Highway #1 - Alaska Highway, Km. 1548

Canyon Creek Bridge

Photo from Canyon Creek Bridge

Canyon Creek Bridge

In 1903, a gold strike in the Alsek River drainage brought a stampede of miners, some of whom stayed to mine in several creeks around Kluane Lake. A wagon road was built from Whitehorse in the next year and Sam McGee and Gilbert Skelly, constructed a substantial bridge over Canyon Creek. This bridge survived heavy traffic and high spring floods until the 1920s when the government contracted the Jacquot brothers from Burwash Landing to rebuild it.

In 1942, during construction of the Alaska Highway, the old bridge was dismantled and a new one was hand-built in 18 days. It has been described as the most ambitious and important bridge to be built by the US Army 18th Engineers. When the Public Roads Administration built permanent bridges along the highway, the old pioneer bridge was left in place. The Canyon Creek Bridge was reconstructed by the Yukon Government in 1986/87. Approximately 10% of the original bridge was left in place and 85% of the cribbing.

The Yänlin: Water flows through the rocks

Over 7,000 years ago, a small group of bison hunters camped here on the high terraces overlooking the river valley. The broken spear head and a small collection of stone tools they left behind are part of the "Little Arm Phase" archaeological culture in the southern Yukon, (named for the "little arm" or Brook's Arm of Kluane Lake where sites of this time period were first found). Many tools of this period used small stone blades or microblades as insets to form cutting and piercing edges.

Over the last thousand years, the Southern Tutchone-speaking people of this region have continued to use Tthe Yanlin on the Ashèey\ Chu (Aishihik River) as an important camping spot from which to hunt caribou and moose. The animal species had changed over the years and the tools were different but the hunting and gathering techniques remained the same.

Canyon Creek was such a convenient stopping place that a roadhouse and store were built here in 1904 to serve people travelling along the old wagon road to the Kluane goldfields. A little community grew up near the roadhouse. Today, Canyon Creek is one of Champagne and Aishihik First Nations' major established residential communities.

The small graveyard on the bluff dates from the early 1900s. Yukon cemeteries are protected. Please respect the deceased.

Yukon Bison: A Fascinating History

Ice Age Bison

Around 160, 000 years ago, Steppe Bison (Bison priscus) came to North America from Asia across the Bering land bridge. This large-horned ungulate (hoofed mammal) quickly became the most abundant large herbivore (plant eater) in North America. Over 80 per cent of the fossil mammal bones found in the Dawson area are from Steppe Bison.

The Yukon population of Steppe Bison died out around 400 years ago. However, DNA evidence suggests that groups in southern parts of North America survived and evolved into present-day bison.

Bison Today

Today we recognize two types (subspecies) of bison in North America:

  • Wood Bison (Bison bison athabascae)
  • Plains Bison (Bison bison bison)

Only the larger Wood Bison are found in Yukon, grouped into three distinct herds: Aishihik, Nahanni, and Nordquist.

Wood Bison are the largest land mammals on the continent. A large male can weigh 1,000 kg (2,200 lbs.). The smaller females weigh about 40 per cent less.

A bison’s diet is varied, but mostly composed of grasses and sedges. As such, they are often found in open meadows. Leaves and twigs from shrubs such as willow are eaten as well, particularly in winter. While most bison wander through lowlands, the nearby Aishihik herd also uses alpine meadows in summer, possibly to escape biting insects. Bison in the mountains is an unusual sight elsewhere, but not in Yukon.

Wood Bison: To the Brink and Back

Threatened with Extinction

Wood Bison once roamed the North American landscape from northern Saskatchewan to Alaska. Estimated at 168,000 animals in 1800, the species was on the brink of extinction a hundred years later. This rapid population decline was likely caused by overhunting and habitat loss. Wood Bison likely disappeared from southeastern Yukon in the early 1900s, and were thought to be extinct in the wild until the 1950s, when a small group was found in the Northwest Territories.

A Century of Recovery

Throughout the 20th century Canadian and American governments, along with private ranchers, worked hard to conserve both Plains and Wood Bison. Beginning in 1980, the Yukon and Canadian governments, along with the Yukon Fish and Game Association, worked to reintroduce Wood Bison in this area.

The Aishihik Herd: Yukon’s Bison Heartland

Early scientific studies indicated that the Nisling River valley contained suitable habitat to reintroduce bison. A five square kilometer enclosure was built in 1985 to house 142 transplanted bison, which mostly came from Elk Island National Park in Alberta. After a few years adjusting to their new surroundings and climate, the bison were released to the wild between 1988 and 1992.

Yukon Bison Today

The Wood Bison are well adjusted to life in the Aishihik area. The released bison spread out from the enclosure site and began reproducing naturally. The herd grew quickly in size and today there is a healthy Wood Bison population on the land.

Environment Yukon carefully manages the herd size, monitors genetic diversity and protects the herd from potential diseases. A publicly reviewed management plan provides guidance on this work. For more information, visit www.env.gov.yk.ca/bison.

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