Hougen Group

carcross1945

A 1945 scene of Carcross - White Pass/ Yukon Railroad water tower in foreground, Tutshi paddlewheeler to the right.

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View of railway draw at Carcross. Date: 1900. Yukon Archives. H.C. Barley fonds, #4668.

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Outside of the Caribou Hotel. A barber shop, laundromat, dog team and dogsled are visible. Date: ca. 1901. Yukon Archives. Adams & Larkin fonds, #9068.

Carcross

It's one of the oldest areas of human settlement in the Yukon. At the beautiful place at the narrows between Lake Bennett and Tagish, where large herds of caribou crossed on their annual migration, stone tools perhaps five thousand years old have been found.

Historic Caribou Crossing, or Carcross as we know it today, has a colourful past. In 1901, after the gold rush, Anglican Bishop William Bompas moved his headquarters here from Forty Mile and established a school.

Two years later he asked the Canadian government to change the name from Caribou Crossing to Carcross because of the frequent mixups in mail delivery with communities elsewhere. It seems that Caribou Crossing was a popular name of those times. The change became official in 1904.

During the early days of the gold rush, the region became a popular stopping off place for stampeders. It once had the largest sawmill in the territory and by May 1898, thousands of boats were being built for the rugged ride to the gold fields.

Several large hotels were built including The Caribou in 1898 which holds the distinction of being the oldest operating hotel in the Yukon.

The last spike in the White Pass Railway was driven in a ceremony on July 29, 1900, linking Skagway with Whitehorse. Co-gold-discoverer Skookum Jim may have concluded the Yukon's first land claim settlement in a deal with the railway. Jim, it is said, gave permission for the railway to build across his land in exchange for jobs.

Meanwhile, in July 1899, silver and gold deposits were discovered in the nearby Windy Arm region triggering a mining boom in this part of the Yukon.

By 1905, an American mining promoter, Colonel Conrad, gained control of the gold-silver-lead deposits. The following year, the town of Conrad employed more than two hundred miners and featured stores, churches, hotels, a post office, and a mining recorder's office. There was even a telephone line linking Conrad and Carcross.

The sternwheeler Gleaner plied Windy Arm between Conrad and Carcross twice a week.

Conrad went from boom to bust in 1914 when the world silver price plunged. The mine closed and the town was abandoned.

In the 1930s, in the southern lakes district, guide Johnny Johns made a name for himself as the "best big game outfitter in the world". His clients included some of the wealthiest people in the world.

World War II and construction of highways in the north resulted in another boom with an access road from the newly built Alaska Highway.

Construction of a road link between Skagway and Whitehorse began in the late Fifties, but took more than twenty years to complete. It was worth the wait.

Yukon pioneers whose final resting place is Carcross include Bishop Bompas, Skookum Jim Mason, Kate Carmack, Tagish Charlie, Johnny Johns and Polly the Parrot.

For more than 50 years Polly lived at the Caribou Hotel, where he gained international fame for shocking unsuspecting hotel guests with off-colour language. The bird swore at me a couple of times. But all in good fun, I am sure.

 

 

Polly died in 1972 at the age of 126, a legend in the land of many legends.

 

 

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin