Melissa Antony began her search for a home in the Yukon in the middle of the pandemic. Property prices were soaring, even in the North, so the 35-year-old had to get creative. After looking for a secluded place to live with her husband, Vincent, their nine-year old son, Isiah, and their band of noisy dogs, the family bought a tract of undeveloped land 20 kilometres south of Dawson City, where the short summers and remote location make building houses a challenge.
Their solution was an unconventional but increasingly popular one. Antony talked to Aaron Hutchins about what it’s like to live in a traditional Mongolian yurt in Canada’s far northwest.
The cost of living in the North is very high. I was paying $2,500 a month to rent in Yellowknife, on top of childcare and other costs. So in January of 2021, we moved to the Yukon.
We had our eyes on Dawson City, where it was a little more affordable. We didn’t want our dogs to be bothering the neighbours too much. We really wanted a lifestyle where we could live off the land, have different animals—some ducks, chickens and whatever else—and live sustainably. We found this plot of 21 acres near Dawson that was undeveloped and reasonably affordable.
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The window for development up here is short because of the long winter, and the cost of building is outrageous. There’s no Walmart or Home Depot.
I studied anthropology for 13 years and I’ve always been fascinated by Mongolia and traditional lifestyles. We started looking into yurts, and we found this company called Groovy Yurts. They source yurts directly from Mongolia, then bring them to Canada and help you put them together.
We really liked that the yurt doesn’t have an impact on the environment. It’s made of all-natural materials: sheep’s wool, horse-hair ropes, wooden beams. It’s a really beautiful structure, something we could put up in a matter of hours and live in. It was the most affordable—and warmest—option.
We built a platform about a metre off the ground because we weren’t sure what the spring runoff and flooding was going to look like. We use that platform as a fridge, because we’re sitting right on permafrost. We lift a portion of the floor and there’s a nice, cold storage space underneath.
We’re in a small space—a six-metre radius. We have a table and our beds, and that’s basically all there’s room for, plus some shelving for a pantry and a kitchen sink. We don’t have internet or cell phone service. We don’t have electricity or running water. We use a wood stove for cooking and heating water.
We spend a lot of time reading and playing board games and cards. Because it’s such a small space, I feel really connected to my son. I also feel really connected to the land. There’s no sound barrier to the outside. We hear the birds very clearly.
We buy groceries in town. It’s about a 15-to-20-minute drive. I go for the day and do my work here at the university, and my son goes to school, and then we head home at the end of the day.
Whenever I go to Whitehorse—about five-and-a-half hours away—I fill the car to the roof. These are $1,000 trips, because you want to bring back all the dried goods you can. Without a freezer or a real fridge, we have to think about cooking in a different way.
There was a lot of heavy snow this year, so we had to constantly clear the roof. I was absolutely blown away by the engineering of the structure. The design has been around for thousands of years. It’s just so beautiful, and we feel really secure. No matter how windy it is, it just feels stable. We never get cold. When the wood stove is going, we get hot—we sit around in shorts and T-shirts when it’s minus-32 outside.
We chose not to have windows because we were worried about losing heat. Instead, we have a plexiglass dome on top. In the summer, we close it because we have no darkness. But in the winter, we leave it open all the time and we see the Northern Lights.
My Christmas gift theme for my son was about the constellations and telling direction by the stars. You lie down at night and it’s this moment of calm, and you look out at the stars. It’s amazing.