I was recently sitting in the Vancouver Airport waiting for my Air North flight back to Whitehorse. It’s a scene familiar to most Yukoners, I’m sure. A variety of things occasionally pull us away from the Yukon: family, travel, medical treatment, etc. Years ago, when I was studying in university, this was always the time of year when I would make my way back north at the end of the semester, like a migratory bird. Even then, in the daze of young adulthood, I was always aware that as soon as I was seated at that departure gate, I would already feel like I was home.
It’s always a relaxed scene, with familiar faces. Even if I don’t personally know anyone on the flight with me, there are almost always faces that I recognize from the grocery store or walking down Main Street. Whitehorse has a growing population estimated at more than 27,000, but sometimes it still feels like a very small town.
Whether I’ve been away for many months or just a few days, the feeling of homecoming is the same. Sometimes my travels require several other flights before the final one from YVR to YXY. Perhaps it’s the relief of having made all of my previous rushed connections (and the fact that my suitcase made it with me) that adds to my affection for the experience of flying with “Yukon’s Airline,” but I always feel that there’s something special about the final leg of the trip home.
Lifting off the tarmac in Vancouver, we’re instantly over the waters of the Salish Sea, looking towards Vancouver Island on the left, catching a glimpse of Howe Sound to the right and then heading up over the Sunshine Coast. Soon the lush green of the coastal forest makes way to the snow-covered peaks of the Coast Mountains. As the plane reaches its cruising altitude, I’m enveloped in the humming sound of the engines—just me and my thoughts.
Unlike on other flights, I usually don’t find the need to distract myself with anything during these last couple of hours. I doze off for a bit, gratefully receive my complimentary beverage and inflight snack and then go back to gazing out the window and thinking about what it means to be going home.
Not all of us who call the Yukon home were born here. Some have just recently started to build new lives here. Others have been connected to this land for many, many generations. I arrived in the Yukon for the first time when I was still in my mother’s womb, flying over these exact same snow-covered mountains. I wasn’t born here but I’ve spent the largest part of my life here. I can’t say that I feel I have the right to claim this place as my own, even after all these years (my ancestors came from a different corner of the world). But I do think that every golden spring sunset, every itchy mosquito bite and every lonely loon call brings me a little bit closer to this land. And when I drink water from the lake, shiver under the northern lights or eat a freshly caught grayling, I feel that connection growing even stronger.
Like the warm in-flight cookies or jokes exchanged with the Air North flight attendants, these things become the foundation of a relationship, a sense of familiarity and an intimate feeling of home. Air North has been a part of the Yukon for 46 years (many years longer than I) and, as a business, seems to have continually nurtured and grown its connection with the North over that time period.
We, as a community, are lucky to have local businesses like Air North. To me, they epitomize the northern spirit of simplicity, hospitality and resourcefulness. When, for example, other air-passenger carriers cancel their scheduled flights because of cold temperatures, Air North finds a way to get you to your destination. And when you call their customer-service number, you’re met with a willingness to accommodate your needs instead of just an impersonal, well-rehearsed response. When friends or family come to visit the Yukon for the first time, I usually suggest that they book the flight to Whitehorse with Air North. To me, it’s the first impression that they’ll have of the North, and I want it to be as positive and truly “Yukon” as possible.
As the landscapes below the orange-and-white wingtip become more familiar, I fold up my tray table and bring my seat back to its upright position. I love these last few minutes of the trip, flying between the towns of Tagish and Carcross, moving along the slopes of Mount Lansdowne and Mount Lorne, and then banking over the Yukon River and the city of Whitehorse before lining up with the runway. As the plane’s wheels screech across the ground, the last bits of tension leave my body. I’m home.