeling from years exposed to sunlight and highway salt. “No 9-1-1,” I thought. “This really is wilderness…”
By the end of August, after a summer criss-crossing the territory, I had begun the rethink my assumptions. The term wilderness was more complicated then I’d expected. It claimed there are spaces free of a relationship to humanity, but in that sense the Yukon—often used as a synonym for empty spaces and no people—was not wilderness. Indigenous people from fourteen First Nations have inhabited this vast region for millennia, weaving its topography, its seasons, its flora and fauna, into thriving cultures and societies.
But for that teenage me and many others, Yukon represented a dream of wilderness – one at the heart of Canada’s own identity.
This mythology is explored in The Nature of Canada, a collection of essays by Canada’s top environmental historians edited by Graham Wynn and Colin Coates.