Day 6

Facing the change: Old Crow stays resilient as the northern Yukon heats up

The western Arctic is one of the fastest-warming regions on the planet. In the final instalment of Day 6's special series on climate change, we head to Canada's far north, where a rapidly-changing climate is transforming life in the remote fly-in community of Old Crow, Yukon.
Vuntut Gwitchin trailbreakers discuss their route between Old Crow and Ch’idrìi Ddhàa. As the winters get warmer, some routes are no longer safe to travel. (Submitted by Vuntut Gwitchin Government)

Each year, the residents of Old Crow, Yukon, watch for the ice break-up with anticipation — a sign that spring has arrived in the community. But as temperatures continue to rise, this phenomenon is happening sooner in the year.

The town is being featured in "Facing the Change," a special Day 6 series about the impact climate change is having right now in communities and urban centres across the country.

A trail marker on the Ch’idrìi Ddhàa (Heart Mountain) in the winter. (Submitted by Vuntut Gwitchin Government)

Old Crow is the northernmost community in the Yukon. Aside from the occasional winter road, the remote town is only accessible by plane.

But across the territory, winter roads and trapping trails are becoming unreliable — making it treacherous to travel on land.

When this year's trapping season opens on November 8, many of the routes that hunters once relied on will no longer be safe.

Caribou near Old Crow, Yukon, stranded on the river in 2013 after the ice broke loose underneath them. ((Wendy Balsillie))

The western Arctic is one of the fastest-warming regions on the planet. In northern Yukon, the average annual temperatures have increased by 2 degrees Celsius in the last 50 years. That's twice the rate of warming in southern Canada.

Spring is coming sooner; fall is being pushed back. And the winters are warming even faster—now 4 degrees warmer than they were 50 years ago.

Old Crow is a fly-in community, approximately 800 kilometres north of Whitehorse. (CBC)

Over the years, residents have lost several structures to permafrost thaw and erosion.

People have been living on the lands around Old Crow for over 12,000 years. However, with rising temperatures, the landscape around Old Crow could change drastically.

Hunting Porcupine Caribou near the community of Old Crow. (Peter Mather)

We speak to Bronwyn Benkert, a climate scientist and the manager of the Northern Climate ExChange at Yukon College, about the challenges that Old Crow faces as temperatures rise — and what the community is doing to adapt.

We also hear from William Josie, director of natural resources with the Vuntut Gwitchin government; heritage interpreter Brandon Kyikavichik; and 83-year-old elder Stephen Frost.