One hundred years ago, in 1906, Robert Service was invited to a going-away banquet for J.P. Rogers, the Superintendent of the White Pass and Yukon Route. It was held on March 19 at "the club". Everyone who was anyone in the small town's social circuit was at the affair.
The poet, who had yet to become famous, was noted for penning poems for almost any occasion, and for freely using the names of local characters.
This time, he centered his poetic creation in the mind of Bob Smart, then a government assayer, who had a dreamlike premonition of what Whitehorse will be like fifty years hence, in 1956.
This is my dream of Whitehorse
When fifty years have sped,
As after the Rogers' Banquet
I lay asleep in my bed.
I tottered along the sidewalk
That was made of real cement;
A skyscraper loomed above me,
Where once I remembered a tent.
Smart discovered a vastly different Whitehorse from the frontier town he knew. The poem reflects a vista of a technologically changed city.
Smart envisaged that in 1956 there were manufacturing plants and a smelter where the airport lies today. The Whitehorse Rapids had been dammed.
He hears the roar of a trolley car while crossing the Yukon River on a large steel bridge. Smart walked along a cement sidewalk that had replaced the old wooden boardwalks, and looked up at an 18-storey skyscraper where once there had been a tent.
He marvelled at "Taylor and Drury's colossal department store." And watched "the Flyer" leaving for Dawson, and "the bullion express" coming in, a reference to a fast passenger train departing for the heart of the Klondike, and a freight train bringing more gold from the creeks.
The names in the poem present a slice of life that existed in Whitehorse 100 years ago. We meet J.P. Whitney who owned one of the two largest general stores in town at the time.
So I thought I'd go to Ear Lake Park
Where nature was fresh and fair;
('Twas donated by J.P. Whitney,
Others include Bob Lowe, who was a member of the Territorial Council, Bill Grainger, who owned mining property in the Copper Belt, and the Deacon, the nickname of local lawyer and territorial councillor Willard Phelps.
And everywhere were strangers,
And I thought in the midst of these
Of Old Bill Clark in his homespun,
And debonnaire Mr. Breze:
And Fish, and Doc and the Deacon,
And the solo bunch at the club - Now grown to a stately mansion
That would make the old place look dub.
The "club" was the North Athletic club housed in a clapboard structure at the corner of Third and Main street.
When Smart emerges from his dream, it is apparent that he spent too much time and had too much fun at the banquet.
It was all so real, so lifelike,
I awoke like a man in a fog,
So I shed a few tears in the darkness,
And groped for the hair of the dog.
This was my dream of Whitehorse
When fifty years have sped,
As I lay asleep in my bed.
Robert Service wasn't far off in his predictions for Whitehorse fifty years hence back in 1906.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin