Placer Mining and ‘Paleobeerology’ in Porter Creek

Spring! The days get longer and warmer. The snow gradually recedes to reveal the first true signs of spring. Yeah, OK, crocuses too. But I’m talking about the drink cans of winter.

Since the first fall of white stuff, beer, cooler and pop cans have been hiding under the snow like Beringian mammoths in the permafrost, perfectly preserved time capsules that document the social behaviour of Whitehorse residents. And now the arrival of spring reveals this hidden treasure once more!

I walk along the main thoroughfares of Porter Creek harvesting this bonanza. (I don’t waste my time on residential streets because they produce very few cans.) And the next day, as I walk exactly the same route, with my plastic bag in hand, I note that the snow has melted back a bit more, revealing new wonders—maybe a perfectly preserved soft-drink can just half hanging out of the ice, or a flattened vodka cooler can on the damp, newly uncovered gravel.

Now I know what it’s like to be a modern placer miner, never suspecting what will emerge from the melting muck. Is that a mammoth tusk? No, it’s a group of five identical beer cans, all in a pile, just off an isolated stretch of road away from houses. (That’s when my inner “paleobeerologist” takes over. I nod and smile knowingly, drawing on my vast experience.) Yes, there was a party here. They probably parked right over there. Early in the winter. I can tell by how far down in the ice the cans are scattered. Strange, though, there’s one can missing. Party beer drinkers, the species that discards their cans in piles, usually consume beer in multiples of six. Road drinkers, on the other hand, toss their cans at 100-metre intervals, into the ditch, usually on the east or north side of the road.

I previously reported (What’s Up Yukon, 20 October 2021, “Confessions of a Canny Can Collector”) that the can harvest in Porter Creek was mostly from energy drinks, cider and coolers. I also reported that Yukon Brewing was under-represented in cans being tossed. But this paleobeerologist has noted a major shift since last fall. Most of the cans turning up now are beer, and just about all of those are Yukon Brewing’s Chilkoot brand. What does that indicate?

Clearly, we need more research into the habits of the driving/drinking/discarding crowd. I have only one incomplete data point on my study so far. As I was harvesting cans on Beer Can Alley (Pine Street, between the two entrances to Ponderosa Drive), the other morning, a polite young man stopped his car and waved me over. He rummaged around on the floor of his car and came up with two empty beer cans, which he passed to me through the open window. Nice guy, and he didn’t make me scramble into the ditch to get them. I don’t suppose he had just emptied the cans—it was still fairly early—but I didn’t think to quiz him on the subject. Yes, they were Chilkoot.

I find the idea disturbing that people are still driving and drinking, and also that they are tossing the cans as they go. Really? This is 2022! Haven’t people figured out by now that these are really bad ideas?

In the meantime, the Whitehorse can-placer-mining business has great potential. No, just like the placer miners farther north, you never know what you’re going to find melting out of the ice. But it can be quite lucrative!

Maybe a reality TV series next?

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