Re-discovering the Charm of Atlin, BC

I first discovered the village of Atlin by air, during a life-changing tour of the Far North that took me from my home in Langley to Tuktoyaktuk and back in 1985. Atlin was one of the places that convinced me that I belonged in the north, and my love for it has never diminished – the land, the people and its fascinating history keep calling me back.

It had been a few years since I’d had a long visit to Atlin, but my wife, Cathy, and I have just bought our first motorhome, and Atlin was the perfect place for our first trip in it with both our dogs, Monty and Bella, and our cat, Molly.

Atlin is definitely “off the beaten track”, but major reconstruction along the Atlin Road in the past few years has made the 98-kilometer (61-mile) drive south from the Alaska Highway at Jake’s Corner easy now. There is, however, still about 24 kilometers (15 miles) of gravel.

Atlin Road, BC
We arrived in Atlin without reservations, but quickly found a campsite at the Norseman RV Park on the shore of Atlin Lake just 4 blocks from the centre of town. It costs only $18 with 15 amp power and water, and the million-dollar view is free! For anyone who likes old planes, being right next to the base for Atlin Air’s 1952 de Havilland Beaver is a huge bonus. The sound of a big rotary engine always sends chills up my spine.

de Havilland Beaver taking off from Atlin Lake, BC
Atlin is very walkable, although you may find that you put on many kilometers during your wandering. This historic center of town is a great place to start, with this view down Pearl Avenue being one of the “classic” views of Atlin. In the background, the famous “rock glacier” flows down the slopes of Atlin Mountain.

Pearl Avenue in Atlin, BC
This was Atlin’s first fire hall, built to house a fire wagon that was shipped to Atlin in 1901 to replace the bucket brigade that had little effect on a disastrous fire the previous August.

First first hall (1901) in Atlin, BC
While looking at the fire hall, I got chatting with Edie and Len Graf, who own it and the Atlin Mountain Inn next door. I’d heard about the major renovations they’ve been doing on the hotel, and asked for a tour, which Edie was happy to do.

Atlin Mountain Inn, BC
The Discovery Saloon is as wonderful as it was when I had my first beer in it 29 years ago. It houses many artifacts, such as the diamond drill core trays seen to the right (the vertical stripes).

The Discovery Saloon in the Atlin Mountain Inn, BC
I brought many tour groups to Atlin through the 1990s in particular, and spent many nights at what was then the Atlin Inn. Room 10 was always my favourite, with its awesome view onto the historic tour boat M. V. Tarahne, with Atlin Lake and Atlin Mountain behind.

Room 10 in the Atlin Mountain Inn, Atlin, BC
Another of the most-photographer sites in Atlin is Eggert’s clock, which has been standing in front of what had been his jewellery store since 1923.

Eggert's clock, Atlin, BC
Atlin is a photographer’s dream, whatever your favourite subject(s) might be. From an antique fire engine…

Antique fire engine in Atlin, BC
… to colourful doorways, inspiration surrounds any artist, whether photographic or some other media.

Colourful doorway in Atlin, BC
Evening is often a very special time along Atlin Lake. Whatever the sky condition, the light seems to bring some superb moods. The two young women on the dock in this photo shot a “selfie” there just before it got too dark.

Evening on Atlin Lake, BC
On our second full day, art and history were the main focusses. The quality of the local art to be found in the gallery in the historic courthouse will probably surprise most people. From jewellery to carvings, paintings to photography, the area’s artistic inspiration that I mentioned is clear. A couple of blocks away, “Magpie, etc“, offers some unique pieces.

Art gallery in Atlin, BC
The Atlin Museum is located in the schoolhouse which dates to 1902 (it also acts as the Visitor Centre). Though not large, it provides an excellent look back to the area’s gold mining heyday in particular. Outside in the yard is some truly unique equipment including a huge “worm gear” that powered a car through snow.

Atlin Museum, BC
This old International pickup sits beside Morton’s Morgue on the museum grounds.

International pickup at the Atlin Museum, BC
You can book a walking tour through the museum, which gives you access to some places not generally open to the public, including the M. V. Tarahne. “The Queen of Atlin Lake” was built by the British Yukon Navigation Company, a division of the White Pass & Yukon Route, in 1917, and immediately became a significant part of northern tourism, bringing up to 400 people each week to, and on tours from, the large Atlin Inn.

M. V. Tarahne at Atlin, BC
A full restoration of the Tarahne would cost several million dollars, and there’s no sign that that is about to happen, but with a bit of imagination you can take yourself back to the 1920s.

M. V. Tarahne at Atlin, BC
The other place I really wanted to get inside was the lovely little Globe Theatre. Built after a 1917 fire that wiped out most of downtown again, it was used for everything from movies and magic lantern shows to funerals. I’ve been to two concerts there over the years, and the acoustics provided by the curved, button-tufted ceiling are excellent.

Historic Globe Theatre in Atlin, BC
There are fascinating stories behind every bush in Atlin. This classic Chestnut canoe has just been restored by a local who spent 10,000 miles along the Arctic coast in it.

Classic Chestnut canoe in Atlin, BC
Atlin is very dog-friendly, and we enjoyed walking the dogs around town, and playing with Bella at the park.

Playing with my puppy Bella in Atlin, BC
On our second evening at the RV park, Norm, the owner, came by and asked if I’d like to get some photos from the water in that magic light that was beginning to appear. We certainly would, and joined 4 other guests on Norm’s large pontoon boat.

Norm Vik at Atlin, BC
Norm took us around to the back of the 3 islands near Atlin, and showed us this osprey nest. Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) is not a species I get to see often, and to get this close to a full nest was a thrill.

Osprey nest near Atlin, BC
A closer look at the osprey nest. The very impressive birds can be more than 60 cm (24 in) in length and have a wingspan of 180 cm (71 in).

Osprey nest near Atlin, BC
Cruising back close to the shore near town, we got the views that Norm promised, as well as getting a view I hadn’t seen before. The building in this photo is the old hospital (now a glaciology research station), and the boat is the Gladys, the first patrol boat used by the North West Mounted Police in the region. There are unfortunately more significant artifacts in the Atlin area than there is funding to save them, and Gladys may not get the love she needs in time.

Atlin, BC
Several of us sat around a campfire that evening and chatted about our various northern adventures as the sun made a glorious exit from the sky.

Evening light on Atlin Lake, BC
As we packed up to leave on our third morning, Norm came by to let me know that 3 Trumpeter swans had just returned to the slough across the road. As Fall rapidly approaches, these birds are now on their long migration south.

Trumpeter swans at Atlin, BC
We had originally planned on going further afield than just downtown Atlin, but ran out of time. I did drive out to the Pine Creek Campground for a good look. It’s a lovely, quiet spot in the forest. When was the last time you saw a sign like this at a campground?

There is so much more to see and experience in the Atlin area that a 10-day visit would be much better than a 3-day one – along the Warm Bay Road (seen in the next photo), the Surprise Lake Road, the Ruffner Mine road, and into the Pine Creek gold fields. I’ll show you much more in future posts.

Atlin, BC

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