Yukon builder creates hotel made up of tiny cabins wedged between trees and rocks

Laird Herbert's new hotel is opening just as COVID-19 restrictions have reduced border crossings into Yukon by more than 95 per cent. Nevertheless he believes a unique design and concept will stand out.

Small crew moved everything 'on their shoulders' to build units in elevated forest lot

Builder and owner Laird Herbert hopes the concept will stand out. Part of building on a forested and rocky lot required the crew to carry all material "on their shoulders," to build the units in place. (Philippe Morin/CBC )

A Yukon builder is opening what he calls a landscape hotel — a set of small cabins nestled in a wooded area of Whitehorse. 

"They're more popular in Europe and the concept is to set the units in the natural landscape," said Laird Herbert, the owner, designer and lead builder of the project, called the Black Spruce Hotel.

"Typically they have huge front windows that let the natural beauty in. That's what we're trying to recreate here." 

The units can be accessed by a boardwalk. They're nestled in a forested lot near Yukon Gardens in Whitehorse. (Philippe Morin/CBC)

Units 'perched' on rocks, in the trees

The four rooms are just under 300 square feet each.  They include toilets, electricity and even a kitchenette. 

The small spaces are a familiar build for Herbert, who has experience building and designing tiny homes.

Herbert describes the cabins as "perched," on rocks and elevated among trees in a wooded area. They are accessible by a boardwalk.

One challenge was figuring out how to connect plumbing without sewer access. 

To solve this, Herbert built a utilidor. It's a concept seen in Inuvik, N.W.T., which sees insulated pipes in an above-ground casing.

The hotel is in a wooded and angled lot across from the Yukon Gardens greenhouse in Whitehorse, off South Access Road near the intersection of Robert Service Way and the Klondike Highway. 

As the forest does not allow a forklift to pass, all supplies were moved the hard way.

"The site is all rocks and trees so construction is definitely a little more challenging here. Every single thing has been carried in on our shoulders," he said.

The site has laundry facilities as well as a caretaker's residence, an onsite tiny house in which Herbert plans to stay so he can greet guests and deal with any issues or maintenance."

Opening a hotel amid COVID-19 

The timing of this project could be considered unlucky.

Though construction was mostly done before COVID-19 restrictions were enacted in the territory, Herbert now finds himself opening Yukon's newest hotel at a time when air passenger arrivals and border crossings are down by more than 95 per cent. 

"COVID-19 kind of sent us in a bit of a spiral. We laid off the crew and just kind of waited to see," he said. 

During construction in the winter, Herbert charred spruce planks on one side. It's a Japanese technique called shou sugi ban, which seals the wood without having to apply paint or varnish. (Laird Herbert)

The hotel is funded through an Indigenous-owned Yukon business development group. 

Herbert says he tried applying to banks to obtain a mortgage but "the banks wouldn't look at the project because it was so different."

Instead he obtained a loan and development support from däna Näye Ventures.

Due to the pandemic, the lenders have agreed to a deferral on payments. 

"That has saved it in a lot of ways," Herbert said.

"If I had to make payments right away, I probably wouldn't have made it."

With the Yukon-BC bubble allowing some travel, the Black Spruce Hotel is now set to open for mid-October. 

"I think now we're just going to go for it, take a chance and see what happens with bookings," Herbert said.

The four units with large windows are just under 300 square feet each. They have amenities like toilets, electricity and even a kitchenette. (Philippe Morin/CBC)


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