Yukon Nuggets

  • View of 'City of Seattle' in Glacier Bay with Muir Glacier in the background. Date: 1899. Yukon Archives. H.C. Barley fonds, #5138.

1992 Yukon Nuggets

Glacier Bay


Glacier Bay is aptly named because it is home to many northern glaciers. Icebergs, that calve off the glaciers, float elegantly but dangerously in the frigid crystal blue water.

Many Yukon boat owners have used the ports of Skagway and Haines to sail into and around Glacier Bay. They marvel at the breathtaking mountain backdrop where the snows, that are older than history, add to the glacier’s ice cover before being dumped into the sea.

Here, along the 60-mile stretch of narrow fjords at the northern end of the Inside Passage, there are six tidewater glaciers.

Glacier Bay was first surveyed in detail in 1794 by a team from the H.M.S. Discovery, captained by George Vancouver. At the time, the survey showed a mere indentation in the shoreline. The largest glacier, the Grand Pacific, was more than 4,000 feet thick in places, up to 20 miles wide, and extended more than 100 miles to the St. Elias mountain range.

By 1879, American naturalist John Muir discovered that the ice had retreated more than 30 miles, forming an actual bay. By 1916, the Grand Pacific Glacier – the main glacier credited with carving the bay – had melted back 60 miles to the head of what is now Tarr Inlet. The most rapid glacial retreat ever recorded had occurred by 1916, when it was discovered that the ice had retreated 65 miles.

And that’s where the Yukon comes into play. In the mid-'60s, prospector and developer Leo Proctor, on behalf of the Yukon Research and Development Institute, flew over the area taking pictures of Tarr Inlet. He then boldly declared that the glacier had receded so far that Tarr inlet was now in Canadian territory and that a Canadian port could and should be built there.

He showed that building a road, from the port along the Tatshenshini valley to the Haines Road, would be easy. The economic implications for Canada, and the Yukon having its own seaport, were enormous, said Proctor. Well, nothing much came of the idea, and while the head of Tarr Inlet is sometimes in Canadian territory depending on what the glaciers are doing, it is unlikely a port will be built anytime soon.


In 1992 Glacier Bay became part of an international World Heritage Site, along with Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Kluane National Park. The park features snow-capped mountain ranges rising more than 15,000 feet, coastal beaches with protected coves, deep fjords, twelve tidewater glaciers, fresh-water lakes, and many plant species.


But for now, it does not feature a Canadian deep water coastal port.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.

Les McLaughlin

Les McLaughlin

As storyteller, radio man, and music producer, Les proved a passionate preserver of Yukon heritage throughout his life — nowhere more evident than as the author and voice of CKRW’s “Yukon Nuggets,” from its inception until his passing in 2011.