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A Guide to Champagne, Yukon (Shadhäla-ra)


Antique truck at Champagne, Yukon Location: at Historic Mile 974 on an old section of the Alaska Highway, between Whitehorse and Haines Junction

Population (2006 census): 24

Elevation: 2,290 feet, 698 meters

When United States Army Engineers pushed the original tote road for the Alaska Highway through the village of Champagne in 1942, they were crossing ground that had been occupied for over 5,000 years. The indigenous population had seen enormous changes over the millennia, including minor ice ages, the forming and draining of huge lakes, and the return of forests. The highway was to cause another change in their lives.

Champagne had long been an important meeting and trading place for Indians in the region. Their name for the place, Shadhäla-ra, means "sunny mountains". Coastal and Interior Tlingit and Tutchone came here from as far away as Nesketahin, Klukshu and Klukwan to the south, and Hutshi, Aishihik and Kloo Lake to the north.

When the Dalton Trail was built by Jack Dalton to take stampeders heading for the Klondike from Haines to the interior, it came through the village. The popular story about the origin of the village's name is that Dalton and his crew celebrated with champagne when they reached here with the first herd of cattle to cross the trail.

In 1902, a wagon road was built from Whitehorse to the newly-discovered gold fields near Kluane Lake. It largely followed the historic Indian trading trails. The first roadhouse and trading post were established here that same year, as Champagne became a service center along the wagon road. Much of the Army tote road would follow that wagon road.

When the Army road was being built, the soldiers set up camp among the existing buildings of the village. It was a time of economic boom, as the soldiers bought many supplies from the local store and all able-bodied men worked guiding the engineers on their surveys, cutting trees for firewood and timbers, or on some of the many other labour jobs that were available.

This boom time had a very dark side as well, though. Illnesses brought in by the soldiers decimated the Indian population and almost wiped out Champagne - one family of 12 people had 9 die during the war-years epidemic.

After the war most young people left Champagne to work in camps or in Whitehorse or other larger centres. Despite the attractions of these other places, though, a few families have remained to keep the ancient village alive.

For the modern visitor, there are no services of any kind at Champagne - no store, fuel, etc.




Aerial view of Champagne, Yukon Territory on July 10, 2005 This image of the Champagne area from Google Earth was recorded on July 10, 2005. An old section of the Alaska Highway skirts the upper (north) end of the village, and on the left is the Dezadeash River, a tributary of the Alsek.

In the Fall of 2002, a new section of the Alaska Highway was opened that bypasses Champagne.

Interpretive signage at Champagne, Yukon The interpretive signage on May 21, 2011. The sign on the left is one of a series of signs installed in 1992 for the 50th anniversary of the highway construction. They mark historic mileposts on the North West Highway System (NWHS).

Antique truck at Champagne, Yukon Several trucks and a wagon that worked on the Kluane Wagon Road have been set up near the interpretive signage. The hill seen in this photo is the sand-and-gravel terminal moraine of the massive glacier that once filled this valley. As glaciers advance, the material that they scrape away builds up a wall at the front - when the glacier retreats, that wall remains as the terminal moraine. May 21, 2011.

Antique trucks at Champagne, Yukon in the winter Champagne on December 14, 2012. The tanker truck in the background is filling furnace oil tanks in the village. See more photos and commentary from this day-trip from Whitehorse on the ExploreNorth Blog.

Antique trucks at Champagne, Yukon A broader view of the interpretive area, with the old Alaska Highway on the right. May 21, 2011.

Hubcap totem poles at Champagne, Yukon In past decades the Alaska Highway was so rough that it was hard to keep hubcaps on vehicles, and many people living along the highway collected them. At Champagne, a modern interpretation of totem poles were created with them! May 21, 2011.

Log cabin at Champagne, Yukon An abandoned log cabin. May 21, 2011.

Log garage at Champagne, Yukon This log garage is still in use. May 21, 2011.

Cemetery at Champagne, Yukon The cemetery at Champagne is quite large and contains well over 100 spirit houses, but as with all Indian cemeteries in the Yukon, visitors are not welcome. May 21, 2011.

Spirit house cemetery at Champagne, Yukon The cemetery on October 18, 2008.

The old Alaska Highway near Champagne, Yukon Approaching Champagne from the northwest on the old Alaska Highway on October 18, 2008.

The old Alaska Highway at Champagne, Yukon Heading northwest on the old Alaska Highway just south of Champagne on November 10, 2003.

Kwaday Dan Kenji cultural interpretive center - Champagne, Yukon My charter motorcoach at Kwaday Dan Kenji ("Long Ago People's Place") cultural interpretive center on the old Alaska Highway just south of Champagne, on November 10, 2003.

Kwaday Dan Kenji cultural interpretive center - Champagne, Yukon A hut constructed with a frame of willow branches covered with caribou hides - Kwaday Dan Kenji, November 10, 2003.

Kwaday Dan Kenji cultural interpretive center - Champagne, Yukon The interior of the hut seen in the photo above - Kwaday Dan Kenji, November 10, 2003.

Kwaday Dan Kenji cultural interpretive center - Champagne, Yukon Enjoying tea and bannock around the campfire at Kwaday Dan Kenji on November 10, 2003.




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