Rolf Hougen's father arrived in the Yukon in the summer of 1906 via the White Pass railroad. Not inside a rail car, mind you. Rather, Berent Hougen walked along the tracks from Skagway with a pack on his back. It took him five days to reach Whitehorse. At age 14, he had gone to sea on a square-rigged ship and sailed around the world twice, with a two-year stop in Australia, before heading for the Klondike.
In Whitehorse, he built a log raft and headed down the Yukon River to Dawson, where he got work with the big dredging companies. Berent stayed in the Klondike three years, and then moved to Cripple Creek, Alaska, where he and a partner operated a hotel for a few years.
In 1913, he sold out and returned to Norway. There, he met and married Margrethe and, the following year, they emigrated to Canada. The dream of the Yukon stayed with Berent and, in 1944, he returned with Margrethe and the youngest of his seven children, a fourteen-year-old boy named Rolf.
With the arrival of the Alaska Highway, the Yukon was once again booming. In 1944, the Hougens opened a small store, selling Rawleigh products and photographic supplies.
Berent worked on the highway, while Margrethe, with young Rolf's help after school, ran the store. In 1946, they moved from Wood Street and Second Avenue to the White Pass Hotel building.
In 1947, grade-twelve graduate Rolf took over the full-time management of the company and in 1949, Hougens became a real department store with the acquisition of a much larger building on Main Street.
In 1952, fire raged through the building which was partially destroyed. Undaunted, the resourceful Hougens bought the bowling alley next door and built a larger store.
Still, it wasn't all work and no play for young Rolf in the early days. He was one of the founders of the Young People's Association. He had an interest in photography and took pride in photographing, among other things, the YPA soft ball team of which I was once bat boy.
In 1955, Rolf married Margaret Van Dyke of Edmonton, and the couple embarked on a four-month honeymoon to Europe. Back in Whitehorse, they began a family that grew to six children and eighteen grandchildren.
True to his civic spirit, Hougens sponsored junior hockey teams. In the mid-fifties, I was a member of the Hougens team that won the juvenile championship. Yes, there is a Hougen photo to prove it.
The '50s were a time of change. The isolated Yukon began to take on modern amenities such as cable television, with Rolf Hougen as a member of the founding fathers of WHTV. It was a primitive television operation by any standards, broadcasting on just one black-and-white channel for four hours a day. The prerecorded programs were six months old. By 1965, the programs, delivered on tape by truck, were only a week old.
Over the next twenty years, the forward looking Hougen put his money into the Yukon. He developed the Klondike Broadcasting Company, owned the local Ford dealership, and the Arctic Investment Corporation, one of the few investment firms that my older brother, a devout family man without a big income, would trust because, he said, it was owned by Rolf Hougen.
In 1976, Margaret and Rolf took the family to France to live for a year in order for the children to experience the cultures of Europe and to learn the French language. Not long after returning, Rolf was asked to serve as the Honourary French Consul for the Yukon, for which the President of France subsequently appointed him an "Officer of the Ordre National du Merite".
In 1978, Rolf was the driving force behind Cancom, the Canadian Satellite Communications system that delivers multi-channel radio and television signals to more than two thousand remote communities in Canada. It may have been the most complex and time-consuming endeavour of his illustrious career.
At the time, his proposal to the CRTC involved a whopping 38 million dollars to set up and operate, and the system would not make a profit for the first four years. While it almost sent him to the poor house, it worked, and Rolf became a recognized visionary on the national scene.
But Rolf Hougen's life is measured in more than business success. His Yukon-first attitude helped ensure that the SS Klondike was moved from its shipyard location to Rotary Park in 1966. He also helped to make sure the White Pass Railway's Yukon sector was not sold for scrap when the company ceased operations in the early 1980s.
He was president and founding member of the Whitehorse Board of Trade; chairman and founding member of the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous; the Founding Chairman of the Yukon Foundation, and is a member of the Yukon Order of Pioneers.
Nationally, he has served on the board of directors of many large corporations and is former Chairman of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.
Little wonder that Rolf Hougen is an Officer of the Order of Canada.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin
Is there a more peaceful, easy feeling in midsummer than to sit on a drift log on the shores of Chadburn Lake near Whitehorse, and let the rest of the world go by? I don’t think so. Such a beauty - this little lake in the wilderness near town.
So where did the name "Chadburn" come from? The lake is named for a Canadian hero who died during wartime so that the peace and freedom found in the hills and valleys near Whitehorse are there for all of us to enjoy.
Lloyd Chadburn was born in Montreal and grew up in Aurora, Ontario. He might have ended up a banker because his first real job after high school was with the Bank of Toronto. But in 1939, when World War Two began, the world changed for the nineteen-year-old. He tried to enlist in the Royal Canadian Navy and the Royal Air Force, but was turned down by both.
In 1940, the RCAF accepted him as an Air Gunner, but he was shortly re-mustered as a pilot. Chadburn was the first graduate of the famed British Commonwealth Air Training Plan to command a squadron at age twenty-one. In January 1941, Chadburn flew on the first mission by a Canadian squadron over German held territory.
In early 1942, Chadburn became the leader of a fighter squadron and flew dangerous cover missions over Dieppe, saving many Canadian lives in that ill-fated raid on Europe. His skill and leadership of the squadron earned him the Distinguished Flying Cross.
His Canadian squadron was the most successful fighter squadron of the day. Chad, as he was known to his friends, was made a Wing Commander of the so-called Digby Wing, in June 1943. He earned high praise from American bomber crews for his fighter escort duty during dangerous air-raids on Germany. In sixty sorties escorting American bombers, only one bomber was lost to enemy fighters. The Americans called him their "Angel."
By the time Chadburn left the Digby Wing in December, he had received the Distinguished Service Order twice - thus becoming the first RCAF officer to be so decorated, and one of only four who were. Chadburn had become one of the most honoured Canadian pilots of the Second World War.
On June 13, 1944 - a week after D-day - Chadburn was on patrol from makeshift airfields on the French coast, protecting allied troops as they advanced on German positions. In a mid-air collision with another Spitfire, the 24-year-old Wing Commander was killed. Canadian and British fighter pilots and American bomber crews openly wept at the news of the death of "Their Angel."
So the next time you visit Chadburn Lake, think of Lloyd Chadburn and the peaceful easy feeling he fought to preserve.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin
Today, the Alaska Highway is considered the main street of the Yukon and Alaska. Easy to drive and quick to get there. It wasn't always so. Back in the early 40s, there was no highway. In the late 40s you needed a pass to travel on it. In the 50s and 60s, it was a dusty, muddy trail to nowhere - at least, it felt like you were going nowhere. My, how times have changed.There was a time, during construction in the 40s, that women were rarely seen anywhere and certainly not in a job meant for men. Thus, Rusty Dow was unique. She was an Alaskan who was noted for being " a woman who actually does a man's job in this war." That's the way the Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote of her, in a 1943 series on U.S. Army Engineers in Alaska during World War II.
Rusty Dow was a female truck driver. She was one of a small group of women who worked at important jobs for the US army engineers in the Alaska Defense Command. Rusty, said the paper, "with her kindly blue eyes, unruly red hair and the khaki coveralls, drives an engineer mail truck through the ruts and roads and forts of Alaska." She usually drove a temperamental Studebaker 6-by-6.
Rusty Dow was born in Texas in 1894, moved to Alaska in 1934, and married a former ski champion named Russell Dow. In the early 40s she got a job with the engineers and often noted: "They get lots done when the going's hardest."
At first there were many skeptics that a woman could fill a man's trucking job, on the rough Alaska highway, but Rusty persisted and drove through blizzards, over dog trails, and on primitive roads with no accidents. Lt. Gen. Simon Buckner, commanding general in Alaska, called her "a real sourdough."
Army engineers completed a pioneer road in November 1942, and then contractors went to work in spring of 1943, straightening and improving the road and building permanent bridges. In 1944 Rusty Dow was the first woman to drive the entire length of the Alaska Highway. In a truck loaded with five tons of cement, Rusty made the 1532 mile trip in seven days. She was then fifty years old.
After the war, Rusty Dow took up painting and became a noted Alaskan artist. She spent her last few years in a nursing home in Palmer, Alaska, operating a wheel chair. The sign on the wall of her apartment read:"I drove the Alaska Highway - both ways - dammit." Rusty Dow was 95.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin