Last month Jesse Cooke was the recipient of the Parks Canada Youth
Tourism Entrepreneur Award, at a ceremony held in Ottawa on Dec. 2.
Cooke arrived in the Yukon for the first time 10 years ago, studying glaciology at Kluane Lake as part of his University of Ottawa degree program. He says it was the mountains that made him come back here in 2006.
“Before that I had never seen a mountain in my life. I loved it,” says the Windsor, Ontario native. “You can’t get flatter than Essex County.”
One thing he noticed right away was that it wasn’t easy to get here. Like a lot of people trying to come to the Klondike in the summer in those days, he hitchhiked.
He won’t say that the seeds of the idea for Husky Bus were planted then, but the experience did help to motivate him six years later, a year after the fledgling Klondike Development Organization held its community forum on ground transportation.
Among the things discussed as needed in the Klondike were an airport shuttle, a taxi service, a bus service between Dawson and Whitehorse, and vehicle and bicycle rentals.
Cooke, who had made something of a name for himself as a local musician, and who had had a number of temporary contracts teaching at the Robert Service School, decided that, with his summers free once classes ended, one of those services – the bus run – was worth a try.
He launched Husky Bus in the summer of 2012 with just two 15 passenger vans, a cell phone and a pick up spot by the Front Street Gazebo. That year the Dawson City Chamber of Commerce voted Husky Bus the New Business of the Year.
Since then, the business has grown, and continues to grow. After a spell working out of a rental space on Front Street, Cooke bought a house on 2nd Avenue and has turned the former Hair We Are shop into Husky HQ.
He now runs two 20-seat buses in addition to the original vans, has a scheduled service to Whitehorse and back, offers daily town, goldfields, and Dome tours, visits the Tombstones three times a week, rents bicycles, shuttles guests from some hotels to and from the airport, and employs six other people besides himself.
He also got married to girlfriend Sarah, who was his first driver, and they’ve bought a lovely cabin in West Dawson where they live with their new son.
The second floor of Husky central is also known as the Little Inn, and offers several options for visitors, from a two bedroom suite to two private rooms.
This year he’s giving teaching a rest and concentrating on the business.
“This year there were a lot of good (teaching) jobs available, but I didn’t apply for anything. I thought we had to give this thing a serious go.”
The work has been noticed.