Herschel Island was named, in 1826, by the British Arctic explorer, Sir John Franklin, after the famous English astronomer William Herschel, who studied the planets and the stars in the 17th century. He was the first to spot the far-off gas giant Uranus, which had been predicted to exist, but had not been seen until Herschel pointed his telescope in the right direction. The island was the only safe haven for ships operating between Point Barrow, Alaska and the Mackenzie delta. As the riches of the Beaufort Sea became known, whalers arrived in droves from the United States.
The crew of the US navy ship, the Thetis, surveyed the island in 1899 and named many of its features. The same year, the first of many whaling ships over-wintered here. The island was almost unknown to Canadian authorities, and its population of Inuit was subjected to untold debauchery by the American whalers.
As many as 100 ships were anchored at Herschel Island at one time. In 1896, the Canadian Church Missionary Society found out about the awful conditions faced by the native people. Isaac Stringer, later to become Bishop of the Yukon, was sent to the island to build a mission.
Stringer insisted that Ottawa do something to help, but it wasn't until 1903 that a NWMP detachment was set up. By that time, the whalers had pretty much depleted the stocks and moved out. The island continued to be a trading centre and, in 1925, a post office was established.
As trade decreased, the population dwindled and in 1938, the post office was closed. By 1968, no permanent residents were left, but it remained a favourite summertime visiting and whaling ground for the native people of the Mackenzie delta.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin
Mining and prospecting have always been a gamble. When the gamble pays off, good things happen. Still, in the mining business, nothing lasts forever.
Since the 1880's, small amounts of gold had been taken from the creeks and sandbars along the Pelly River, but most were pretty small operations. However, the area is rich in minerals.
In 1953, prospector Al Kulan and seven Kaska prospectors staked the claim that would eventually become the Faro mine. The discovery had been first made by a prospector named Jack Sterriah while hunting in the VanGorder Creek area several years earlier.
In 1960, Kulan and Dr. Aaro Aho formed Dynasty Explorations to work the claims. It didn’t take long to realize they had hit upon a world-class deposit of lead-zinc.
By 1965, one hundred men were working in the area. Dynasty joined with Cypress Mining of California to form the Cyprus Anvil Mining Corporation. The mine officially opened in 1969 and, by the mid 1970's, it was largest lead-zinc mine in Canada .
Construction of the town of Faro, named for the card game, started in 1968. By 1969, with a number of houses built, disaster struck. On Friday, June 13th, a forest fire swept through the newly built town destroying most of the homes.
Cyprus Anvil cleaned up the mess and rebuilt the town. In 1979, the population of Faro was about 800 people, but grew over the years as the mine expanded, until 1981, when nearly two thousand people called Faro home.
But mining is a tenuous business. With ever-changing world metal prices, the population fluctuated. Then in 1984, Cyprus Anvil shutdown, and by 1985, there were only ninety-seven people living in Faro.
In 1986, Curragh Resources was formed and resumed mining operations until the mid-1990s. Due to low world metal prices and the Westray mine disaster, however, Curragh was forced to declare bankruptcy.
The mine again closed, and reopened under the name Anvil Range Mining, operating until 1997. Today the mine is closed permanently and reclamation of the mine site is in progress. The town of Faro has about four hundred people who love the land and the lifestyle in a Yukon region that has much to offer, and the future looks bright.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin