I discovered Google Earth a few years ago. Our son was spending the winter in Fort Nelson and we figured out that Google Earth would allow us to zoom in on the street where he was living, actually find the hotel and move, in a jerky, foreshortened way, between there and other places that he mentioned in his emails home.
It was oddly comforting.
Of course, we soon investigated other places, including the Goggle Earth version of Dawson City.
We found that it was even possible to focus on a bird's eye view of our house, though the fact that our travel trailer was on our parking pad at the rear told us the image was a few years old.
The latest version of Google Earth reveals that those earlier satellite shots were taken in 2006.
Google has been very busy since then. The latest satellite imagery is much crisper and lacks the funky light-distorted shadows of the earlier version. You can compare images, too, as the program allows you to toggle between acquisition dates.
The new shots are from 2010, which locals would recognize even if the date weren't given. Sixth Avenue shows a giant kitty-litter pad behind the current Health Care Centre, which is what the site for the new hospital looked like at the end of last summer.
You still have to wonder about the placement of the photo icons that dot the display. According to one of them the Trading Post is located just behind the Parks Canada Building off Fifth Avenue, but it's really on Front Street.
One of the neat features of the latest Google Earth upgrade is that it includes the Streetview feature we've all heard about. In Dawson's case there's a bit of time travel between the two functions.
The Streetview vehicles were cruising around town in the summer of 2009. If you didn't happen to remember that, you'd find out by taking a virtual drive around the town and discovering yourself on Front Street during the paving project that took place that summer.
The whole experience is kind of like playing a live video game. When you open the main program you're looking at an astronaut's view of the planet. Type in the place you want to visit and you go swooping down to the surface, moving to your desired location.
As you get closer a set of controls appears in the upper right of your monitor. One of them is a little peg figure. Click on it and all the streets that have been viewed display blue outlines.
Set the figure down anywhere and you find yourself at street level, ready to move forward, backward, left or right, depending on your use of the two control wheels.
Activate the controls and you're driving the Dawson streets of 2009, before work began on the wastewater treatment plant, before the Yukon College addition to Yukon SOVA, before all those Canada's Economic Action Plan signs. You get a real appreciation for how much change has happened here in just under two years.
The movement is jerky. Things go out of focus. Sometimes the air becomes a blue wall, or a piece of a building will suddenly seem to detach itself and stretch.
The camera vehicles followed a weaving path that allowed them to capture more of the street and it seems for all the world as if you are going to mow down pedestrians or take chunks out of parked vehicles.
Rotating to get a good look at a building beside you produces odd results. Our house breaks up into a Picasso-like construction of odd angles and it looks like a piece of our neighbour's trailer is about to attack us.
Turning from Princess Street to pass the Eldorado Hotel does strange things to that building and turns an SUV on Third Avenue into a strreettcchh limo.
Still, the experience of "driving" around town is a bit of fun, and it provides us all with a new way of showing our friends and relatives Outside a bit of the place where we live.
After 32 years teaching in rural Yukon schools, Dan Davidson retired from that profession but continues writing about life in Dawson City.