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WHAT TO SEE AND DO IN THE YUKON FOR MEETINGS AND INCENTIVES

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Where can your group play golf at midnight, sip cocktails on a glacier, pan for gold and sleep in a former brothel?

Half the size of Ontario, with a population of 37,600 people, Yukon is home to the world's smallest desert, more than 2,000 glacier lakes, the midnight sun and the northern lights.

Whitehorse and the Yukon River
Whitehorse and the Yukon River
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

"We picked the Yukon because it's different," says Flora Fioritti-Irwin, managing director, Encore Event & Destination Management in Calgary, Alberta. "People always say they'd like to go, but never do. We thought Yukon was a great draw, so we gave them a reason to go." Her pharmaceutical group of 60 held two concurrent meetings over three days.

"Our biggest challenge is breaking misconceptions that the Yukon is all ice and snow, that it's dark all the time and that mosquitoes are the Yukon air force," says Jenn Houtby, former managing director of Yukon Convention Bureau. "We link planners and suppliers, help send out requests for proposals, delegate bags, vacation planners and lure pieces. There's no charge for our services."

Yukon flights

"There's definitely a perception problem," says Fioritti-Irwin. "People think Yukon is far, but it's not hard to get there. There are direct [2.5-hour] flights from Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton."

"Yukon Convention Bureau recommends the best airlines to fly and the best routes, depending on meeting dates and departure points," says Houtby. "We share the best rates available on Air Canada, Westjet and Air North combinations."

Another misconception, according to Houtby, is that Yukon is expensive. "There's no 8% PST (provincial sales tax) or 13% HST (harmonized sales tax) in the Yukon, so you pay only the 5% GST (goods and services tax). We have some of the country's lowest room rates ($110 to $140 per night) and lower food costs than most people expect."

Robin Anderson, vice-president sales and marketing at Latitude Destination Management, in Whitehorse, dispels another misconception. "Some planners think Yukon is only a men's incentive, where they fish all day and drink Scotch all night. But our programs appeal to women, as well."

He suggests an aboriginal program where some participants go fishing and others pick herbs, berries and garnishes with a Native elder. "Afterward, in the lodge, they prepare a meal together with the fish and gatherings. We also run wellness themes. An elder describes medicinal plants, as they pick them and make a lotion. Massage therapists and aestheticians give spa treatments at the lodge."

Tutshi River rapids viewed from Yukon Suspension Bridge
Tutshi River rapids
viewed from Yukon Suspension Bridge
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Companies using the Yukon for meetings and incentives consider themselves pioneers in their fields, says Anderson. "Yukon's pioneer spirit and gold rush history are natural tie-ins for 'Go for the Gold' incentive programs with gold, silver and bronze-levels. Gold-winners go to the Yukon."

Adventure trips

He cites the outdoors as Yukon's big draw. "It's nature on steroids. We can still land people on mountains that don't have names and take people fishing on lakes that have never seen a line."

"Yukon is outdoorsy, nature-loving and exotic," says Jane Wallbridge, vice-president, client services at Carlson Marketing in Mississauga. She brought 30 people from an auto company to the Yukon in August. "Half went rafting on the Tatshenshini River, with a hot lunch along the route. Half went horseback riding with a guide. Two took a guided kayak trip.

"The highlight was our awards night at Uncommon Journey's Homestead Ranch, owned by a young couple who raise sled dogs. Latitude DMC used trees and boughs to make a wooden tent, with no sides, to resemble a forest. They covered the greenery with white twinkle lights and set the tables with linen, crystal and china. A Whitehorse band got everyone dancing.

"They projected green, pink and red lights on the canvas ceiling like northern lights. Table centrepieces had large pillar candles in rustic metal holders with bear and moose cut-outs, and little log cabins nestled in greenery with gold. Dinner was a fabulous sit-down plated four-course meal."

