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Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 19

Yukon Transportation: A History

by Gordon Bennett


From the inception of the fur trade in the early 1840s to the present predominance of base-metal mining, the Yukon economy has depended on the exploitation of a staple resource. The extent of this dependence has been exaggerated because, unlike other more familiar staple-producing regions, the absence of arable land precluded a comprehensive subsistence economy. Given the relationship between staple economies and transportation as well as the Yukon's traditional isolation from metropolitan centres, it is hardly surprising that the demand for transportation in the Yukon has always been intense.1

The primary importance of transportation has long been appreciated by observers of the northern scene.2 One writer has even gone so far as to assert that "the whole history of the North has been bound up with the solution of the transportation problem."3 Even during the precontact period, when hunting and fishing comprised the sole forms of economic activity, the quality of native life was in large part determined by transportation.

This study will primarily be concerned with the history of transportation routes and forms as they evolved in the Yukon Territory. As Harold Adams Innis suggested in 1938, however, the study of transportation can have a much broader application, impinging on the great questions of social and political life as surely as on the problems of national economy.4 It is hoped that this paper will demonstrate that transportation routes and forms not only functioned as carriers of men and materials, but also played a critical role in defining the nature and course of development of the territory.

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