Northern Nights Festival celebrates dark skies in the Yukon

Megan Leung led an aurora-painting workshop at the Northern Nights Festival in Kluane National Park this past weekend. (Sissi De Flaviis/CBC)

Marie-Eve Owen and Tim Taylor wanted to spend one last family vacation outdoors as the midnight sun fades away and the dark winter sky settles in.

That’s why they drove two hours from Whitehorse to Mät’àtäna Män (Kathleen Lake) in Kluane National Park and Reserve for the sixth annual Northern Nights Festival this weekend.

“Bringing our kids and our family out here allows us to feel the wind and look at nature in a closer way,” said Owen.

The festival had activities for people of all ages, including a rocket-making craft session for kids and a rocket launch hour where the young night sky enthusiasts and their parents got to see the newly crafted rockets being launched into ‘space.’ (Sissi De Flaviis/CBC)

The festival includes a wide range of workshops and opportunities to learn about the northern night and celebrate the dark sky. It’s the only one of its kind in the Yukon.

Parks Canada, the festival’s organizer, is currently looking into making the national park a dark-sky preserve, meaning it could become a protected area committed to preserving the night and reducing or eliminating light pollution.

David Miller, a member of the Yukon Astronomical Society, said he’s concerned about the light pollution in the world and its impact on the environment.

“Most of the world’s population has never seen the night sky. They might see a bright star, but very few of them,” he said.

‘What is a Planet?’ was one of the final workshops at the festival on Saturday, hosted by Christa Van Laerhoven, president of the Yukon Astronomical Society. (Sissi De Flaviis/CBC)

Miller has been passionate about astronomy since his mid-teen years; 60 years later, he teaches people about the sky through his telescope.

“It’s really wonderful to show people the night sky.”

He said in a light-polluted place, people might only be able to see a dozen of stars in the sky, compared to a dark sky where thousands of stars, even galaxies, can be seen without the help of telescopes.

Many festival-goers and artists in attendance also described the importance of protecting dark skies.

Megan Leung, an environmental artist and scientist, led a workshop where people painted pictures of the northern lights.

David Miller, a Yukon Astronomical Society member, showed the bright beaming sun to attendees at the Northern Nights Festival on Saturday afternoon. (Sissi De Flaviis/CBC)

“I think people are just becoming more aware of how overstimulating and how exhausting it can be to be in really urban spaces,” she said, “so to have these really dark, undisturbed, non-polluted places … is something really special.”

Educational workshops

In partnership with Parks Canada, the festival included various activities hosted by the Yukon Astronomical Society and Yukon Words.

Ellen Bielawski is a northern author and member of Yukon Words. She said her life’s work is based on better understanding her home, “north of 60.”

Although Bielawski’s workshop, Northern Nights and Winter Words, focused more on writing as a craft, she said partnering with Parks Canada is a way to bring awareness to northern concepts, issues and ecosystems.

“Without knowing about northern nights and dark skies, we can’t protect them, and we will lose them,” she said.

The workshops and activities took place along the lake’s day-use area and were hosted by local artists like Maya Chartier (Akassiyah), who ran a botanical drawing workshop.

A botanical drawing workshop with artist Maya Chartier (Akassiyah) aimed to teach people about the flora near Mät’atäna Män (Kathleen Lake). (Sissi De Flaviis/CBC)

Chartier said the workshop aimed to teach people about the local plants around Kathleen Lake she personally harvested a week before the event.

“For me, drawing plants is a really good way to learn about them and to recognize them,” she said. “When you’re drawing, you have to be very patient, but also observe the parts — fruit, stem, leaves.”

Other activities included stargazing, an astronomy presentation, night photography lessons, beading, crafts and activities for kids, traditional stories of the land and live music.

The view of Saturday night’s sky from Kluane National Park. The Northern Nights Festival featured two telescopes, one pointing towards Jupiter and the other one to various constellations. (Submitted by Sam Wilson)

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Picture from N.W.T. among winners of international astronomy photography competition, CBC News

Finland: 70th annual reindeer cup races held on frozen Lake Inari, The Independent Barents Observer

Russia: German project to house everything published in Siberian and Arctic languages to seek new funding, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden: Award-winning novel set in Sapmi to get Netflix treatment, Eye on the Arctic

Sissi De Flaviis, CBC News

Sissi De Flaviis is a Venezuelan-born reporter for CBC News. Currently located in Whitehorse, Yukon. She was previously a writer in CBC Ottawa. Have a story idea? Email her at

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