When Whitehorse was incorporated as a city in 1950, the first Mayor was a jovial character with an infectious smile and impeccable work ethic. Gordon Armstrong needed those qualities and more. The tiny town was a disorganized hodgepodge of many temporary residential shacks, and businesses that counted on the largess of an elected, but largely impotent Territorial Council, for the few funds it could muster.
Gordon was born in Whitehead, the district of Saskatchewan, in 1905. He arrived in Whitehorse in 1929 to work as a butcher for the Burns Meat Packing store, operated by the venerable T.C. Richards, owner of the Whitehorse Inn.
By 1950, with four newly elected Aldermen, Mayor Armstrong had much civic work to do. There was no city hall, so the five men met at various locations to conduct business for a town that was about to grow from a place filled with ramshackle shacks and, broken wooden sidewalks, and no sewer and water system. For the first two years, they held council meetings on the second floor of the Northern Commercial Building next to Taylor and Drury’s on First Avenue.
Then they moved to Humme’s Insurance offices on the corner of 3rd and Main. When the Canadian Army Signal Corps vacated its premises in a two-story building located on the site of the present-day city hall, the Mayor and Councilors moved in.
Whitehorse was maturing both in size and importance. It was the busy centre of navigation on the Yukon River where the White Pass still ran river boats, while the newly opened Alaska Highway was bringing both businesses and tourists.
The city’s economic base had diversified to include mining, prospecting, transportation, government and tourism.
At their first meeting, Mayor Armstrong and the aldermen wondered how they would manage. The city had no tax base. Instead, it relied on meager Territorial Council grants. The legislative body met in far off Dawson City, still the Yukon’s capital. In 1950, the Territorial Council handed over many functions carried out by the Territorial Government to the city, but federal funds dedicated to Whitehorse were limited, to say the least. That would soon change.
The first order of business for the first city council was to plan for a sewer and water system. Private wells and the honey bucket brigade required urgent attention, but where would the money come from?
In 1951, news flashed from Ottawa, from the Yukon’s Member of Parliament, Aubrey Simmons, that the federal government had decided to move the capital to Whitehorse. As black as that day was for Dawsonites, it was the start of a new era in Whitehorse. The federal government amended the Yukon Act, increasing members on the Yukon Council, two of them to represent Whitehorse.
The federal government would immediately move the National Employment Service to Whitehorse. The federal government was now paying attention to the growing city under Mayor Armstrong. On August 15, 1952, the new Whitehorse Elementary High School was officially opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the main entrance of the school on Fourth Avenue.
On April 1, 1953, Whitehorse officially became the Capital of the Yukon Territory, the most westerly capital city in Canada. On April 2, 1954, the Mayor told residents that the cost of the proposed sewer and water installations in Whitehorse, to the individual homeowner, would be about $10.00 a month. After a city-wide plebiscite voting in favour, they would start work that summer with completion targeted for 1955.
In 1954, Gordon left the Burns Company and, with his nephew Bob Armstrong, started Yukon Sales, a wholesale distribution outfit. The company was a Walmart on wheels. With a converted panel truck, they delivered orders from Dawson City to Cassiar, and all points between. They sold anything that would sell. Gordon always claimed that he was the first to introduce Peak Frean biscuits, Blue Ribbon Tea and Willard’s Chocolates to the Yukon.
The pair carried out much of the work from Gordon’s historic home on Wood Street. The Armstrongs, with their only daughter Pat, lived in a three-room log house that was first owned by Dr. Frederick Cane, the Whitehorse postmaster in 1906. The house was originally a small three room log cabin, to which they attached a frame addition.
In the 1920s, the house was occupied by Captain Campbell, a pilot on the river boats, for whom it is now named. It is a wonder the Armstrong family ever got any rest, since the house is believed to be haunted by the ghost of a young boy who drowned in the 1940s. The ghost only appeared in one room, one of the early additions to the three room log house. There was a constant feeling of being watched, while the ghost often played “peek-a-boo”.
At home, Gordon never forgot his first craft as a butcher, and was often called upon by friends to prepare the results of a successful moose hunt. He did this work in a garage in the back of his yard at 406 Wood.
In June 1954, the Federal Government announced plans to build a 120-bed hospital in Whitehorse. The old hospital, on Second and Hanson, no longer provided adequate health services for the developing city.
That summer, Mayor Armstrong entertained royalty. In August, the Duke of Edinburgh became the first “Royal” to visit the land of the Midnight Sun. They treated him to fine wine and a fun time on board the SS Klondike. It’s a good thing Gordie was up on his local history because the Duke had many questions for the Mayor, especially about the portrait of the Can Can dancers that graced the walls of the Klondike’s dining room.
On November 5, 1954, the modern Federal Building at the corner of Fourth and Main opened its doors to the public. Local athletes were none too happy because the building occupied their former ball diamond, but a new arena, curling rink and ball diamond, near the south end of Fourth Avenue, more that made up for the loss.
The Federal Building contained 60,000 square feet of office space, and housed the growing number of government departments. The Whitehorse Post Office moved out of its turn-of-the-century building at First Avenue & Lambert, and into the new streamlined quarters in the Federal Building.
1955 was a busy year for the Mayor and his four-member council. By September, the downtown core was piled with dirt. Deep, muddy trenches left gaping holes in the streets and the roar of heavy equipment filled the air. Sewer and water construction was underway. Nevertheless, residents were not duty-bound to install the system into their homes. In fact, residents had to apply if they wanted to reap the benefits of the multimillion-dollar project.
Also, in September, work on the Yukon River’s first real bridge was underway. A 300-foot, three-span structure was going to reach the area that would become the city’s new subdivision.
The following spring, Governor-General Vincent Massey officially opened the span and revealed its name. The Robert Campbell Bridge connected old Whitehorse to the new subdivision called Riverdale. It was an important day for us school kids too. The Governor-General, on his first visit to the Yukon, proclaimed a school holiday. Mr. Massey, like the Mayor, was a popular fellow.
Many improvements during the '50s, including a few paved streetsand concrete sidewalks, were carried out under the Mayor’s tenure.
However, it wasn’t all business for Mayor Gordon Armstrong, although he and his small council were obviously busy making their mark on the future of Whitehorse. He loved to fish and, according to his son-in-law, Graham George, there was scarcely a river in the Yukon that avoided his rod and reel. Frequent fishing trips were always, said Graham, accompanied by a bottle of good Scotch whiskey.
In 1958, after eight hectic years, Gordon Cameron succeeded Gordon Armstrong as Mayor. But he had left his mark in the city’s history. He had helped the town rise from a frontier northern village to a modern city, with amenities of which the early pioneers could only dream.
In 1962, the Armstrongs moved to Vancouver, but Gordon frequently returned to the Territory while still operating his Yukon Sales Company. Gordon Armstrong, the first Mayor of Whitehorse, passed away in Vancouver in 1993, and was laid to rest in Kelowna, British Columbia.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.
Canada's centennial year, 1967, was an exciting time in the Yukon. There were all kinds of celebrations and projects. Unnamed mountains were being climbed. The Yukon River flotilla saw boats of every description heading from Whitehorse to Dawson. Most of the events were huge successes. However, I recall, that one expensive project didn't seem to take hold.
Al Kulan, who had arrived in the Yukon as a broke prospector in the late forties, finally struck it rich in the lead-zinc region of Ross River.
In 1967, he was trying to give someting back to the community. He donated $25,000, a lot of money then, to plant trees on Lewis Boulevard.
Try as they might, the organizers could never get the trees to grow. Today, maybe, but back then, nope!
If he had trouble with trees, the legendary mining man had better luck with hardrock mines.
Al was born in Toronto in 1921 and joined the Canadian Army Tank Corps in 1939. After the war, he vowed he'd never work for anyone again. So he began the sometimes lonely life of a prospector.
