Hougen Group

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Newspaper boys on the corner of Broadway and Fourth Avenue. Behind them is the Skagway News Depot. Date: June 1899. Yukon Archives. H.C. Barley fonds, #5068.

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Skagway Newsboys. Date: April 28, 1900. Yukon Archives. H.C. Barley fonds, #5078.

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Stroller Elmer John White Yukon Archives. Elmer John White, #1.

The Story of Stroller White

The Yukon has had more than its share of characters. But perhaps the most observant was a lifelong newspaper man who covered the Yukon for 17 years, and whose columns depicted a slice of life which would otherwise be forgotten.

It seems when he was born in Ohio in 1859, Elmer J. White was born a newspaper man. His first paper was the Gainsville News in Florida. Later, he moved to Washington State, where he was living when news of the Klondike gold strike hit the outside world.

He joined the rush with his wife Josie and small daughter, ending up working for the Skagway News. It was here, as an Associated Press correspondent, that he wrote the accounts of Soapy Smith's gang, and covered the shoot-out on the waterfront between Soapy and Frank Reid.

In 1899, White went to Dawson, where he covered all manner of local stories but, more importantly, began a column called 'The Stroller by E.J. White'. He left Dawson for Whitehorse in 1904 to edit the Whitehorse Star and carry on the traditions of telling all, or making up the truth - whichever came first.

When he wrote of blue snow and iceworms that chirped lustily at 70 below, the Smithsonian Institute, that prestigious scientific body, wrote asking for more information. It was Stroller White who encouraged Robert Service to publish his poems - much to Service's undying gratitude.

He sold the Star in 1916 and moved to southern Alaska, where he was elected to the state House of Representatives. White's view of journalism is best summed up with a few lines from a long letter he wrote to his nephew, who was about to become a journalist.

White wrote: "In the first place Walter, the newspaper profession in a sense is the ruination of all who engage in it as no other calling gives so much insight into human nature. No-one, my dear nephew, who would succeed as a newspaper man, will ever allow sympathy or sentiment to interfere with the publication of news. If it comes to your attention that your beloved pastor or Sunday school teacher was seen emerging from the back window of the house of parishioner who is away from town on business at 2 a.m., do not allow his second calling to prevent the publication of the story. If he has no respect for his calling, why should you have? Use adjectives freely in writing of the ladies. While Mrs. Arabelle Bourbon was homely enough to stop a mill that grinds mud for a brickyard, your uncle always referred to her as "the beautiful, charming and accomplished daughter of our distinguished and blue-blooded fellow citizen, Colonel Bourbon."

White continued "Always boost the patrons of your paper. If Mr. and Mrs. Pat Cassiday give a party and every male goes home with his nose peeled and his eyes bunged shut, refer to it as a swell society party. It will please the Cassidys and other people will see the brace of humour". That letter, written in January of 1906, captured in part the essence of E.J. Stroller White, northern newspaper man who died on September 28, 1930.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin