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Faro - the Yukon's Yukon

by Darrell Hookey

A Guide to Faro, Yukon

July 2003

    I never felt more like a city slicker.

    Cripes, and I'm from Whitehorse. I live in a log cabin (albeit I live a block and a half from Tim Hortons) and I own a four-wheel-drive vehicle (notwithstanding it's a Tempo) and I wear a fur hat (hey, muskrats are indigenous to the Yukon).

    Yet my trip to Faro last month left me feeling like one of those lineup-loving, self-important, I'm-more-stressed-than-you city dwellers whom I pity/despise so much.

    Faro is what the world thinks of when it thinks of the Yukon. And yet how many of us in Whitehorse have dared visit Faro to see just how horribly we have gone wrong?

    Yukoners are supposed to be unconventional and fun-loving:
    Indeed, Faroites have a golf course running right through their backyards and public buildings ...
    ... alas, Whitehorse has a bylaw that prohibits clowns.

    Yukoners are supposed to treasure their uniqueness:
    Indeed, Faroites celebrate a thing called an Ice Worm Squirm ...
    ... alas, Whitehorse has a Wal-Mart.

    Yukoners are supposed to love their freedom:
    Indeed, Faroites can start up a home-based business without a permit ...
    ... alas, Whitehorse has more rules governing garbage day than there are in a placer gold mining operation.

    (How about one more?)

    Yukoners are supposed to be adventurous:
    Indeed, Faro has a fully restored 65-ton haul truck (it's huge!) available for kids to play on ...
    ... alas, Whitehorse needs six months to build a playground at Rotary Peace Park.

    Now, I'm hip to the differences between Whitehorse and the rest of the Yukon. I brought my obligatory box of Tim Hortons donuts to keep from being sent back and I gave full-sentence responses to "How are you today?"

    And I took off my right mitten to shake hands.

    But I was more than a little bewildered when people kept waving to me as a I drove past. At first I figured they thought I was someone else. Then I checked the front of the car to make sure there wasn't a raven caught in the grill.

    Then it dawned on me: These people always wave to each other when they pass in their vehicles.

    I was driving with a friend once in his Honda car and saw him wave to other Honda drivers. But that was 25 years ago in the days when Honda only made motorcycles and had just started making cars.

    Here in Faro, the attitude is, "You live in Faro, I live in Faro, you are my kindred spirit and therefore my friend."

    So I kept my hands at the 10 and 2 position on the steering wheel to shoot back a wave whenever one was directed at me. Then I started waving first. It was liberating. I felt like I was on a nude beach and suddenly felt okay with it. I was reaching my inner-Yukoner.

    My eyes were a little wider as I started picking out the difference between Faro and Whitehorse.

    For instance, there is one intersection in the Upper Bench where you can see four large signs advertising home-based businesses inside. Faroites have to bring their jobs with them. And they do. They are making stained glass art and pickles and calendars and sculptures.

    You can complete your Christmas shopping in Faro and never leave your street. And you can buy your fertilizer direct from the manufacturer. Whitehorse has Rolf Hougen. Faro has Herbie.

    I was in Faro for a couple of days to prepare some business profiles and human interest stuff. A couple of days wouldn't be long enough, I soon found out.

    One person I wanted to talk to was Tina Henderson at the Bear's Den Bed and Breakfast. She didn't know I was coming and we hadn't been introduced. So I knocked on her door just to ask if I could come back at a more convenient time.

    "It's convenient now," she welcomed me. "Come on in." That wouldn't happen in Whitehorse. That wouldn't even happen at my door.

    Every person I talked to had a story about how Faro had changed their life.

    With the inexpensive house they were able to buy, Mike Skene and Theresa Wilhelm were able to devote most of their time to their business, Rockafooler Stained Glass.

    When her husband had the day off, Jan Sokwaypnace was able to go snowmobiling with him for the day.

    As jobs disappeared in their native Newfoundland, Neil and Judy Freake came to Faro to find jobs. Even though the mine shut down, they are both still busy.

    Yep, Faro is the Yukon's best-kept secret. It looks like they want to keep it that way, too, judging from the welcoming sign that trumpets it has, "Canada's Largest Open-Pit Lead-Zinc Mine." That sign might as well read, "Keep driving." But locals claim tourists are disappointed when they find out they can't see the open-pit mine. More than one has suggested it be opened to tours.

    But, really, wouldn't a better slogan be more like, "Where every home has a mountain view"? Or "The great outdoors just outside"? Or, "Faro: It is nothing like Whitehorse."

    I know there is a bunch of you lazing over your coffees at the Faro Studio Restaurant reading this. Talk it over guys. Have a contest.

    And if the driver of the Highway Maintenance sanding truck that I passed 50 kilometres from Faro is reading this, I apologize for not waving back. For some reason I was getting slow at it.