Contemporary Art Meets History

The storied 53-kilometre Chilkoot Trail crosses the border between Canada and the US and offers spectacular scenery to history buffs and hikers alike. Originally a vital Tlingit trade and travel route, during the Gold Rush it became the “poor man’s route” to the Klondike gold fields.

The trail was steep, gold fever was high and so were casualties. For example, in the famous Palm Sunday Avalanche of 1898, at least 60 of the 220 hikers on the trail perished in over nine metres of snow. Between 1897-99, the RCMP forbade eager prospectors entry to the trail unless they were carrying enough provisions and gear for one year. A stove, 400 lbs of flour, 150 lbs of bacon, 2 axes with an extra handle and six heavy wool mittens are among the list of 54 items, in total weighing 1 ton, that the Wikipedia page for the Chilkoot Trail shows prospectors had to have to gain entry into Canada.

While folks can now enter the trail without such a heavy load, park officials permit only 50 hikers to begin the trail each day.

In an effort to bring contemporary perspectives to this historic site, the Yukon Arts Centre (YAC), Parks Canada, Alaska Geographic, Klondike Gold Rush NHP and the US National Park Service created the Chilkoot Trail Artist in Residence Program in 2011. Participating artists spend two weeks hiking the trail while creating new artwork.

This year the deadline to apply to participate in the program is Feb. 1. Three visual artists will be selected: one regional artist from either the Yukon or Alaska, one from Canada and one from the United States.

Mary Bradshaw, YAC Public Art Gallery director, says that another unique aspect of the program is that the artists are continuously on the move through the park.

“What makes the program stand-out as special is that it is truly a journey,” Bradshaw says. “Artists are not ‘in-residence’ the same way as other residencies (even those based in parks or wild areas) rather, they are moving through the environment. To genuinely experience the Chilkoot, you have to hike it. This is not an easy residency and it definitely isn’t for everyone. But the artists and hikers who have completed the trail have a tremendous feeling of accomplishment and awe.”

Bowen Island artist Jay White felt that sense of accomplishment and awe – he participated in the residency last year, along with one other artist, American Corrie Francis Parks.

“I remember all the wonderful conversations with people that I had on the trail, in Skagway, Carcross and in Whitehorse,” says White. “I also remember a particular point on the trail, just as you descend towards the footbridge that crosses over into the Deep Lake Camp. You turn a corner, and for the first time the undulating forested landscape of the Southern Yukon is spread before you. This is the precise place where I fell in love with the Yukon when I first hiked the trail a decade ago. This is the viewpoint that made me quit my job in Vancouver, leave everything and move North. I sat there for a long time and shed a few joyful tears and was extremely thankful. I love that place.”

Artists selected to participate will receive USD$500 travel reimbursement; up to USD$200 for art supplies and gear; and a CAD$1,000 honorarium from the YAC.

The deadline to apply for the Chilkoot Trail Artist in Residence Program is Feb. 1. For more information visit:

Leave a Comment

Scroll to Top