Clifford Sifton was a lawyer from Brandon, Manitoba who was first elected to the House of Commons in a by-election in 1896. Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier quickly appointed him Minister of the Interior and Secretary of Indian Affairs. Back then, the Interior was everything west of the Manitoba-Ontario border. Sifton had a keen sense of the Yukon’s important role in Canada’s future. The Gold Rush was in the wings waiting to explode onto the world stage. Americans, not Canadians, were running the show in the northwest, and reports coming into Ottawa confirmed that the Yukon, then part of the Northwest Territories, could make a vital contribution to the political and financial well-being of the nation.
In August of 1897 the Yukon was proclaimed as a distinct district, though it remained part of the Northwest Territories, with the capital city in Regina. In the fall of 1897, Sifton decided to visit the Yukon District. In October, he and his federal government colleagues left Vancouver bound for Dyea. They then travelled by horseback over the Chilkoot Pass and into the interior. Sifton saw firsthand what no Canadian federal politician knew: The Yukon was ripe for development, and a gold rush of immense proportions was on the horizon. Sifton decided after that journey that the Yukon should be a separated territory which would be controlled by the Federal Government. Back in Ottawa, he began preparing the legislation which would create the Yukon Territory. Over the objections of the Northwest Territories Government, the Yukon was proclaimed a territory by an act of parliament passed on June 13, 1898. Sifton was personally responsible for the legislation, and refused to allow an elected territorial council because, he said at the time, 90% of the population was American. Sifton also ensured that the office of Lieutenant Governor, as it applied in the Northwest Territories at the time, would not apply in the Yukon. Instead, the Yukon would have a commissioner who would report directly to Sifton. Some years later the first elected members of the Yukon Territorial Council took their seats in Dawson City.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin
See also: Yukon becomes a Territory