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Fishladder - Of fish and the Whitehorse Fishway

For thousands of years, salmon have travelled up the Yukon River to spawn in its many tributaries. Some travelled as far as the Yukon Riverís headwaters, near to where the Whitehorse Fishway is today. The salmon laid their eggs in the gravel. These eggs hatched and new salmon grew in the glacier-fed waters. The young salmon made their way back to the ocean, only to return in a few years to begin the cycle anew.


Thus the cycle continued, uninterrupted, until the late 1950s, when the Northern Canada Power Commission built the Whitehorse Rapids Hydroelectric Facility (the dam) to meet the electricity needs of a growing community. In 1959, the Whitehorse Fishway was built to help this ancient migration continue. In 1983 and 1984, the Whitehorse Rapids Fish Hatchery and a salmon transplant program were started in a further effort to build  and maintain the salmon stocks.

The Yukon Energy Corporation took over the ownership of the fishway and hatchery in 1987. At the interpretation centre in the fishway, you can view fish through the underwater window and learn more about the salmon and other fish species from displays inside the building and the viewing platforms above the Yukon River. The Yukon Fish and Game Association operates the interpretation programs at the centre on behalf of Yukon Energy. Every year, between June 1 and August 31, over 35,000 people come to see and learn about the fishway. We hope you are among them!



Want to hear a fish story?

2 Long distance travellers. The salmon that hatch in the streams near Whitehorse travel over 3,000 kilometres to the ocean. ďNo big deal,Ē you say, ďitís all downstream.Ē True, but later in life, they make the same trip back upstream.

Incredible navigators. Four to six years after leaving the creeks where they hatched from eggs, Chinook salmon travel all the way from the ocean, returning to spawn in the stream where they were born.

Talk about your crash diet! For the three months it takes salmon to swim from the Pacific Ocean to Whitehorse, they donít eat anything, relying instead on stored body fats for energy.

Climbers extraordinaire. After their 3,000-kilometre swim upstream, Chinook climb the 366-metre-long fish ladder, believed to be the longest wooden fish ladder in the world.

Itís no eggs-ageration. Chinook salmon lay an average of 5,000 eggs when they spawn. Of these, only about 10 percent will make it to the fry, or juvenile fish, stage.

And then what? The Chinook salmon die shortly after spawning. A sad ending to a heroic tale. Mind you, the dead salmon become food for many animals and birds, including bears and eagles.


Where do the fish come from?

Many fresh water fish in the Yukon River, such as grayling and inconnu, are continually moving in the river. The adult Chinook salmon, however, come here only once a year. After leaving the Bering Sea in May or June, they swim up the Yukon River (3,000 kilometres), arriving in late July until early September. For those salmon swimming upstream of the dam, many head for Michie Creek near Marsh Lake, while others go to the smaller tributaries of the Yukon River or remain in the river itself to spawn.

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last updated:  15.04.2008