In July 1953, Kulan found a heavy concentration of rust close to Vangorda Creek, near Ross River, which led to major lead-zinc discoveries.
In 1964, Kulan helped form Dynasty Explorations to search for marketable ore bodies in the Vangorda area. The word Dynasty was on everyone's lips. A Klondike-like bonanza, everyone agreed.
But a project of this size required money, so Dynasty joined with Cyprus Mines Corp. to form Anvil Mining, which developed the Faro deposit. The Faro mine became Canada's leading lead-zinc producer and started the biggest mining action since the gold rush. It operated for more than 20 years and established Yukon as a major supplier of base metals.
However, Kulan was not content to rest on his success or his wealth. In the seventies, while looking for iron ore deposits, Kulan rediscovered a deposit of the gemstone, lazulite, which turned out to contain the world's best specimens. He also discovered a group of new phosphate minerals found nowhere else in the world.
Well-formed crystals of lazulite occur in only a few places, including the Yukon where the colour and crystalline qualities are among the finest in the world.
In February 1976, the azure-blue rock was proclaimed the Yukon's official gemstone. The discovery of Yukon gemstones led to the formation of the Alan Kulan Memorial lectures sponsored by the University of Toronto, the Yukon Chamber of Mines and the Yukon Geoscience Foundation.
September 12th, 1977. On that fateful day, Al Kulan was holding a business meeting in the Ross River lounge. A local resident, John Rolls, walked over to the table and, without warning, fired a shot from a .357 Magnum revolver. Al Kulan, the Yukon's most famous prospector, was dead. Shock waves reverberated through the mining community and beyond.
The Yukon's Prospectors' Association inducted Kulan into the Yukon Hall of Fame in 1988. His name is engraved in the bronze three-metre-tall prospectors' statue on Main Street and Third Avenue.
In January 2005, Alan Kulan was inducted into the Canadian Mining hall of fame in Toronto.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin
Here at home, I have a beat-up old curling broom. A real broom. Not the kind of shot-enhancing devices that curlers use these days to control the speed and curl of the rocks. Nope, this one is a real corn broom. The kind that used to make such a racket in the hands of good sweepers that even Russ Howard had a hard time being heard over the smack of corn broom on ice.
The broom I have is well used. Well worn. Almost worn out, in fact. But you can still read the name written, by felt marker, on the cloth covering. One word. Stokes. He's the guy who gave me the broom, back in 1977, at the Macdonald's Brier in Montreal. Lionel was shooting second stones for skip Don Twa's Yukon foresome that year.
At the end of round-robin play, the Yukon finished with a respectable record of five wins and six loses, much better than northern teams usually fare in men's national competition these days. But not nearly as good as this team did the first time the north was directly entered in the Brier. That came two years earlier, in 1975, when skip Don Twa, third Chuck Haines, second Kip Boyd and lead Lionel Stokes nearly won the Brier.
Staged in Fredericton, New Brunswick, the north, for the first time, had a direct entry into the Brier and Don Twa's team from Whitehorse was it. How well did they do? you ask. Well, the winner, Northern Ontario, had to make an almost impossible last rock shot in their last game to finish with a record of 9 wins and 2 losses - there were no playoffs then - while the boys from the Yukon finished with 8 wins and 3 losses. Never again has the Territories team come that close, and maybe they never will.
Lionel Stokes had a lot to do with that fantastic result. Two years later, in 1977, the Twa rink was back in Brier final. Lionel was now throwing second stones and, even though the final placing was not like the 1975 showing, Lionel was named the All-Star Second. The best second in Canada. He was that good.
Through it all, he became a renowned team player and dedicated curling organizer. In 1973 and 1974, Lionel and his team toured Europe on a goodwill curling marathon that gained the Yukon and Canada recognition worldwide.
