Life Support at 50 Below 0
The Yukon Territory is a vast wilderness area
a little larger than California
Life Support at 50 Below 0The Yukon defines the terms: rural, vast and harsh, telehealth services are are bringing a new quality of life to Canada's last pioneers
The Yukon Territory is a vast wilderness area a little larger than California and it is populated with more moose than people. The Yukon’s 30,000 permanent residents live in communities ranging in size from 22,000 in Whitehorse - the capital city, to 54 people living in small villages such as Burwash Landing and Pelly Crossing.
The Yukon defines the term rural with vast distances between communities in a wilderness setting and climatic conditions that range from 30C in the summer months to -50C in the winter.
In this harsh environment technology plays an important role in improving the quality of life for Yukoners. Equally important are the visionary innovators who have promoted new telecommunications technology to improve the lives of the people that live here.
A New Yorker by the name of Perry McDonough Collins was the first to bring telecommunications to the North. In 1865 Mr. Collins promoted the Russian-American Telegraph Expedition which strung a telegraph line from New Westminster, British Columbia, through the Northern British Territories (Yukon), across Russian America, (Alaska), across the Bering Strait, south through Siberia, to Inkutsk Russia.
In 1867 the Russian-American overland telegraph project was abandoned after an expenditure of three million dollars. The line and the right-of-way were taken over in 1871 by the British Columbia government who over a ten year period repaired and rebuilt it to become the Dominion, or Yukon, telegraph line which connected Dawson City, the Klondike Gold Rush capital, to the rest of the world.
Often called the first Internet, this telegraph service was operable for 113 years until it was decommissioned by CNCP Telecommunications in 1974.
A number of significant technology developments have taken place in the Yukon since the Russian-American Telegraph. In 1970 Telesat’s Anik satellite began delivering television service to selected locations across the country. The Yukon community of Teslin became the first private satellite receiving station in the country, providing residents here with television from the outside world.
Yukon entrepreneur and innovator Rolf Hougen, was interested in satellite delivery of television to the Yukon and other parts of northern Canada. In 1979 he submitted a proposal to the federal Department of Communications and the CRTC. Hougen put together a group of broadcasters who jointly applied for a license to deliver Canadian TV services to northern, remote and under-serviced regions of Canada and thus began the Cancom organization which now serves a growing international marketplace.
The Yukon became connected to the World Wide Web in January of 1995 thanks to a group of visionary techies who worked hard to create a Yukon-based Internet node. Initially a 56K digital land-line, connection between Whitehorse and Vancouver linked the Yukon servers to the rest of the World Wide Web.
Since that time, a great deal of activity has been devoted to improving technical capacity and putting this technology into the hands of Yukoners.
As Director of Strategic Industries for the Yukon Government, Terry Hayden is
promoting the increased use of the digital network throughout the territory for a variety of purposes.
A patient in a rural nursing station can now be
diagnosed by a physician 800 kilometers away in the
Whitehorse General Hospital.
Community Access Program or CAP sites in local libraries as well as a visionary computer-education program in the Yukon school system have contributed to making the Yukon one of the most connected locations in Canada.
The Yukon’s tele-health project is now in its second year of operation and is making a positive difference in the lives of Yukoners. A patient in a rural nursing station can now be diagnosed by a physician 800 kilometers away in the Whitehorse General Hospital.
The patients no longer have to drive these great distances in extreme winter weather, which not only reduces risk to themselves, but it also increases efficiency in delivering quality health services to the rural residents.
Hayden also works with industry to develop the Yukon’s information technology sector with the goal of creating a forward-looking IT industry capable of developing new applications and solutions for the north.
“The unique aspects of living in this environment, challenge us to discover new solutions to old problems,” explained Hayden. “Coupled with small, widely-dispersed populations and tight budgets, we strive to find technology solutions that are effective and affordable.”
There are remote sensing and telemetry project trials underway which are merging VHF radio to Internet-based distribution systems. Hayden explained, “We can either send someone to drive five hours just to read a gauge on a remote pumping station, or we can place a monitoring apparatus on the pump and read the gauge from the comfort of an office computer hundreds of kilometers away. It is using the network in innovative ways such as this that will provide new economies and greater efficiency for many existing applications.”
The recently completed Yukon Telecommunications Review states the territory is ahead of the nation in many respects but more could be done to improve bandwidth with the outside world. As well, expanding the cellular network to more of the Yukon and finding solutions to the cost of providing service at the community level are other issues currently being examined.
Not limited to hardware and network development, Hayden and his team work with a variety of organizations and government departments to build capacity within the Yukon population.
“Our Internet penetration is one of the highest in Canada with high speed service available to 89% of all Yukon households,” said Hayden. “However, within that concentration, there is the recognition that these users do not include all components of our population. We are working to bring more of our seniors on line as well as more small-business people dealing in the global marketplace.”
A recently completed Information Technology sector strategy provides the focus for the future development of Yukon’s IT capacity. Working with the private sector service providers, advocacy groups and societies, education facilities and the business community, the Yukon plans to stimulate new economic opportunities in the IT sector while promoting greater understanding and use of the Internet and all that it can provide to enhance our quality of life.
By Doug Caldwell, Communications, Economic Development Yukon Government