Marsh View Trail, Yukon
Yukon River Bridge Rest Area, Yukon
These 5 interpretive panels are at the Lewes River Marsh viewing deck, above the Yukon River Bridge Rest Area at Km 836.4 of the Alaska Highway.
The Yukon River
"... The big Yukon flowing, like threaded quicksilver, gleams to the eye."
The Yukon River was called Kweek-puk (great river) by the Alaskan Inupiat and Kwitchpak by the exploring Russians. In the Yukon Territory, it is Takämbo (wide open waters place) to the Kwanlin Dun at Whitehorse and Tage Cho Ge to the Selkirk people at Pelly Crossing. Robert Campbell, a trader for the Hudson's Bay Co. (H.B.Co.), travelled to what he called the Lewes River in 1843 via the Liard and Pelly rivers.
John Bell, also of the H.B.Co., first saw the "Youcon" River in 1845 when he explored the western Mackenzie drainage and travelled down the Porcupine River. In 1852 Campbell confirmed that his "Lewes" and Bell's "Youcon" were the same river.
At various times the source of the Yukon was thought to be the Teslin, the Lewes or the Pelly rivers. After the Klondike Gold Rush, the riverboat pilots distinguished parts of the river by name: the Fiftymile River from Whitehorse to Lake Laberge and the Thirtymile River from Lake Laberge to the Teslin River. In 1964, "Yukon River" was applied to the entire watercourse from Marsh Lake to the Bering Sea. By whatever name, the Yukon has been a major transportation route and a bountiful source of food since the last ice age.
Flow of Life
Life moves at a different speed through this river valley. Migrant species must push the hardest on their long-distance travels. Chinook salmon swim upstream more than 3,000 kilometers to spawn in the M'Clintock River.
Tundra Swans migrating north from California have flown twice that distance. Year-round residents have more leisurely annual rounds. Lake trout migrate between the cold, deep waters of Tagish Lake and the more productive waters of Marsh Lake. Woodland caribou descend from the highlands to winter on the west side of the lake.
Newcomers such as mule deer and coyote have slowly and gradually made their way north. Even plants are on the move, as pine trees gradually expand their range to the north.
On the wing
The wild cries of both Trumpeter and Tundra swans echo through this valley in early spring, signalling that spring has returned to the North. Trumpeter swans - the largest of all North American waterfowl - usually splash down first, taking full advantage of the open water that appears early here at Lewes River Marsh.
Hundreds of swans rets and feed on this critical stretch of open water before continuing north to their nesting grounds. Thousands more congregate at nearby M'Clintock Bay. Northern Pintails, scaup, Canvasbacks and other waterfowl also dabble and dive in the open waters. Some remain to breed inn the marshes that line either side of the river channel.
Mrs. Jessie Shorty's cabin, near the Lewes River Dam, has been around for many years. The cabin was built by Jessie's husband, Jim Shorty, at Fish Lake, north of Whitehorse. Fish Lake had a dependable supply of whitefish during the winter and was an important resource area for the First Nation's people. Jim Shorty moved the cabin, log by log, to Whiskey Flats, the present site of Rotary Peace Park in downtown Whitehorse. The Shorty's house was a gathering place for those needing comfort and rest or for a holiday dance and Christmas dinner.
When the inhabitants of Whiskey Flats were encouraged to leave in the 1960s, Jessie Shorty had her cabin moved to the Lewes Dam area. Jim Shorty was known as a good storyteller and many of his children and grandchildren have become influential politicians and supporters of programs to strengthen First Nation languages.
My daddy's side are all Coast Indians... My dad met [my mother] on a trading trip at Marsh Lake. When he saw that Marsh Lake woman, he married her. My Tlingit grandma, Ka'oá, saw my mother and liked the look of her - nice looking woman, I guess. They paid them blankets, paid them guns. The [my Marsh Lake grandpa] gave his daughter, and my mother stayed with them for good. ...After white men [started] coming, they took Indian women and married them, too. Well, the same thing with Coast Indians, I guess, long time.
Kitty Smith, Life Lived Like a Story
Témil Shó: Head of the Yukon River
Before the Lewes Dam was built, John Joe used to trap muskrat in the ten mile stretch between the Yukon River bridge and M'Clintock Bay at the top of Marsh Lake.
The Tagish Kwan caught ling cod (burbot) and pike in the spring at Témil Chidle, "little fishnet," the first slough below Marsh Lake. The Tagish name for this is Témil Shó, "big fishnet."
Before the dam was built there were two or three sloughs at the head of the Yukon River and the area was a good place to fish. John Joe used to fish below the dam at a camp where people would come to dry salmon for the winter. If not enough fish were cached for the winter, the people would talk to the swans before they flew south, asking them not to be away too long. People from all around Whitehorse, namely the Tagish Kwan, Kwanlin Dun, and Ta'an Kwach'an, would come here to fish. Those who do not have traditional rights to fish in this area must be very polite when travelling here. If they are disrespectful, the water will be dangerous for them.