In addition to his athletic ability, Lionel spent many years serving on Yukon curling committees, organizing curling events, and initiated the Bert Boyd Memorial Trophy.
So while you are in Whitehorse, take a moment and visit the Edgewater Hotel and dining room. The food is great, but more important - especially for curlers - is the chance to meet Lionel Stokes, a member of the Yukon Sports hall of fame, and oh so close to being Brier champ. Oh yes, please tell him Les McLaughlin still has his 1977 Brier broom.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin
|January 5, 1977||The RCMP has a toll-free emergency number in use throughout most of the Yukon.|
|January 7, 1977||Dawson City sees in 1977 a year-long celebration as the town celebrates its 75th anniversary. Dawson City became officially incorporated in 1902.|
|January 12, 1977||The Faro Ice Arena officially opens January 8, 1977.|
|January 21, 1977||Frank Goulter of Carmacks celebrates his 100th birthday. Goulter was a member of the Northwest Mounted Police between 1903 and 1908.|
|January 26, 1977||Longtime Yukoner Charlie Rivers of Dawson City passes away January 16, 1977 at the age of 83.|
|January 26, 1977||February 21 is announced to be Heritage Day in the Yukon.|
|January 28, 1977||Rene and Mary Burian of Mayo are named Mr. And Mrs. Yukon 1977.|
|January 28, 1977||Flo Whyard, author of "My Ninety Years", a biography of Martha Louise Black, donates the materials she used in writing the book to the Yukon Archives. The collection includes among others a photograph album, letters, Black's diary, many small mementos. Many of these items were collected by Mrs. W.D. MacBride who gave them to her daughter, Mary Botthof. Whyard received the material from Botthof.|
|February 25, 1977||A small scroll-top desk and the old concertina owned by Robert Service are now the possession of the Dawson Museum Society. They were sent by his wife, Germaine Service all the way from Monte Carlo.|
|February 25, 1977||Father Marcel Bobilier o.m.i. of Dawson is named for the first Dawson City Heritage Award.|
|February 28, 1977||The Cyprus Anvil Mine in Faro investigates the possibility of bringing CKRW radio of Whitehorse into Faro on a 24-hour basis.|
|March 9, 1977||The former Bank of Montreal building is physically moved four blocks to the corner of Third and Jarvis|
|March 16, 1977||One of Dawson City's most colourful sourdoughs, Black Mike (also known known as Big Mike and Sawdust Mike), passes away in Whitehorse just one day after celebrating his 107 birthday. He had been Dawson's oldest resident. He was born in Serbia in 1870. He came to Canada in 1882 and to the Yukon in 1900.|
|March 18, 1977||New amendments to the Liquore Ordinance receive approval in the Yukon Legislation. The bill proposes that communities be given the option to prohibit street drinking within their boundaries.|
|March 25, 1977||Berent Hougen, founder of Hougen's Ltd. passes away in Surrey, B.C., 1 month before his 94th birthday. He first came to the Yukon in 1906, after sailing around the world twice in Square Rigger sailing ship,|
|April 4, 1977
→ April 13, 1977
→ April 18, 1977
|The Haines Junction community votes against the teaching of any language other than French and English at Haines Junction. This outcome of the plebiscite would exclude Indian language classes from the school curriculum. As a compromise, Education Minister Dan Lang announces April 13, 1977 that Indian language classes at the Haines Junction school will be taught after regular school hours. However, after Indians boycotted the vote, the legislature calls April 18, 1977, for continuation of the Indian language class at school in Haines Junction.|
|April 22, 1977||Howard W. Firth Sr., former Mayor of Whitehorse, passes away in Whitehorse at the age of 67.|
|April 29, 1977||Eunice Parkinson is selected citizen of the year by the Kiwanis Club.|
|May 13, 1977||WHTV acquires permission to receive, on an experimental basis, direct television signals via satellite from WCTG TV in Atlanta, Georgia, an independent television station in the U.S. For this purpose, a satellite signal receiving dish is mounted on the roof of WHTV.|
|May 18, 1977||Another bit of Yukon history goes up in smoke as three of the log cabins at Forty-Mile Village, four miles downstream from Clinton Creek.|
|May 30, 1977||Anvil founder Dr. Aaro Aho dies in a farm accident. He was 51.|
|June 8, 1977||Iain MacKay is elected president of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce, replacing Orvin Chippett.|
|June 13, 1977||Indian Affairs Minister Warren Allmand announces a 25-year reconstruction program for Dawson City. $20 million are dedicated for developing an 800-square-mile area.|
|June 15, 1977||City Council decides to open an extension of the Crestview subdivision to mobile homes.|
|July 4, 1977||The National Energy Board says that any northern pipeline in Canada must run near Dawson City, down the Klondike Highway to Whitehorse, then along the Alaska Highway to B.C. and Alberta.The Dempster pipeline is wanted to connect Mackenzie Delta reserves to southern Canada. The Board rejects the Arctic Gas plans for a northern Yukon/Mackenzie Valley route and the Foothills proposal for the Alaska Highway.|
|July 18, 1977||Doug Bell is sworn in as the new deputy commissioner to fill the vacancy left with the resignation of Peter Gillespie.|
|August 1, 1977||Since opening it's Little Chief underground mine in Dec 1972, Whitehorse copper shipped it's 100,000,000th pound of copper south via truck to Whitehorse then via White Pass train to Skagway, by ship to Vancouver and rail to Flin Flon, Manitoba. In addition to copper , the mine has produced 81,000 ounces of gold, and one million ounces of silver.|
|August 5, 1977||Prime Minister Trudeau announces in a CBC radio interview that the Yukon and Northwest Territories "may not see provincial status within our lifetime". Trudeau says the Yukon and NWT couldn't handle provincial status from a financial stand point.|
|August 8, 1977||Prime Minister Trudeau announces that Ottawa backs proposals for natural gas pipeline through the southern Yukon to carry Alaska gas to the southern 48 states.|
|August 17, 1977||Prime Minister Trudeau visits the Yukon and is greeted by Commissioner Art Pearson and Senator Paul Lucier.|
|August 24, 1977||Martha and David Taylor celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary.|
|August 29, 1977||Ron Rivett, House speaker of the Yukon territorial council from 1970 to 1974, passes away August 7, 1977 at the age of 58.|
|September 7, 1977||The Yukon Hotel in Dawson, one of the historic structures in the gold-rush city dating back to the Klondike stampede of 1898, is officially turned over to Heritage Canada September 5, 1977.|
|October 5, 1977
→ December 19, 1977
|With the signing of a document on September 28, 1977, transmitters will be installed in Atlin to bring CBC TV programming signals from Whitehorse to Atlin. Atlin turns the TVs on on December 17, 1977.|
|October 14, 1977||Yukon children receive an invitation to dine with Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip in Ottawa.|
|October 14, 1977||Mayo becomes the first Yukon community to form an Indian Community Council.|
|October 17, 1977||The Yukon Native Brotherhood gives green light for the territorial government's takeover of federal health services in the Yukon. The YNB wanted a guarantee that Indian people would receive the same special basis of health care they enjoyed under Health and Welfare Canada.|
|October 21, 1977||For the first time in the history of Old Crow, CBC TV signals beam via the Anik satellite into three TV sets in town.|
|October 26, 1977||Father Jean Marie Mouchet is among the 12 Canadians selected as the first recipients of a newly created Lifestyle Award for outstanding contributions to the promotion of positive health lifestyles in their community.|
|November 15, 1977||The Whitehorse Star changes from a thrice weekly to a daily.|
|November 16, 1977||Bill Reid, president of the Yukon-Alaska Holding Ltd., announces that the construction of a six-story hotel on Second avenue as part of the Travelodge Expansion/renovation.|
|November 22, 1977||Longtime Yukoner H.E. "Bert" Boyd passes away at the age of 75.|
|November 22, 1977||Whitehorse City Council has a final meeting to discuss the official proclamation of Australia's Echuca as Whitehorse's sister city.|
|November 23, 1977||The Atlin Historical Society receives a Communication Award to Heritage Canada.|
|November 29, 1977||Cross-country skier Monique Waterreus, 16, is chosen for then Canadian junior team.|
|December 1, 1977||The federal government approves an agreement with Foothills Pipe Line Co. that includes a provision for no Dempster Highway/Klondike Highway pipeline to connect with an Alaska Highway natural gas pipeline.|
|December 19, 1977||A mountain in the Tay River region near Faro is named after the late Alan Kulan of Ross River, who was a prominent Yukon miner before he was fatally shot in fall 1977. Kulan became a millionaire by discovering the Anvil orebody. Kulan was shot by a man in a Ross River bar. John Rolls Sr. is charged with murder.|
|December 29, 1977||The city of Whitehorse agrees to co-host with the Yukon Territorial Government the 1980 Arctic Winter Games.|
- In October, as part of the service area of Alberta Power, Rolf Hougen, a Director, attends a board meeting in Fort McMurray and visits the Tar Sands Project. Later, Rolf joins friends in Viking, Alberta for a duck shoot.
- Merv Miller leaves the Executive Committee of Y.T.G. and is replaced by Peter Gillespie.
- Warren Allmand, Minister of Northern Development, attends the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous.
- Joanne Lindsay, of the Mini Bus Society, says the first year of operation went well. One hundred and twenty thousand passengers were carried.
- John Bruk, chairman of Cyprus Anvil Mines, announced the company lost 1.2 million dollars in 1976.
- Elijah Smith, chairman of the Yukon Native Brotherhood, is appointed Director of Indian Affairs for the Yukon.
- Fire chief Fred Blaker returns to work after a three months absence due to illness.
- Whitehorse City Council gives approval for a six million dollar sewage treatment plant.
- Riverdale Mall with Lewes Market as its principal tenant opens on April 21st.
- Foothills Pipeline confirms that a Dempster Highway pipeline joining the Alaska Highway pipeline is economical.
- Kiwanis chairman is Jim Eby.
- Kaiser Aluminum says Yukon Power and the nearby port of Skagway is the right blend for a potential aluminum smelter.
- The White Pass and Yukon Route sells steam engines No. 80 and 81 to Sumpter Valley, Oregon, where they had come from in early 1940's.
- Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and his wife Margaret announce their separation.
- Skagway celebrates the opening of the American side of the International Gold Rush Park. Canada has not made a commitment.
- Jeff Choy-Hee is honoured for his years of service as director of the Skookum Jim Hall.
- B.C. has formally joined in the creation of the Gold Rush Park.
- Foothills Pipeline announces that Yukon population will grow by 5,314 people at peak of Alaska Highway pipeline construction.
- Willard Phelps, board member of the Alaska Highway pipeline inquiry, says the pipeline "would have a negative effect on the territory". The board asks for offset funding to minimize any impacts.
- In a federal cabinet shuffle, Hugh Faulkner replaces Warren Allmand as Minister of Northern Development.
- David Joe, 28, became the first Native lawyer in the Yukon's History.
- "Wigwam" Harry Feick dies at age 77.
- Ted Harrison's book "Children of the Yukon" put the Yukon on the map.
- The YWCA announces it will close the Whitehorse Residence.
- U.S. Ambassador to Canada, Thomas Enders visits Whitehorse.
- Harry Allen is elected chairman of Council for Yukon Indians.
- Hugh Faulkner, Minister of Northern Development, visits the Yukon.
- On Dec 8th, Whitehorse sets cold record at -45.5. On Dec 19, 1942 the record was -47.7.
- M.L.A. Jack Hibberd is named to Executive Committee of Y.T.G.
- Charlie Chaplin, star of "The Gold Rush" dies at age 88.