Route is seen as a 'major milestone'
The Yukon and the Northwest Territories now have a direct air link to Toronto, a link provided by a Yukon carrier that has a notable presence south of the 60th parallel.
Whitehorse-based Air North began twice-weekly Whitehorse-Yellowknife-Toronto service May 10, the first air service connecting this country’s largest city and the capitals of both the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, with the Ontario capital joining a network that also includes Victoria, Vancouver, Kelowna, Edmonton, and Calgary.
The airline has also decided to resume Ottawa service, a city it had been flying to but then suspended service to.
The new route connecting Toronto with Whitehorse and Yellowknife was praised by visiting Yukon officials at a reception at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport.
“I’m absolutely thrilled to be here today… for Air North’s inaugural flight,” Yukon Premier Sandy Silver said. “The vibe on the plane was amazing.”
The launch of the route marked a “major milestone,” Silver added.
Silver labelled Air North a “nationally recognized leader in air travel” that “is working every day to provide consistent and reliable service.”
Air North — which bills itself as the Yukon’s airline — serves several Yukon communities, including northernmost Old Crow and the gold rush hub of Dawson City, and also flies to the Arctic Northwest Territories community of Inuvik.
The new route is the first linking Toronto with either Whitehorse or Yellowknife.
The inaugural flight was piloted by Air North president Joe Sparling, who conceded that current high fuel prices make this a challenging time to launch a new route.
Sparling told the Toronto gathering that the airline has a clear vision.
“We don’t want to be a big airline,” he said. “We want to be a small airline looking after our backyard.”
Air North is inviting both tourists and business travellers to head North, while also making it easier for Northerners to travel South.
“The Yukon is a place that all Canadians should experience. It punches above its weight in outdoor scenery. It has a rich culture and very welcoming communities,” Air North’s Ben Ryan said of a large territory that has a smallish population, has this country’s highest mountains, was the home of the Klondike Gold Rush and eagerly promotes its First Nations culture.
Air North is 49% owned by the Old Crow-based Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation, with the airline bringing a Vuntut Gwitchin council member and local dancers to Toronto, along with First Nations chiefs from Whitehorse and Yukon musicians.
“There is so much opportunity that this opens up,” said Old Crow’s Bonnee Bingham.
Chief Doris Bill of Whitehorse’s Kwalin Dun First Nation said Yukoners are well aware that Air North is a home-grown carrier.
“As Northerners, we’re so proud,” she said. “We truly feel we own it.”
Bill said Air North service results in “steadily declining fares” for Northerners that enable them to head south more easily.