Whitehorse museums

Whitehorse's venues and day-trips focus on outdoor and nature themes. Groups of 225 can hold receptions beside a cast of a 12,000-year-old woolly mammoth in Yukon Beringia Interpretive Centre.

MacBride Museum in Whitehorse
MacBride Museum in Whitehorse
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Delegates can take over the MacBride Museum, which features wildlife and First Nations exhibits. In the courtyard, with historic trains and buggies, groups pan for gold and listen to Robert Service poetry by Sam McGee's cabin.

Groups can tour the permanently docked S.S. Klondike, the largest sternwheeler to ply the Yukon River, and have dinner in a tent beside it. Frantic Follies, at Westmark Whitehorse, continues the gold rush theme with vaudeville skits, banjo music and can-can dancing that invites audience participation.

Fioritti-Irwin liked the Transportation Museum. "It's a neat place with old cars and planes hanging from the ceiling. Our participants still talk about it."

Midnight sun golf

In summer, golfers can tee off at 10:30 pm for a midnight sun golf tournament at the nine-hole Meadow Lakes Golf Course. "They have a permanent tent in summer, which groups can use if at least half the group golfs," says Houtby.

At the 18-hole Mountain View Golf Course, last tee-off is 9 pm.

Kluane flightseeing tours

Coaches transport groups to Yukon Wildlife Preserve to learn about moose, bison, muskoxen, Dall sheep and caribou.

Nearby Takhini Hot Springs Retreat Centre is suitable for spa and yoga experiences. Equinox Adventure Learning features a climbing tower, challenge course and zip line.

Kluane National Park aerial view
Kluane National Park aerial view
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Breathtaking flight-seeing trips over Kluane National Park offer jaw-dropping panoramas of saw-toothed mountains, glaciers and 5,959-meter-high Mount Logan.

Train between Alaska and Yukon

Groups can take a scenic journey on the historic White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad. The 2.5-hour coach trip to the Skagway, Alaska departure point is equally picturesque, with stops at Emerald Lake and Carcross Desert.

White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad
White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

The 65-meter Yukon Suspension Bridge has an outdoor deck where 200 guests can enjoy cocktails with panoramic views of the raging Tutshi River. Caribou Crossing, near Carcross, with its gold-panning and barbecue facilities for 300, is a convenient dinner stop on the way back to Whitehorse.

Dawn Graham, meeting and events planner for the Canadian Council of Professional Engineers, describes the Caribou Crossing program as a big hit. "Our group of 150 held their awards program at the Yukon Arts Centre Theatre and their dinner/dance at the High Country Inn's adjoining Yukon Convention Centre. The food was top-quality. We had bison. The hotel's high-speed Internet was a bonus."

Whitehorse hotels

High Country Inn has Yukon's largest covered and heated deck. Wallbridge's group used it for a dinner venue. "It was fun. They panned for gold and did beer-tasting with Yukon Brewing. Klondike Kate, a piano player and a comic provided entertainment, and waiters dressed in Klondike costumes."

The 85-room High Country Inn and 180-room Westmark Whitehorse are the major hotels for meetings and incentives. Both have renovated their guest rooms, lobby and meeting space since 2000.

The $40 million Canada Games Centre has five meeting/party rooms for 20 to 60, a flexihall for 1,900, two arenas and an artificial turf field with bleachers.

Whitehorse Canada Games Centre
Whitehorse Canada Games Centre
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Fly-in lodges

Anderson notes that Yukon can easily handle groups of 800. For smaller VIP groups, he recommends several exclusive lodges.

"Dalton Trail Lodge, 20 minutes south of Haines Junction, holds 30. The 12-room Raven Hotel, in Haines Junction, has a restaurant in the top-20 in Where to Eat in Canada."

In addition, the fly-in 10-guest Tincup Wilderness Resort and 12-guest Inconnu Lodge have great fishing. Only 35 minutes southeast of Whitehorse, European-style Inn on the Lake offers banquets and function space for 46.

"Our group really liked the Yukon," says Wallbridge. "The people are so nice to deal with. It's a hidden gem."

Singer and can-can dancers at Diamond Tooth Gerties in Dawson City
Singer and can-can dancers at Diamond Tooth Gerties in Dawson City
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Historic Gold Rush city

"Dawson City is the most unique town I've ever seen. It epitomizes the Yukon," says Flora Fioritti-Irwin.

Where is Dawson City? The community of 2,158 is a one-hour, 15-minute flight north of Yukon's capital, Whitehorse.

"Dawson is tailor-made for incentives," says Anderson. "It's straight out of the Old West with bat-wing doors, wooden boardwalks, dusty streets and gold rush-era buildings. People walk everywhere, because it's small."

Latitude brings groups to Dawson's National Historic Sites. At Robert Service's log cabin, they listen to an actor recite the poet's work. "We brought a Home Hardware group to the beautiful Victorian Commissioner's Residence for dinner. It has a wrap-around veranda and English gardens.

"We dress participants in period costume and bring them to the Palace Grand, a miniature Paris Opera House, for a tour and/or performance." Built in 1899, it holds 140 for buffet dining in the lobby (summer only).

Dawson City hotels

Diamond Tooth Gerties, open mid-May to mid-September, is the only casino that allows gambling, alcohol and entertainment in the same room. Can-can dancers and performers customize shows for groups. There's space for catered banquets for 250.

Diamond Tooth Gerties Gambling Hall sign
Diamond Tooth Gerties Gambling Hall sign
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Aurora Inn offers catering and year-round accommodations in 18-rooms. Westmark Inn has 177 rooms, open May to September.

"Bombay Peggy's [seven rooms] is great for small groups," says Anderson. "The 100-year-old building was Yukon's last operating brothel. It closed in 1963. It's now a beautifully decorated Victorian inn with feather beds, claw foot tubs and opulent tapestries."

Corporate gifts

Planners will find unique made-in-Yukon corporate gifts in Whitehorse. The 3,000 sq. ft. gallery at Yukon Artists at Work holds 100 people for cocktails and smaller groups for dinners. Conference organisers can select art on display or commission 40 artists to create paintings, sculptures, pottery or jewelry.

Yukon Brewing will custom-label Yukon Gold, Lead Dog Ale and other products for corporate groups. The company also offers brewery tours and off-site samplings.

Aroma Borealis, The Body Shop of the Yukon, sells aromatherapy and herbal products like Arctic rose petal hand cream and Arctic wildflower tea. CEO Bev Gray brings up to 20 people on medicinal herb walks, followed by a herbal meal.

Yukon Brewing || Herbal and aromatherapy at Aroma Borealis || Fireweed honey
Yukon Brewing || Herbal and aromatherapy at Aroma Borealis || Fireweed honey
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Midnight Sun Gallery and Gifts sells painted gold pans, local art, Yukon books and mammoth ivory jewelry carved from 10,000-year-old tusks found in Yukon gold fields.

Mammoth tusks are Crown property and can only be legally sold or exported if government paleontologists determine that they have no scientific or historical value. Artists create woolly mammoth ivory jewelry from broken tusk fragments.

Local foods also make welcome gifts. Wallbridge delivered miniature dogsleds filled with fireweed honey, wild teas, Yukon-roasted coffee and local fudge to her meeting participants.

Owner of the Midnight Sun Coffee Roastery, Zola Doré, sells custom fresh-roasted blends, such as Klondike Gold. Shops, restaurants and Bean North Café, in Takhini, sell Bean North organic, fair trade, locally roasted coffee blends.

These unique gifts are guaranteed to bring back memories of a spectacular Yukon trip.


TRAVEL INFORMATION

Yukon Convention Bureau: www.meetingsyukon.com

More things to see and do in the Yukon:

Touring the Yukon Territory on Trains, Cars, Canoes and Planes

How to Get to Fort Selkirk Yukon - What to See on Walking Tours