Scouting across Canada’s Yukon with The Location Guide
The airport at Dawson City in western Yukon, Canada, is a small building about the size of a school classroom and our Piper Chieftain plane has six passenger seats. “Welcome to Dawson City international airport!” jokes my host Colin MacKenzie.
We move from the plane to the ‘terminal’ and out to our car in about two minutes, which is a record Heathrow won’t be beating anytime soon. My good-humoured hosts are MacKenzie and his colleague Neil MacDonald, both of the Yukon Film & Sound Commission. I’ve been invited with Producer Trent Carlson and Location Manager Monty Bannister, both Vancouver-based, along with producer Don Carmody from Toronto.
Yukon straddles the Arctic Circle in north-west Canada, with British Columbia to the south and the US state of Alaska to the west. It’s a wilderness territory that’s home to just 33,000 people, the vast majority of whom live in the capital Whitehorse, in the south.
Around 1,800 people live in Dawson City year-round and it dates back more than a hundred years to Canada’s gold rush era at the turn of the 20th Century. It’s remote, but a real treat as a charming slice of rural northern Canada.
Dawson City lies in the west of the territory some 330 miles north of Whitehorse, near the Alaskan border. Around 1,800 people live here year-round and it dates back more than a hundred years to Canada’s gold rush era at the turn of the 20th Century. It’s remote, but a real treat as a charming slice of rural northern Canada.
The locals have recognised its potential as a filming location and many of its historic buildings have been restored by conservation organisation Parks Canada. We take a mid-afternoon walk through the largely deserted streets. It’s a fantastically clear day and we’re all dressed in specialist winter clothing including long johns, heavy winter coats and hardcore snow boots. Temperatures fall as low as -20 Degrees Celsius in Dawson at this time of year and the snow lies feet deep off the beaten track.
We’re treated to a tour of Dawson’s historic buildings including a post office, a theatre and a bank, all looking much like they did way back in 1901. Newer buildings have kept the same aesthetic, while older, more dilapidated structures only add to Dawson’s historic charm.
Dawson City has a great sense of history - an amazing time capsule - it's just a matter of finding the right project to bring here.
Trent Carlson, Producer/Director
Recent projects to have filmed here - making use of the restored buildings - include Murdoch Mysteries, a popular Canadian crime drama set in the 1890s, and this summer they’ll be getting a visit from a docudrama entitled Gold Rush.
Trent comments: “Dawson City has a great sense of history - an amazing time capsule - it's just a matter of finding the right project to bring here.”
Access is probably the biggest issue for Dawson. A look down over the city from a nearby hillside serves as a reminder that it’s a small outpost amid a vast and spectacular landscape of mountains and boreal forest. The drive from Whitehorse to Dawson City takes about five hours, while locals tell me another option is to truck equipment from Vancouver, the closest major production hub, which takes about three days.
We fly over the wilderness between Dawson and Whitehorse, which makes for a stunning 90 minutes in the air each way, but that’s certainly not feasible for larger groups hauling filming equipment. Dawson’s runway is apparently capable of accommodating 737s, which would certainly make it more easily accessible to larger crews, but locals remain sceptical and it seems nothing bigger than a light aircraft like ours has ever used the small landing strip.
Once you’re actually in Dawson, everything falls into place very quickly. There are plenty of hotels to choose from, there’s WiFi access, bars and clubs and even a terrific Greek restaurant, none of which I necessarily expected from such a relatively remote part of the world.
Monty offers his thoughts back in Whitehorse: “Dawson City is perhaps the kind of place where you’d shoot second unit for a couple of days on the right project. I would scout this area if the picture I was working on needed the city and surrounding landscape. It does offer a very good look. The size and scope make it one of a kind and a great filming location.”
I would scout this area if the picture I was working on needed the city and surrounding landscape. It does offer a very good look. The size and scope make it one of a kind and a great filming location.
Monty Bannister, Location Manager
Whitehorse is home to around 25,000 people on the Alaskan Highway and offers a small-town feel with a cheerful central high street. The city itself is only a short distance from the wilderness. We take a helicopter and snowmobile trip to spectacular frozen lake locations, while native animals in a nearby wildlife park can make cameo appearances for the camera only a short drive outside the city.
The Northern Film and Video Industry Association is based here and specialises in grip and electrics hire. This is where crews tend to source their equipment for shoots in Dawson City. There’s a limited crew base and a series of incentive programmes for TV shows, features and documentaries. Whitehorse is occasionally used as a filming location, but more often than not it’s a convenient hub to get all the supplies needed for a shoot.
In terms of global access, Yukon is fairly straightforward. I flew from Heathrow to Vancouver – about ten hours in the air – and then took a two-hour connection to Whitehorse. From there I was in the hands of my hosts and straight to the Dawson charter flight. There’s actually a direct service available to Whitehorse from Frankfurt, Germany, twice a week from early May to early October, as apparently the region’s particularly popular among German tourists.
It really helps to de-mythologize the region by seeing exactly what’s on offer.
Trent Carlson, Producer/Director
Trent sums up his impressions of Yukon: “The people have been great and a major draw. It’s good to know there are skilled people here who know what they’re doing. It really helps to de-mythologize the region by seeing exactly what’s on offer.”
Update: June 2013
Air North now offers six regular flights a week from Whitehorse to Dawson City, increased to eight times weekly in the summer. The flight can carry up to 40 passengers or equipment weighing up to 10,000 pounds. Air North's usual aircraft for the route is a Hawker Siddley 748 turbo prop but it also sometimes uses a Boeing 737. The airline's flight-time is about 70 minutes.
(Thanks to Edward Peart of Air North for the update)
Global Filming Incentive - Canada (see more…)
- Newfoundland & Labrador: Tax Credit
- NWT Travel Rebate
- NWT Expenditure Rebate
- Cost-Of-Production Tax Credit
- Cost-Of-Salaries Tax Credit
- Canada: Film or Video Production Tax Credit (CPTC)
- Canada: The Film or Video Production Services Tax Credit (PSTC)
- The Manitoba Film and Video Production Tax Credit: Frequent Filming Bonus
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