Bob Erlam belongs in the Yukon’s colourful five percent. As one time owner of the Whitehorse Star, he has to be. With Bob Erlam, the ideas just kept coming. More often than not, they were offbeat stories with a strange twist. More on that in a moment.
Bob and his wife Rusty arrived in the Yukon in 1947. He had been in the Canadian Army overseas during the Second World War. On a whim, he and Rusty decided to move to the Yukon. Whitehorse was a real frontier town then, and they shared a two-bedroom shack with two other couples in downtown Whitehorse. No running water, of course.
Bob got odd jobs - mainly as a handyman and electrician. The couple left the Yukon in 1957, but returned in the early 60s. Bob’s newspaper career began when he drew a cartoon featuring a dispute between a local resident and Yukon Electric and left it tacked to the door of the newspaper. The Star owner, Harry Boyle ran the cartoon on the front page. Bob became hooked on newspapers though his wife Rusty was the real writer in the family. Both were employed by Boyle at the Star.
In 1963, Bob arrived at work one day to find a note from Boyle saying he was now in charge since Harry was going back to school to study law. Bob became the publisher and then in 1967, the Erlam’s bought the Star.
Bob always carried his camera and shot many scenes of Yukon life during his 35 years as publisher of the paper.
In 1965, he was contracted by Time Magazine to take photos of Senator Robert Kennedy’s climb of the Yukon's Mount Kennedy,named for his brother, the late U.S. president. He was also a jack of all trades - fixing the printing presses and keeping the spartan offices of the Star on Main Street operational - often with duct tape. The one thing he didn’t do, though, was a lot of writing. He said he couldn’t spell so anything attributed to him as a writer had been checked by Rusty.
Bob always thought of the Star as the opposition to the government. He said it was the job of the newspaper to criticize and expose wrongdoing, and Bob was a champion of independent thinking.
Once, as the debate raged over whether parking meters should be located on Main Street, the City hired a meter maid to police the system and hand out tickets. Bob hired an anti-meter maid to feed nearly expired meters. That story made international headlines.
The Erlams sold the Whitehorse Star to Jackie Pierce in 2002. Bob Erlam, a true Yukon pioneer, passed away on March 26, 2009 at the age of 92.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin