By Larry Persily
The Carcross building is 109 years old, though it’s been shuttered the past 13 years. That’s about to end as the owners of the three-story Klondike-era history plan to reopen the Caribou Hotel bar in early August. The hotel could be back in business in about a year — the only hotel in the small Yukon community.
It’s been a renovating struggle, said Anne Morgan, who has been working and planning for the reopening, along with partner Jamie Toole, since buying the building in 2006.
“It’s all been done to the historic standards of Canada,” Morgan said July 29, as they were in the final week or two of getting ready to start pouring drinks in the bar. Passing code and getting through the final steps for their liquor license were pretty much the last hurdles, she said.
The taps will pour beers from Whitehorse breweries Yukon Brewing and Winterlong Brewing. The bar will serve a limited menu for lunch and dinner, with the full-service restaurant another year away, just like the hotel rooms, Morgan said.
The original hotel had 24 rooms. “They were the size of your closet,” she said. Though the renovations will expand the size and knock down the total to 11 rooms, the owners plan to make the new look just like the old. “We’re really going with the whole 1910s’ era. … We’re trying to fill them all with restored and antique furniture.”
There are rental cabins but no operating hotels in Carcross, a community of a few hundred people 65 miles up the Klondike Highway from Skagway. The hotel is a territorially designated historic site. The community originally was known as Caribou Crossing.
Toole has put his more than four decades of building experience to the test, taking on the exhaustive renovation. “I just do what I’m told,” he joked to a CBC reporter in July, referring to Morgan’s desire to beautify a historic Yukon building.
Doors were refurbished, handrails meticulously restored. Toole even lifted the building and poured a new foundation. He completely rewired the electrical system, the CBC reported.
“It’s a lot of labor, probably could have built three of these buildings with the time and the cost we’ve put into it so far,” Toole told the CBC. “If you don’t do a historical restoration this way, to me it’s not done properly. Just the windows alone in the entire building took 800 hours to refinish.”
Even the bar has a share of history. Toole handcrafted the tabletops using lumber salvaged from the White Pass & Yukon Route.
The building was constructed in Bennett, British Columbia, in 1898, at the start of the Klondike gold rush, according to the hotel’s website. It was called the Yukon Hotel, and in 1901 the building was floated across Lake Bennett to Carcross and renamed Anderson Hotel. It’s been called the Caribou Hotel since the early 1900s. The original burned down and a new building opened in 1910.
“I have learned so much more about Yukon history and Carcross’ place in history through this project,” Morgan told the CBC. “It’s an important story that we need to pass on to future generations,” she said.
“The building will be there for yours and my great-grandchildren,” Morgan said.
And then there are the ghosts. Since 1933, according to some, the hotel has been haunted by a former operator, Bessie Gideon — “a shy spirit who is neither friendly nor unfriendly,” the hotel website said. “Along with doors being slammed and floors creaking, Bessie herself has been sighted.”
In 2015, Canada Post recognized the hotel and its ghost stories in a series of five stamps called “Haunted Canada.” The stamp pictured a ghost with the face of a skull looming over the hotel.