It takes pride of place and great determination to preserve the past. One Yukoner had all these qualities and, as a result, the Yukon’s colourful history is well preserved.
W.D. (Bill) MacBride was born in Montana in 1888. Orphaned as a baby, he was raised by relatives Nellie and Frank Miles. Still, young Bill graduated from teaching college in 1907, and taught high school until 1909. After completing a business course in Spokane, he hired on with the Idaho and Washington Railway. It was the beginning of a long career in the railroad business.
By 1912, the northern bug had bitten Bill and he joined the Northern Navigation Company, and spent the next two summers in Alaska. When the White Pass & Yukon Route bought out the NNC in 1914, Bill transferred to Whitehorse.
Here he married school teacher Eva Tesley in 1919. Neither could have known back then that he would spend almost fifty years with the White Pass, and become the most knowledgeable Yukoner when it came to historical episodes and artifacts.
Bill was a consummate packrat, keeping obscure books, photographs and artifacts. He recorded details of Yukon history through many of his essays, letters and articles.
On December 20, 1950, a group of 13 men and women, led by Fred Arnot and Bill MacBride, established the Yukon Historical Society. In 1952, with the growing collection displayed in the old Whitehorse Telegraph Office on First Avenue, Yukon’s first museum opened to the public. It operated in the early days as a one-man show, and Bill was always on hand to explain the Yukon’s colourful past to the few tourists who ventured north, either by rail from Skagway or via the dusty Alaska highway of the 1950s and early '60s.
As visitor traffic increased, the need for a new facility became apparent, and when the new log museum was built in 1967 and was officially opened by Princess Alexandra, it was named MacBride Museum to recognize Bill MacBride’s role in maintaining the Yukon’s heritage.
However, Bill was not there on that warm May day when the museum opened. His wife's ill health had forced him to move south to Vancouver in 1961, where his beloved Eva passed away 1966.Nonetheless, Bill continued his work of recording the history of the Territory until 1973. When he passed away that year, White Pass historian Roy Minter wrote this tribute to his long-time friend.
“This fun-loving raconteur aged, but never grew old. He spoke with authority and compassion, but never without the joyful touches of humour that were his trademark. Indeed, he was a most attractive man, whose energy, creativity, and determination were the driving forces behind the early acquisitions of northern documents and artifacts.
“He was known far and wide outside the Yukon by historians, writers, publishers, and broadcasters, none of whom would think of passing through Whitehorse without contacting Bill MacBride.”
So the next time you visit the MacBride museum and marvel at the magnificent displays of Yukon memorabilia, remember for a moment the man who made it happen - William David MacBride.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin