Oldest town in Yukon almost wiped out by ice jams and flooding

An ice jam at the mouth of the Forty Mile river sent ice and water into the historic town site that sits along it’s bank. Buildings and structures were moved from their foundations. (US National Weather Service, Fairbanks, Alaska)

‘It’s a real traumatic setback,’ says Roberta Joseph, chief of the Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin First Nation

The historic town site of Forty Mile is the latest area in the Dawson City, Yukon, region to be impacted by ice jams and extreme flooding.

A large ice jam at the confluence of the Forty Mile River sent water and ice into the site, knocking buildings and structures off of their foundations.

“There’s been a lot of movement,” said Roberta Joseph, chief of the Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin First Nation. “New buildings, old buildings, off their original locations, which is quite devastating.”

Joseph said the extent of the damage isn’t known at this time, but once the road into the site is safe to travel ground assessments will be conducted.

“There’s been a major flood there,” she said. “It raised up to some of the rooftops. Some even higher than the rooftops.”

Joseph said that hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of work and time have been lost.

“Every year there are new investments into the site,” she said. “In terms of stabilizing, building new structures, archeology work, caretakers.

It’s a real traumatic setback.”

Joseph said it’s not the money lost that has her feeling upset.

“I really feel for the individuals who worked there and looked after the site,” she said. “And for our elders who visited the site and so many people who went there for our cultural and traditional camps.”

A special place

Located approximately two hours down river from Dawson City, Forty Mile is a special place for the Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin and visitors alike.

“It has significant meaning and is really important,” said Joseph. “We had negotiated as part of our treaty agreement to identify it as a heritage site, and to be able to work in partnership with the Yukon Government through the Forty Mile heritage site management plan.”

“We’ve put a lot of effort into it over the past 20 years.”

Joseph said there have been many archeological finds at Forty Mile; some that date back to prehistoric times.

The historic town site is co-owned by the Yukon Government and the Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin.

Rebecca Jensen is the manager for Yukon Historic Sites.

“Obviously we’re still trying to grapple with the extent of it,” she said. “One of the things that makes Forty Mile so special is it’s more than just the tangibles. It’s more than just the buildings. It has a sense of place. It has a history. It has a connection to the activities on the land. That will always exist.”

She said flooding at Forty Mile isn’t uncommon. Records show that flooding has occurred throughout the time people have been using the site. Though, Jensen notes this particular incident is quite significant compared to others.

Jensen said the Yukon Government is committed to working with the Trʼondëk Hwëchʼin First Nation to come up with the next step forward.

“I suspect that we’ll both be, you know, boots on the ground and trying to assess the situation and figure out what can be salvaged and try to get the site back up on its feet.”

Jensen said the site as it is right now is still unsafe for people to visit. She is asking people to stay away until officials deem it safe again.

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: Fort Liard, Nahanni Butte should be on ‘high alert’ for flooding in coming days, says N.W.T. gov’t, CBC News

Finland: Flooding in Finland is getting worse, new climate report says, Yle News

Sweden: Heavier rainfall will increase risk of landslides and flooding in Sweden, Radio Sweden.

United States: Ice jams, rapid snowmelt flood homes, businesses and roads across Alaska, The Associated Press

Chris MacIntyre, CBC News

Chris MacIntyre is a CBC reporter in Dawson City, Yukon.

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