Elsa, Keno, and Calumet are sometimes the forgotten communities in the grand scheme of Yukon history. They are, however, no less important to the history of the land. They are - or were - communities along the so-called Silver Trail.
Miners had prospected the area between Mayo and Keno City since the 1880s. Elsa was established in 1914. In 1918, large deposits of silver were discovered and large-scale mining began. In 1920, Keno Hill Limited, a subsidiary of the Yukon Gold Company of Dawson, staked six hundred silver claims on Keno Hill alone. A few years later, discoveries were made on nearby Galena Hill. At one time Keno City had five hotels. In the 1920s, the area's silver mines were famous around the world.
By 1932, deposits on Keno Hill were thought to be depleted. However, prospects on Galena Hill looked good so the company moved the mill from Keno to Elsa during the winter of 1932-33. Elsa gained importance in 1935 when the Treadwell Yukon Company moved its mill from Wernecke to Elsa because of the discovery of the Calumet mineral deposits.
By 1938, Elsa had a school, a hockey rink, stores, churches and a community hall. The mine employed almost two hundred workers on a year-round basis. Then, with the outbreak of World War II, the U.S. Government decided it would no longer buy foreign silver. Treadwell Mines closed their Mayo District operation.
In November 1945, the Keno Hill Mining Company was formed around the old Treadwell properties, financed by the Frobisher Exploration company and Conwest Exploration Ltd.
In 1947, the Treadwell Yukon Company reorganized under the name United Keno Hill Mines Limited, and revived the mines and town of Elsa. A tram line delivered ore from Calumet to the mill in Elsa whose population grew rapidly between 1950 and the mid-'60s, in part because the Calumet workers moved to Elsa so that services could be consolidated. By 1953, United Keno Hill had become Canada's second largest silver operation, and perhaps the fourth largest in the world.
Whitehorse was a busy place partly because of the endless truck loads of ore from the Keno Hill region to the waiting White Pass trains. However, in 1989, after years of losses and low silver prices, United Keno Hill Mines closed down its operations.
The residents of Elsa moved away and most of the houses and buildings have been dismantled. No one remains except for caretakers. But Keno City, population 20, still thrives, nestled in the mountains at the end of the Silver Trail.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin