Highway #1 - Alaska Highway, Km. 1642

Kluane Lake

Kluane Lake

Along the shore of this crystalline blue lake you can find subtle evidence of the recent and dramatic changes that glaciers have wrought on the local landscape. One of the most interesting effects was a complete reversal in the water flow of Kluane Lake itself.

This happened between 300 and 400 years ago when the Kaskawulsh Glacier advanced across the Slims River and closed the drainage outlet of Kluane Lake.

The water level rose more than ten metres (30 feet) and, at its new height, the lake's drainage reversed. Water that had flowed south to the Gulf of Alaska carved out a new channel at the northeast end of the lake to connect with the Yukon River system. Instead of travelling 225 kilometres (140 miles) south to the Pacific Ocean, Kluane Lake waters began a journey ten times longer: north to the Bering Sea.

When the waters receded to their present level, the lake's drainage had been permanently altered. The highway crosses what is left of the Slims River at the south end of the lake.

Looking across the lake from the highway, beaches from the former lake levels can be seen on grassy slopes up to 13 metres (40 feet) above the present shoreline. Former creek estuaries are also visible above Christmas Creek (km 1688).

First Nation History

Southern Tutchone people of the Kluane (big fish) Lake area, who belonged to the wolf and raven clans, have hunted, fished, trapped and gathered plants and berries in this region for countless years. Their traditional territory covered a huge geographical area, extending west into what is now Alaska.

Tutchone people travelled almost continually in a seasonal round, searching for a variety of fish and game such as salmon, trout, whitefish, caribou, sheep, ground squirrel and rabbit.

When food was plentiful, some of it was dried and stored in caches for winter. Animal skins were tanned for clothing, tents, "gopher skin" blankets and even boats. Elaborate feasts known as potlatches were held to commemorate good hunting and other special occasions, such as marriages, naming ceremonies and funerals.

Generally these people hunted and fished in small groups of two to four households. Many households gathered together during the short and very cold days of late November and December. The warm sun of early summer cleared the snow and ice from land and waterways. It was a time for visiting, feasting and trading.

Long before trading posts were established on the lake, the Tutchone people traded with their Tlingit neighbours to the south. Goods such as skins, and sheep horn for making spoons, were traded for eulachon oil and other coastal items. Later, the Tutchone traded for Russian and American goods.

The building of the Alaska Highway in 1942-43 changed Tutchone lives dramatically. The completion of the highway meant a more community- based life. People moved from smaller seasonal communities such as Kloo (fish) Lake to more established settlements like Burwash or highway communities like Haines Junction. Traditional activities continue to play an important role in local Tutchone culture.

Recent History

The Kluane Lake area was the site of a short-lived gold rush in the early 1900s. Dawson Charlie, one of the discoverers of gold in the Klondike, staked the first claim on 4th of July Creek in the summer of 1903. By the end of that year 2,000 claims had been staked in the Kluane region.

The North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) followed closely behind the prospectors, setting up summer detachments in canvas tents on Ruby Creek, Bullion Creek and Pine Creek in 1904. A permanent detachment was established at the outlet of Silver Creek where a small community, called Kluane or Silver City had sprung up. The NWMP barracks, a district mining office and a post office were among the buildings in the new community.

The Southern Tutchone, who were constant travellers, had a network of trails throughout the area. When roads began to be developed in the territory, these trails often provided the route to follow.

Silver City was the terminus of a trail between Whitehorse and Kluane Lake. The trail was upgraded to a wagon road in 1904 to serve area miners.

The first optimism about rich findings was deflated by low returns. By 1914, less than $40,000 of gold had been taken from the creeks, while one hydraulic mining company alone had spent more than $300,000 on buildings and equipment in hopes of striking it rich. Louis Jacquot is believed to have taken the largest single consignment of gold from the Burwash area: 220 ounces then valued at about $4,000.

Louis Jacquot and his brother Eugene had established a trading post at Jacquot's (Burwash) Landing in 1904. Freight for the post, near the north end of the lake, was brought from Whitehorse by road as far as Silver City and then taken down Kluane Lake to Burwash Landing.

The Jacquots also worked as big game outfitters in the Kluane Lake area from the 1920s to the 1940s. The road between Whitehorse and Kluane Lake was improved again in 1923 to serve the new boom of tourists who spent $2000 to $3000 each for a 30-40 day hunt. In 1942, when the Alaska Highway was constructed, it followed much of the route of the original road.

Kluane Country

Welcome to Kluane Country, a vast wilderness region of towering mountains, massive glaciers and clean, cold waters. Kluane is home to Canada's highest mountains and a rich variety of wildlife. Communities here are small but provide all essential services for travellers.

Next Soldier’s Summit

Previous Haines Junction