Joanie Mitchell said it best. "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got til it's gone." Prophetic...that line from the song Big Yellow Taxi.
Back in the 60s, I often met up with Archie Gillespie, an old-time news hound who was writing a column for the Yukon News called the Roving Reporter. It was that brilliant 'run of the mill' stuff that characterized the Yukon and Yukoners of the time. I didn't really know much about Archie except that he enjoyed talking about writing and reporting. Now I wish I knew more. Archie was born on Bonanza Creek in 1901. Though he had no formal training as a writer, it became his lifelong love. At one time, he was reporter and editor of the Dawson Daily News, that famous paper which got its start at the height of the gold rush. Later he worked for the Vancouver Sun and for Ma Murray's brash newspaper out of Fort St. John.
His stories, if put together, would form a unique history of the Yukon. Stories like the one he wrote for McLean's magazine in October of 1927 when he described the first flight of an aircraft from Skagway to Whitehorse. On board the Queen of the Yukon that day were pilot Andy Cruickshank and his new bride Esme, and Yukon businessmen Clyde Wann and James Finnigen. They were transporting their Ryan Broughman monoplane north to begin the first mail and passenger service in the Yukon. Archie Gillespie wrote...
When the Queen took to the air near Skagway, the skies were clear and there was no trace of storms. Five minutes out from the gateway port, a heavy fog was encountered blocking out the valley. It was impossible to turn back for already the tide would have crawled up over the take off field. Suddenly a formidable mountain top loomed vaguely through the heavy fog and the aviator shot his machine straight up into the heavens. Every heart beat with uncontrolled emotion. Could they make it. Could he guide his trim ship through that white darkness or was the honeymoon voyage and the Yukon airways first venture to crash on the pinnacle of unrelenting snowcrested mountain crags.
Twenty minutes, long nightmarish minutes which seemed to know no end. And then salvation. The Chilkoot Pass had been conquered. Once above the highest peak, 12 thousand feet in the air, day dawned on the far side of the valley. The tenseness was broken. The pilot's wife sitting in the wicker chair directly behind her husband leaned forward and patted him on the back.
A news account on the flight of the Queen of the Yukon from Skagway to Whitehorse on October 25th, 1927. Great stuff from a great Yukon writer ... the late Archie Gillespie.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin