The year was 1945. Six long years of war in Europe and the Pacific were coming to an end. Most of the military and civilian construction workers who had built the Alaska Highway and the Canol pipeline had left the Yukon. Whitehorse was once again a quiet little riverboat town. Something had to be done to stifle the boredom of another long winter. So the fore-runner of the Sourdough Rendezvous was born.
Kent Fuller was an American from Idaho who had worked on the Canol pipeline. In 1945, he was the resident engineer for Standard Oil in Whitehorse. He had also been a dog-derby organizer back in Idaho before the war. Fuller suggested that Whitehorse would be an ideal site for dog-sled racing. But his ideas didn’t get very far because – of all things – a federal election loomed on the horizon.
The All Union committee, representing the Labour Party, saw the carnival idea as a way to swing votes away from long-time Yukon MP, George Black, and to their candidate, Tom McEwan. In early January, the committee put an ad in the paper, announcing they would spend 15 thousand dollars to sponsor an International Dog Derby and Yukon Winter Carnival to be held March 4-11.
The Carnival would feature a Queen contest, ski jumping, an amateur night at the Capital Theatre, dances at the 98 Hotel and, of course, the Dog Derby. Five contestants opened the ski-jumping event held at the Punch Bowl in the hills behind the hospital.
Arne Anderson emerged the winner. Doris Lesanko was crowned Carnival Queen. The chief attraction, however, was the dog derby. Three days of racing covered a 40-mile track. John Brown and his team of dogs from Champagne won the event in a total time of 4 hours and 36 minutes. He also pocketed $500.
Young Andy Smith of Teslin, who would, in later years, take part in Sourdough Rendezvous dog races, finished second. All in all, the Yukon Winter Carnival of 1945 was quite a success - except for one thing. All the hoopla generated by the All Union Committee failed to help their federal candidate. Tom McEwan lost the election to the venerable conservative George Black.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin
Most Canadians didn’t know what was going on. It wasn’t exactly a top-secret military project, but the Americans were playing it pretty close to the vest. Hardly anyone in the Yukon knew about this massive construction project.
On June 4th, 1942, an American military contingent known as Task Force 42 arrived at Waterways in Northern Alberta. Twenty-five hundred soldiers loaded massive amounts of equipment onto boats and barges and began the river trip to Norman Wells. The Canol pipeline project was underway.
The Canol pipeline was approved by the Canadian government on May 8th, 1942. It was designed to ship 3000 barrels of oil a day from the Imperial Oil Field at Norman Wells to a refinery in Whitehorse and then send the refined oil to Fairbanks. The American military feared a Japanese attack on Alaska and wanted a safe reliable source of oil.
Canol, short for Canada and oil, was a four-inch line which would eventually stretch over 1600 miles. By the spring of 1943, the American troops were gone and construction was being carried on by civilian contractors.
In the two years it took to build Canol, over 52,000 people worked on the project. At its peak there were ten thousand people working on the project at one time. It was actually three projects in one: the pipeline from Norman Wells to Whitehorse, a distribution system out of Whitehorse, and the Canol Road from Johnson’s Crossing.
The refinery at Whitehorse was shipped in from Texas and cost 24 million dollars. The route for the pipeline was chosen by aerial surveys and from talking to local native people who used a trail over the MacKenzie Mountains.
On February 16, 1944, they met and the line was joined. Two months later, oil was flowing from Norman Wells, through ten pumping stations, to the Whitehorse refinery.
But the 3000 barrels a day the line could deliver was a drop in the bucket compared to the needs of the American military in Alaska. The line operated for just nine months before the refinery was shut down. The official cost of the line was put at 134 million dollars, but many believe it cost as much as 300 million… and that was in 1944 dollars.
Was the project a success? Throughout the construction and afterward, a committee of the US Congress investigated Canol. In part, the report said that the project was a greater detriment to the US war effort in waste of manpower, and money was greater than any act of sabotage by the enemy. It also said that the project was a blot on the records of the high-powered military commanders who supported it.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.
The British Yukon Navigation Company, a division of the White Pass and Yukon Route, operates busses from Whitehorse to Dawson Creek. The White Pass manages the train, the riverboats to Dawson City and Mayo, and the SS Tutshi out of Carcross. The company also has an air service and a highway freight line. White Pass is also the Standard Oil fuel distributors throughout the Yukon.
