About Yukon Fiddling
Fiddling has played an important role in Northern cultural life since the mid 1800s. First brought to the region by Hudson’s Bay fur traders, it was quickly adapted and integrated into First Nations communities, with new and unique fiddle styles emerging as a result.
As an instrument that brings people together, creates community, and develops/preserves cultures, it has earned a special place of respect and warmth across the territory.
In communities such as Old Crow, Vuntut Gwitchin' musicians took the French and Scottish tunes of the fur traders and created their own fiddle and dance tradition. Each fiddler developed their own style, adapted to meet the needs of the dancers and community. Old Crow versions of tunes such as the Handkerchief Dance, Duck Dance and Rabbit Dance are unique in Canada and are embedded within a rich musical genealogy as they are passed down from generation to generation.
The Gold Rush of 1898 brought with it a new wave of fiddlers and music from the South, including musicians such as “Three Tune” Eddie Draper, who was known for playing Mountain Canary at the Last Chance Roadhouse. (Mountain Canary was a nick-name for mules hauling mining supplies).
The construction of the Alaska Highway created a third wave of fiddlers and new tunes to arrive in the Yukon. Fiddler Joe Loutchan travelled up the highway in 1962 and brought with him a wide and varied repertoire that quickly became influential throughout the North. Joe played at the 98 Hotel for more than 40 years, becoming a Yukon icon and creating a unique cultural legacy that lives on today.
In the late 1990s, the Yukon fiddle community started to see the development of youth fiddle ensembles. In recent years, fiddle groups in Haines Junction, Dawson City and Whitehorse have ensured that traditional Yukon tunes are being passed on to the next generation. The Fiddleheads are the largest youth ensemble in the territory; they have brought the Yukon’s fiddle story to life through productions such as A Fiddle History of Yukon Transportation, The Fiddle History of Canada, and the Yukon Fiddle Celebration (an album of Yukon fiddle tunes learned from traditional fiddlers from across the territory).