The Overland Trail was a transportation corridor between Whitehorse and Dawson City constructed by the White Pass and Yukon Route at the turn-of-the-century. Spanning 530 kilometres, it took five days to navigate by horsedrawn sleigh or carriage — if the weather co-operated, that is. If not, the journey could double, or even triple in length.
As a survival necessity, roadhouses were built about every 30 kilometres along the route. Here, travelers could get a hot meal, a warm bed, and, I’m willing to bet, a snifter of whiskey if the right person was cajoled.
I can picture myself enroute; as a long day comes to an end, I can see myself salivating at the thought of putting my feet up and enjoying a drink in front of a roaring fire.
Savouring a libation next to a wood-fueled fireplace used to be commonplace in public houses near and far. Charles Dickens, for example, reputedly worked on his masterworks in just such conditions. But the encroaching tides of history have a way of replacing romanticized notions with tighter restrictions and greater control.
As such, it’s very rare to find an authentic wood fireplace in a drinking establishment these days. And fair enough: it doesn’t take much to think up half-a-dozen horrendous scenarios caused by the close proximity of flames to alcohol consumption. And yet, sipping by a fire sure does feel civilized. What’s a body to do?
As it turns out, there remains at least one outpost for this sort of activity; at the back of the ’98, near the “Pointers” and “Setters” bathrooms, sits a large, majestic fireplace setback into a surrounding stone wall. To the left of the hearth lies a pile of hardy, well-stacked Yukon firewood.I don’t know what legal nuances allow for this situation to exist, but I am grateful they do.
The ’98 is nothing if not an honest bar. Some establishments aim for an upscale-vibe, others aim for a relaxed atmosphere; but from the animal hides on the far wall to the rifles above the bartender, it would not occur to the ’98 to aim for anything other than exactly what it is.
A few weeks ago, my friend Brendan Preston convened a meeting there; four of us discussed a film project he is spearheading. Appropriately, one theme this project touches on is the concept of “real Yukon” and what constitutes it. Together we sat near the back of the bar on the raised platform. We brainstormed ideas as the wood-fire illuminated our faces and nourished our imaginations.
True, it’s not the Overland Trail, circa 1906; but it’s the closest thing left.