Greyhound – Alaska Highway 1944
My first trip on the Alaska Highway was on a Greyhound Bus in September 1944. Then a 2 1/2-year old, I have no memory of it, but I know that my sister Margaret was charged with the task of protecting the bus driver from me. Or so she says.
Our family was heading to the tiny town of Whitehorse, and needed a pass from the American military to make the trip. So much for sovereignty.
A by-product of the Second World War was the world famous Alaska Highway. The American military began construction in April 1942 and by September, with the pioneer road nearly finished, the United States military created “Northwest Service Command.” It had complete authority over all U.S. military operations in B.C., Alberta, the Yukon and Alaska, including the highway
A primitive trail north to Alaska was punched through in nine months, but the job of building an all-weather highway that could cope with real traffic was far from finished. Military and civilian contractors, in a race to fix the road, needed to move workers north in a hurry.
To do this, on June 21, 1943, Western Canadian Greyhound Ltd. entered into a bussing contract with the Northwest Service Command.
Greyhound would carry personnel of the United States military, civilian workers and others employed by the United States and its contractors. The company would receive fifty cents per mile per bus, with a minimum of $80.00 per day guaranteed for each of the twelve, 37-passenger busses it supplied.
In addition, the U.S. Government would provide housing and mess facilities for Greyhound. The company, which was nearly on the brink of collapse a few months earlier, was now back in business.
Greyhound’s Superintendent of Maintenance, Lorne Frizzell, recalled that on the first trip, the road was littered with trucks stuck in ditches, where their drivers had bailed out after losing control.
At one spot, he said there were as many as seven hundred wrecked vehicles in a yard. Passengers on that first trip had to push the busses up slippery hills and chopped grooves in the ice at river crossings.
Since the service was primarily designed to transport soldiers and civilian workers from the south, very few regular passengers travelled on this bus route.
There were still no roadside lodges. The U.S. military supplied gasoline, siphoned into the tanks with a toggle pump from forty-five gallon drums stashed in some road-side stockpiles.
February and March presented the worst road conditions, as water seeped from the hillsides and covered the surface with a blanket of ice. It was a time to tread lightly and prepare the passengers for pushing.
By 1944, very little work was being done on the road. The Greyhound contract ended and the U.S. army operated the bus service for a few months.
In early 1945, as the war was winding down and the highway was seldom used, the British Yukon Navigation Company (BYN), a White Pass subsidiary, began a twice-weekly bus service.
On August 5, 1965, the White Pass sold the operation to Canadian Coachways.
Today, there are a lot of bus companies operating especially during the tourist season, but as if coming full circle, Greyhound is once again the company that provides regularly scheduled service on the Alaska Highway. I wonder if the driver remembers me?
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin
The trail was known to the Chilkat Indians for centuries, and it was jealously guarded. So much so, that few gold-seekers used this route to the Klondike. That is until Jack Dalton came along.
The Chilkat called it the Grease Trail because they used to carry fish oil or grease, along with other trading goods, to the interior. In 1869, a senior officer with the US Geological survey in Alaska, convinced the Chilkat chief, at what we now know as Haines, to draw a map of the route. In 1882, Dr. Alfred Krause of the Bremen Geographical Institute, was the first white man to enter the interior over the "grease trail" as far as the Tatshenshini River.
Not much happened until 1890 when Jack Dalton arrived. He was part of a four-man expedition sponsored by the owner of the Frank Leslie Illustrated Newspaper out of New York. The paper's owner, W.J. Arkell, paid for the expedition to cash in on the reports of gold being found in the Yukon district. The four-man party made it to Kusawa Lake which they promptly renamed Lake Arkell. Here, the party split in two with Jack Dalton and E.J. Glave returning down the Alsek River to the coast. Dalton returned the following year and began building trading posts and gradually upgraded the trail, which he renamed Dalton Trail.
By 1896, Jack Dalton had his operation well organized. He built a home and a trading post at Pyramid Harbour, a post at what is now Pleasant Camp, and a main trading post at Dalton House, where he wintered his many horses. Dalton was thoroughly in charge of the Dalton Trail. In 1898, he brought in a herd of nearly 250 Oregon horses and started the Dalton Pony Express, the fastest service for mail and passengers between Pyramid Harbour and Fort Selkirk. A railway was proposed along the route, but the backers of the White Pass Railroad won the race to build the rails.
Still, the Dalton Trail was the only route to the Klondike suitable for driving cattle - or reindeer. Both these livestock were delivered to Dawson over Dalton's trail - for a fee paid to the trail's owner, Jack Dalton. This pioneering business-man stayed in the country until the late 1920s, when he retired and moved to Oregon. Jack Dalton died in San Francisco in 1945.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin
It was the last major river in North America to be explored. It is the fourth longest on the continent, and the fifth largest in terms of water flow. But this great river, as it was known in the Gwitchin language, had many names before 1945.
It was Hudson Bay trader John Bell who first called the lower portion of the river "Youcon". The word means Great River in Gwitchin. Bell had crossed the Richardson Mountains from the Mackenzie delta, and descended the Porcupine River to its junction with the Yukon. The estuary of the river at Norton Sound had been explored in 1835 by the Russians, who called it Kwikpak, the Aluet word for Great River. The Tanana Indians called it Niga-to - their word for Great River.
In 1848, Robert Campbell, another Hudson Bay trader, reached the headwaters of the Pelly River, where it enters the Yukon Territory. There, he built Fort Selkirk. He called the upper part of (what we now know as) the Yukon River, the Lewes, after John Lee Lewes, chief factor of the Bay. And to confuse matters even further, Campbell thought the lower part toward Dawson, was a continuation of the Pelly River. So he named that portion the Pelly. Later, gold seekers called that portion of the river, from the Pelly to Lake Laberge, the Lewes as well. The portion of the river from Marsh Lake to Lake Laberge was called the Thirty Mile. A little confusing to be sure.
The confusion continued when Frederick Schwatka, a career man in the United States army, made a journey down the complete length of the river in 1883. He discarded Campbell's name Lewes, and called it the Yukon over its full length, a distance of 1979 miles, from Marsh Lake to the Bering Sea. Noted Canadian geologist, George Dawson, agreed with Lt Schwatka, but it wasn't until May of 1945 that the Canadian government officially changed the name Lewes to Yukon, thus finally giving this Great River its present day name.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin
See also: The Yukon River (2004)
Let's take a quick walk down some of the streets of Downtown Whitehorse. There are a lot of memories here and a lot of interesting people whose names appear on the street signs.
When I was a boy growing up on Strickland Street, I - like other youngsters of a tender age - had no idea what the name meant. All I knew is that the street offered a safe and quiet haven for our nightly game of street hockey played under the light on a single pole at sixth avenue. With age, one needs to know more. Inspector D'Arcy Strickland came to the Yukon in 1894 and helped build Fort Constantine down river from Dawson. Later he commanded the NWMP post at the Summit of the White Pass enforcing as he did the strict rules for anyone who would enter the Yukon on their way to the Klondike. His entire story in the Yukon is much more detailed than can be told here.
The original Whitehorse townsite extended from the waterfront to the clay bluffs and from the alley behind Hawkins Street to the alley behind Strickland...which wasn't a street way back then. The first subdivision of Whitehorse created Strickland Street in 1945, the year my Dad bought a lot and built our small house, which offered much warmth after a hard night's game of street hockey.
The next street to the south is Jarvis. Here, some 30 years ago in the Stratford Motel, I interviewed A.Y. Jackson, the Group of Seven painter who, with his colleagues, immortalized the Canadian wilderness. He told me he loved the Yukon and found it an extreme contrast to his other love, the high Arctic. Jarvis Street is named for Inspector A.M. Jarvis of the NWMP, who was stationed at the Dalton Post customs office in 1898.
Another mountie street to the south is Wood. Here, in the mid-50s, Sammy McClimon built the Yukon Theatre, complete with cinemascope screen and high-tech sound. There we sat in the comfort of this modern marvel and revelled in Hollywood musicals like Brigadoon, Showboat, Oklahoma, the King and I, and more. NWMP Inspector Zachary Wood was in charge of customs duties during the Gold Rush and once went outside carrying 150 thousand dollars in gold - bound for the federal coffers in Victoria.
The last of the mountie streets to the south is named after the most famous mountie ever to work the north. Sam Steele was an original member of the force when it was formed in 1873. Such are his exploits that many articles and books have chronicled his life. He helped supervise police duties during the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway. In January of 1898, he was ordered by the federal government to move quickly north to establish a customs post and a police presence atop the Chilkoot and White Passes. Later that year, Steele moved to Dawson where the potential for crimes of every kind was seething not far under the surface. Steele is credited with setting up the policing and administrative systems which turned Dawson - a potentially lawless town like Skagway - into a relatively peaceful haven in a land of brutal extremes.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin