Hougen Group

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Distant view of piles being driven for a bridge at the outlet of Lewis Lake between Carcross and Whitehorse. Date: December 1899. Yukon Archives. H.C. Barley fonds, #5303.

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View of WP&YR labourers and horse-drawn wagons on top of an elevated grade built up where Lewis Lake was drained. Date: December 1899. Yukon Archives. H.C. Barley fonds, #5304.

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Scenic view of Lewis Lake located along the WP&YR between Carcross and Whitehorse. Yukon Archives. H.C. Barley fonds, #4827.

Lewis Lake

There's a nice little lake just off the Klondike Highway between Whitehorse and Carcross. Well, it's a little lake today, but back in 1900 before a Vancouver based engineer came along, this lake was much, much larger.

When the White Pass railway was being built in 1900, the workers encountered a large unnamed lake about 50 miles from Skagway near Lake Bennett. A construction engineer A.B. Lewis discovered that the surface of the lake was above the railway grade. To go around it would add as much as ten miles to the length of the line.

Lewis decided if the water level could be lowered by about 10 feet the company would save a lot of money. A ditch was dug from the south end of the lake to drain away the excess water. The plug was pulled during the evening. Then, to the dismay of Lewis and the workers, the force of the water flowing down the ditch washed the loose mud and gravel away causing a torrent of water which quickly drained the lake, not 10 feet, but nearly 80 feet. The flood washed out a considerable length of the recently constructed railroad bed below the lake. This held up construction, much to the embarrassment of engineer Lewis.

The once large unnamed lake became three small lakes. All round the present day shore is volcanic ash deposited about 1300 years ago by a massive eruption in Alaska. The ash, which used to be underwater, reveals fossilized marine creatures which lived in the lake many thousands of years ago. It's hard to understand why the lake was named in honour of Engineer Lewis. It's likely if the same feat were tried today, Lewis would have to find a way to put the water back.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

Mountie Mountains

In this the 125th anniversary of the formation of the North West Mounted Police, we'll take a look at mountains named for mounties who served in the Yukon as members of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police.

Mount Wood in the St. Elias Range stands an impressive 15,800 feet high. It was named in 1900 for then-Inspector Zachary Wood who, at one time, headed the police detachment in Dawson. Wood joined the Northwest Mounted Police in 1883, just ten years after it was formed. He later became commissioner of the Mounted Police.

Yet another impressive mountain, standing at nearly 15 thousand feet is named for Superintendant James Walsh. He was the first commissioner of the Yukon, although his post lasted only two months. But during the year he spent in the Yukon in 1898, Walsh was in charge of virtually all government and police operations.

One of the first police officers to arrive in the Yukon was Darcy Strickland, coming with a small force of men with Inspector Constantine in 1895. He was the first officer in charge on the White Pass in 1898 and later headed the important detachment at Tagish Post. Mount Strickland in the St. Elias stands almost 14,000 feet tall.

And finally, the tallest of the mountie mountains stands at just over 16,500 feet. Mount Steele is named for Sam Steele. He enlisted in the Northwest Mounted Police in 1874. In July of 1898, he was given the rank of Lt Colonel and was appointed by the federal government to organize and train the second Canadian division and in 1915, as chairman of the Canadian Militia council in England, was virtually the commander of all Canadian forces in the United Kingdom.

So there you have it. Four impressive peaks in the St. Elias Range, named for four impressive mounties who served the country well during and after the Klondike gold rush.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

The Old Log Church

It’s a quiet little building very close to the hustle and bustle of downtown Whitehorse. It has the feeling of a sanctuary. And so it should. In 1900, when Whitehorse was just a few blocks wide and long, Anglican missionary William Bompas visited the town and decided it needed a place of worship.

So he instructed Rev. R. J. Bowen, who had been ministering to the gold seekers and native people at Forty Mile and Dawson City, to go to Whitehorse and build a church.

Bowen and his wife Susan travelled to Whitehorse on a steamboat in August 1900. The following day they began, work on a temporary church on the lot which is now called Bishop Stringer Park, between the old log and the new Christ Church cathedrals.

Then, with community help, construction on a permanent log church began and was completed in October. The first service was held in the new log church on Sunday October 7th, 1900. A section of the church was partitioned and used as living quarters for the Bowen family until the log rectory was completed in the spring of 1901.

The bell tower on the old log church was originally separate from the church, but in 1910, it fell over in a storm and the bell was cracked. A new bell was placed atop the church and it was enclosed in 1945.

In 1953, the church was named the Cathedral Church of the Anglican Diocese of the Yukon, thus making it the first log cathedral. Soon the church proved too small for the growing congregation and in 1960, the new Christ Church Cathedral was constructed.

The old log church has seen its share of famous people pass through the doors. The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Phillip, read a scripture there during the royal visit of 1959. Unfortunately, Queen Elizabeth was ill with morning sickness on that day and could not attend the service.

Poet Robert Service was a vestry clerk during his four-year stay in Whitehorse and often recited the poems of Rudyard Kipling to the congregation before reading his own slightly more ribald stuff. And it was the editor of the Whitehorse Star who suggested that Service write and recite his own stuff as he was preparing for concert at the old log church.

In 1978 the Yukon government designated the Old Log Church and Rectory as a Territorial Historic Site. Today, the Old Log Church serves as a museum.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

H.E. Porter

The community of Porter Creek has grown by leaps and bounds since the mid-sixties when the city of Whitehorse put lots for sale in the new subdivision at $300 for a 200 by 200-foot building lot. Times have certainly changed. So has Porter Creek. Like nearby McIntyre Creek, Porter Creek has an interesting local history. It is named for H.E. Porter, who was a mining man and a friend of John McIntyre. Exactly when he arrived in the Yukon - or from where - is a mystery, though it was likely around 1900.

He spent at least a decade in the Yukon, mostly in the Whitehorse area, searching the land for mineral deposits. And he found the biggest copper deposit in the Whitehorse Copper Belt.

Porter was the original owner of the famed Pueblo Mine on the Fish Lake road. Between 1906 and 1917, the mine employed at least 200 miners and shipped an astounding 150 thousand tons of copper and silver ore. The raw ore, shipped to the outside smelters by the White Pass rail, including a spur line from the Copper Belt to the main line, produced an astonishing ten million pounds of copper and 150 thousand ounces of silver valued in 1913 at two million dollars.

Porter also staked coal deposits in the Carmacks area, including the Division Coal Mine which today is a valuable property with an estimated 45 million metric tons of high quality coal reserves. He also lived for a time with his wife in the Wheaton River valley, where he hunted and prospected for a living.

Just how much money Porter earned in his years of roaming the Yukon hills remains a mystery. So does his birthplace. The last known report of his activities is from the Whitehorse Star of 1912, when they said that he was in the country and continuing to prospect. But Porter was probably not around when the terrible tragedy occurred at his Pueblo Mine discovery. In 1917, the mine caved in, trapping nine men deep underground. They rescued three but six miners were entombed, and the Pueblo Mine was closed.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

Last Spike

It had all the makings of a slapstick movie comedy. Had there been video cameras back in the summer of 1900, the last-spike ceremony for the White Pass railway would be a YouTube winner. The railway between Skagway and Whitehorse was completed on July 29, 1900, and the company was staging a golden-spike celebration at Carcross. The amazing construction job was finished in record time and anyone who was anyone wanted to be present at the final-spike-driving ceremony.

A real golden spike was placed on a wooden rail tie and many attempts were made to drive it in. The hilarious story was told by Samuel Graves, president of the White Pass company, who travelled from Skagway by train to Bennett and then sailed down Lake Bennett to Carcross on board the paddlewheeler the Australian. In his diary, Graves said that there was a huge crowd at Caribou Crossing, as Carcross was then known, including the White Horse people who had come up on the special train for the spike driving.

They had been waiting for some time and were in a jovial mood. The Yukoners welcomed the Skagway delegation with fraternal and other spirits. The other spirits were of the alcoholic variety, which soon insured that the spike ceremony was a confused affair.

As the huge crowd milled about outside the train station, lead contractor Michael Heney was called to make a speech, but dodged since no one wanted to hear speeches. Samuel Graves then asked the American Colonel to give the last spike the first blow. The gallant Colonel swung the long-handled sledge and brought it down, with a dull thud, inches wide of the spike. The populace howled their glee as the Colonel handed over the hammer to the next man. Warned by the Colonel’s fate, he only raised the hammer a couple of feet and gave the spike a lady-like tap on the head and looked like he was laying carpets. This produced an ironic cheer. The next man had partaken of much refreshment until he had overdone the process and could see two spikes. Greatly to his credit, wrote Graves, he hit one of them a good wallop on the side, but he knocked it flat. After that the spike wouldn’t stand straight and “It was a pretty tired spike when it came to my turn to drive it home", wrote Graves.

I would have liked to go behind a tent and take a practice swing, but "the fierce light that beats upon" a President forbade, and so thinking "keep your eye on the spike", I swung with the orthodox full swing. Do you know the feeling at golf of getting off a rather good ball from a "bad lie." That was my feeling as the head of the hammer connected with the head of that disreputable spike. But I didn’t hit it quite fair, and the spike was bent as before. Then everybody cheered and a continuous clicking noise announced that the films yet remaining in their Kodaks were being used up, and there was a lot of hand-shaking. In the middle of this, the corner of my eye caught the foreman sneaking up with a spike puller which he stealthily applied to the dilapidated last spike. Poor thing, it didn’t take much pulling and Charley quietly marked the hole with a piece of chalk for the subsequent attention of his track men. I was rather pleased with the evidence of strict attention to business even in the midst of pleasure.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

Taku Tramline

It’s hard to imagine a railway, anywhere in the world, that was shorter than the one that ran between Graham Inlet on Taku Arm and Atlin Lake. It was just two and half miles long, and it was called the Taku Tram. When it was built in 1898 by John Irving’s Canadian Pacific Navigation Company, the single rail-car was pulled by horses. Irving operated two small steamers, the Gleaner on Taku arm and the Scotia on Atlin Lake, during the height of the Atlin gold rush.

In July of 1900 John Irving purchased a locomotive, called the Duchess, to replace the horse. Today, the Duchess can be seen in Carcross. The small steam locomotive has an interesting history just like the little rail line it served. It was built in 1878 for use on Vancouver Island as a coal mine locomotive.

In 1900, Irving bought the little engine and shipped it up the Inside Passage and freighted it by White Pass train to Carcross, finally sending it by barge to Taku Landing. In June 1900, the White Pass bought the John Irving Navigation Company and the Duchess took its first commercial two and a half mile run in July 1900. Passengers paid a fare of two dollars to ride on a 48-passenger car. The tramway also had flatbed rail cars used for freight during the Atlin gold rush.

In 1917, the little Taku arm railway picked up freight and passengers from the S.S. Tutshi, which began operating on Tagish Lake out of Carcross, and delivered goods to the M.V. Tarahne operating across Atlin Lake. The Duchess didn’t have much power and had trouble with the seven-percent grade on the short run. Passengers were often asked to get off and push. The Taku Tram locomotive could not even turn around on its short track so it backed up on its westbound run.

It operated on the tramline from 1900 to 1920 and then was shipped to Carcross and used to burn garbage from 1920 to 1931 when it was finally put on display. In 1931, another little engine - number 52 - was moved from Skagway for use on the Taku Tram until it was retired from service in 1936. So the next time you are in Carcross visit the little Duchess and reflect on her important role in Yukon transportation history.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin