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Yukoners flock outside for scorching start to summer

Dawn Lammer watches her children Thomas and Tori and friend Lucy Baxter play on the beach at Long Lake in Whitehorse, Yukon on Thursday June 20. (Photo by Ian Stewart)

Ian Stewart

Bill Donaldson marked the start of summer in Dawson City, Yukon, by moving back into his cave. Known locally as Caveman Bill, Mr. Donaldson has been living in a small grotto on the Yukon River for close to two decades. It gets a little chilly in winter when temperatures drop to minus 40, and this year, it also got a little soggy. At the end of May, when the ice broke up on the river, Mr. Donaldson's cave flooded, forcing the cabinetmaker into a wall tent a little higher up the hill to wait out the deluge.

"It was cold, cold cold, then got warm so fast," said Driftwood Holly, a local carpenter who lives upriver from Mr. Donaldson. The river stayed frozen so long this year, Mr. Holly ended up with migrating water birds, including ducks, geese and swans, camped out in his snowy garden in May. Less than a month later, temperatures jumped more than 40 degrees. "There have been summer solstices when we were huddled on the Dawson Dome in a snowstorm, like muskox," Mr. Holly said. This year, as residents drive up the mountain behind the town to watch the midnight sun kiss the horizon and rise again, the temperature is expected to be upwards of 25 C.

That kind of heat is unusual in the far North this time of year. Even more unusual is the occasion when the Yukon is warmer than many other parts of Canada. And signs of summer are everywhere across the territory. In Whitehorse, six hours south, children have been able to turf their parkas to play in the local waterpark, canoes and kayaks have replaced skis on roof racks, and tents are popping up on the clay cliffs around the capital. During an early morning run last week, local writer Vivian Belik got "a full moon" as a naked tourist exited his tent, tail first. "I think he probably thought he was in the Yukon wilds," Ms. Belik said.

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In dog yards outside the city, Yukon mushers are rounding up panting, shedding huskies to celebrate the solstice with a Hot Hounds race. Fearless, and perhaps foolish, competitors tie as many as three sled dogs to their waists and jump on bikes, careening through pine forests for beer and prizes. At last year's race, the dogs were pulling one competitor so hard, he was flipped over his handlebars at the start line. "They had to hold back his dogs so he could get back on the bike," said local musher and Hot Hounds competitor Susan Rogan. "You get rocking pretty good."

Local yoga buffs, looking for a little less adrenalin on the longest day of the year, plan to head down to the Yukon River to welcome summer with 108 sun salutations. "We're greeting the summer because it is actually here," said Whitehorse yoga enthusiast Erica Heuer. "My garden was doing so badly, and now it has exploded."

Baked goods, crafts and seedlings are still the only items on offer at the Whitehorse Farmer's Market, but local gardeners are expecting a good season. "The late spring slowed a lot of us down," said Whitehorse market gardener Alyx Jones. "We had to keep our seedlings inside too long, then they got too spindly and we had to replant a lot of them. But now with this warm weather I expect we'll do quite well."

"It's like someone flicked a switch and suddenly turned the heat on," said Yukon Wildland Fire information officer George Maratos. Two fires are already burning in the territory and, with more hot weather and lightening in the forecast, the Yukon just brought in 40 additional firefighters from British Columbia.

"Things are ramping up here pretty good," Mr. Maratos said. "It's going to get very busy."

One of the fires is visible from the Dawson Dome, and will add a bit of gravity to solstice celebrations. Mr. Holly is not heading to the Dome this year, though the bench he built from a tree that had been standing since the gold rush is still perched on the peak, pointing toward the midnight sun. "I am getting too old to party so hard and then roll all the way home," he said. Instead, he hopes to get time-lapse photos of a giant sundial that he grew from wildflowers in his garden. "At solstice, with the midnight sun," he said, "the shadow should spin once around the whole sundial."

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