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Don't call it a comeback

Don't call it a comeback

Haines Junction has always been more than just the gateway to the Kluane—and now it's getting beefed up
By Eva Holland
Jun 09
From the June 2015 Issue

It wouldn’t be true to say that Haines Junction is up-and-coming. And it wouldn’t be correct to describe what’s happening in the town these days as a comeback, either—a revival after a slump. That’s not right. The small town that serves as the gateway to Kluane National Park, sitting in the shadow of the mountains and named for its place at the intersection of the Alaska Highway and the only road to isolated Haines, Alaska, has long been one of the Yukon’s most appealing and active communities.

It’s a place where families pour out of vans and RVs to eat ice cream concoctions on the sunny front deck at Frosty Freeze, where hikers check in with Parks Canada rangers to register and collect their borrowed bear barrels before heading to nearby trailheads: the classic three-day Slim’s River West trail, maybe, or the more daunting 10-day Donjek Route. Bush planes fitted with skis for glacier landings take off loaded with flightseers wanting to get an eyeful of the Kluane icefield, and not too far from town, rafting guides help visitors wriggle into wetsuits for a day of whitewater adventure.

All of that’s been true for a long time now. These days, though, the town is getting a little extra juice.

Let’s start with the grocery store. The Junction has been without one since Madley’s General Store closed in 2011. Residents have needed to make the two-hour drive to Whitehorse for supplies ever since, and visitors who forgot to buy what they needed before hitting the trails have had to weigh losing daylight against fresh produce. Or they did until December, at least, when The Little Green Apple opened for business. 

Longtime Yukoner Paula Pawlovich is one of the two owners of the new store. “Oddly, I had always had it on my list to do a grocery store,” shesays. After she and a partner bought the existing Fas Gas station that sits beside the Alaska Highway as you come into town from Whitehorse, they saw an opportunity. “There was this empty building there, that hadn’t been used for anything for 35 years, and it was just natural to turn it into a grocery store.”

The Little Green Apple is a small space packed with goodies. “I think people are shocked at how much we put in the space. It’s not to the degree of Riverside Grocery…” Pawlovich says, referencing the famously jam-packed Whitehorse store. And, she adds, there’s still room for more. “It’s a matter of finding the products that you want to carry over time. I tried to do a blend of partially natural and organic and partially just mainstream groceries.” She carries locally grown produce when she can, and meats from Stacey’s Butcher Block in Whitehorse.

Nearby, an old Junction standby, the Village Bakery, is re-opening under new—very new—ownership. Andrew Marston and Chelsea Hamilton, a married couple, closed a deal to buy the bakery five days before they spoke to Up Here in April. Hamilton grew up in Whitehorse and met Marston at engineering school in Toronto. Two years ago they married, left their jobs, and went travelling. “We just couldn’t face going back to our old jobs and just wanted a change,” Hamilton says. “So this was a perfect fit. It took a while to find, but we finally found the perfect place for us.”

They’re brand new to Haines Junction, but at a community meeting they found themselves received warmly. “We introduced ourselves and were welcomed with cheers and hugs,” she says. “Everyone’s really excited that the bakery’s going to be open again. It was really nice to have confirmation that the place we had in our minds—the types of people, the types of ideas that people have there—really do match with what we are.”

The couple doesn’t plan any radical changes to a much-loved institution. “We’ll stick to business as usual while we learn the ropes,” says Marston, adding that the bakery already has a great reputation among locals and visitors. (They’ll work with past ownership and returning staff to get a handle on things.) 

“This summer we’re going to be sponges,” Hamilton says. “We’ll learn about how things have been done in the past and then from there we’ll start to add some of our own fingerprints.”

There's more.

Two friends have launched a catering company, 14 Acre Farm, and are working towards the goal of growing their own food for the business. Resident Evelyn Koh has opened a pop-up shop, Acacia Vintage, from her cabin. It carries what Koh describes as a “curated collection of vintage clothing, furniture, and wares, along with arts, crafts, jewelry and more.” 

Meanwhile, the 12th annual Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival, which had been held in Whitehorse for the past four years, is finally coming home to the Junction. It takes place June 12 to 14.

The town may not be making a comeback—after all, it never went away. But these days, as Evelyn Koh says, “it’s a great time to be in Haines Junction.”