Alan Innes-Taylor was a real gentleman. And for me, as a young radio reporter in the '60s, he was an invaluable source of historical knowledge about the Yukon.
Whenever I wanted to know something about the river boats, or dog teams, or Mounties or wilderness survival, I turned to Innes-Taylor for the answers.
He was born in England in 1900 and emigrated, with his family, to the United States in 1906. A few years later, the family moved to Ontario. Young Alan served as a pilot with the Royal Flying Corps during World War I.
In 1919, at age 19, he moved to the Yukon and, in 1920, he joined the RCMP. He once told me that during his five-year stint with the Mounties, he never arrested anyone. Crime, he said, didn’t happen very often.
In his late twenties he began a long association with Yukon River boats, first serving as a purser on the sternwheeler Whitehorse.
He once estimated that he had logged almost 26 thousand miles on Yukon river boats. He knew their captains well and often told funny stories about how various locations on the river got unofficial names, such as “Scatterass Bat.” I’ll let you use your imagination on that one.
In 1929, he worked with the Treadwell Yukon Mining Company at Keno. In 1930, Innes-Taylor’s northern knowledge would serve him well, half a world away from the Yukon.
He was invited to be the dog driver on an American expedition to the South Pole led by Admiral Richard Byrd. It was a journey of exploration to a largely unknown land, on foot, by dog team and by aircraft, as Byrd would become the first to fly over the South Pole.
On a second expedition in 1933, Innes-Taylor was promoted to chief of field operations.
He spent the next two years in the Antarctic and became renowned for his knowledge of the little-known continent. When it was over, he was invited on lecture tours throughout North America.
During World War II, he worked for the United States War Shipping Administration and was commissioned as a Captain in the United States Army Air Corps stationed in Greenland, where he taught Arctic survival.
From 1950 to 1953, Alan was recalled to the United States Army as a Lieutenant Colonel and commanded the Military Air Transport Command Survival School in Idaho.
Such was his world stature in things northern, that he also trained international commercial airline flight crews of Air France, KLM and SAS in Arctic survival.
For Scandinavian Airlines he wrote the highly acclaimed survival manual “This is the Arctic.” He also introduced special survival gear such as exposure suits and multi-person sleeping bags.
After the 1960’s, he spent most of his time in the Yukon where he made important contributions in recording the Yukon’s history, while working to set up the Yukon Archives.
He also wrote and recorded a radio series called “The Rivers of the Yukon”, describing his fascinating trips to Yukon historic sites.
Yet, whenever I met or talked with Alan Innes-Taylor, he was modest about his incredible lifetime of achievements which earned him two American Congressional Medals for his work on the Byrd Antarctic expedition, a Carnegie life-saving medal, and a member of the Order of Canada.
For all his world travels, his home was the Yukon, where he died in 1983.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin