Hougen Group

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The Taylor & Drury Store. Photo by Rolf Hougen when he, Marg and family with the Tanners went down river to Dawson City – 14 in all., 1971.

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A sign on one building., 1971.

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Fort Selkirk 1958. Photo of the Anglican Church, Taylor and Drury Store on the left. Photo taken on a 1958 Hougen and Tanner trip from Whitehorse to Dawson City.

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A 1982 Painting of the confluence of the Yukon and Pelly Rivers. Fort Selkirk located to the left.

Fort Selkirk

An exceptionally beautiful part of the Yukon River system is found at the mouth of the Pelly River. Here, in 1848, Robert Campbell built the first Fort Selkirk. It didn’t take long for this Hudson Bay trading post to become embroiled in a trade war.

Robert Campbell, an explorer and trader for Hudson Bay, knew the Yukon interior pretty well by 1848. He’d explored the entire Pelly River system and decided the best place to control the fur trade in the central Yukon was on the east bank of the Yukon and Pelly rivers. In June of that year, he built the first post and called it Fort Selkirk, after Thomas Douglas, the fifth Earl of Selkirk, who was a major shareholder in the Bay. But the land on the east bank was frequently flooded and the Fort was moved to its present location.

Campbell was right in thinking this spot would be the place to control trade with the Wood Indians of the interior. However, the Chilkat people from the Alaskan coast considered the whole region as their trading area. For the next few years, the Fort was visited by parties of Chilkats determined to oust Campbell, the Bay, and their growing trade monopoly.

In August of 1852, a Chilkat raiding party, of perhaps 27 men, arrived at Fort Selkirk determined to shut it down. Following a pitched battle, the Bay traders and Wood Indians were routed and the Fort was burned down. Campbell described the battle in his diary as fierce, and marvelled that no-one was killed. Campbell left Fort Selkirk in the fall, bound for Fort Simpson, a 1200-mile journey. Here, he demanded permission to hunt down the Chilkats and get revenge. Permission refused, he made an incredible snow-shoe trip to Fort Garry, Manitoba, headquarters of the Hudson Bay Company. Here, he again demanded the Chilkats be hunted down. Again he was refused.

Robert Campbell never returned to the Yukon, and the Hudson Bay Company didn’t return to Fort Selkirk until 1938. In the intervening years, there were many posts built here, including one by Arthur Harper in 1889. In 1898, Fort Selkirk was home to the Yukon Field Force sent by the federal government to guard the Klondike goldfields.

From the '20s to the late '40s, it was a thriving community with stores, churches, a post office, and a mounted police post. It was a major supply spot for riverboats operating between Whitehorse and Dawson. With the coming of the roads, however, riverboat traffic ceased, and Fort Selkirk was virtually abandoned by 1950.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

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The fire destroyed the Windsor Hotel, the Whitney and Pedlar Store, the Whitehorse Hotel and many more businesses of Front Street. The Post Office and Court house far left.

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Whitney & Pedlar store on Front Street near Elliot with proprietors on the front porch. The White Horse Tribune had their office in the building. Date: Dec.1900/Jan. 1901 Yukon Archives. H.C. Barley fonds, #5557.

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The Windsor Hotel on the corner of Front Street and Main Street. Date: April 1901 Yukon Archives. H.C. Barley fonds, #5558.

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The Big Fire of White Horse May the Twenty Third. 1905. Photo by J. Doody. Yukon Archives. James Albert Johnson fonds, #57.

Whitehorse in Flames.

The White Pass station which now stands on the waterfront at the end of Main Street in Whitehorse is not the original building. It was lost to a fire which destroyed most of the commercial buildings in the new town.

Whitehorse was a new and growing town back in the spring of 1905. From Front Street to Second Avenue, and between Elliott and Steele, stood the hub of a fairly prosperous place. There were at least five hotels, hardware, jewellery and grocery stores, cafes and restaurants, a confectionary, a drug store, a bank - why you could get almost everything you needed in downtown Whitehorse back then.

But on May 23, 1905, all that changed. At about 4 am, a small fire started in the barber shop in the back of the Windsor Hotel on the corner of first and Main. The firehall was just across the street. The single fire engine in town answered the call and seemed to have contained the blaze to the Barber Shop.

Then, as the fire was nearly out, the fire truck ran out of water. The fire in the barber shop flared and soon engulfed the Windsor Hotel. The raging flames leapt across the street and began to consume the Whitney and Peddlar department store. The flames then leapt across First Avenue, and the original White Pass station was set ablaze. The fire roared down First Avenue to Steele Street toward the Post Office on Elliott, and up Main Street to Second Avenue.

The single fire engine sat idle, out of water. Townspeople rushed to the scene carrying small buckets of water. It was a hopeless battle. One of the impromptu firefighters was Robert Service, who, along with many others, managed to save the Bank of Commerce building at Second and Main. The Post Office was spared, as was the Telegraph Office at First and Steele.

When the fire was finally contained, dozens of business establishments were reduced to ashes. The smouldering town was a grim scene to those who had worked so hard to build a business district for a growing town.

Damage totalled more than 300 thousand dollars, which by today's standards, would be in the millions. But the townsfolk were determined to re-build, led by the White Pass, which started construction of a new train station the next day.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

 

See also: Dawson City Fire 1899

Air Rescue

On a cool morning of November 7th, 1971, a Cessna 172 aircraft took off from the Whitehorse airport. Four young people on board were going on a sight-seeing tour of Carcross and Tagish. That tour took on dramatic proportions when a snowstorm moved in, covering the entire region with heavy cloud.

Pilot Doug Phillips was at the controls that day back in 1971. With him were passengers Red and Shirley Lewis and Doug Young. Cruising over Carcross, the weather socked in. Phillips could see only the Big Thing mountain sticking up through the cloud bank. He was lost. He radioed the Whitehorse tower, and though able to communicate with the plane, air traffic control could not help him find the airport.

Phillips was told to continue circling the area around Carcross using the mountain as a point of reference. He was also told how to prepare for the worst - a crash landing. Hoping that the weather would clear, Phillips and his three passengers circled, while watching the fuel gage slowly move toward empty.

It was getting dark. Meanwhile, the regular CPAir flight from Vancouver was approaching Whitehorse. Captain Ron Wood began picking up the communication between Phillips and the tower. On the radio, Wood told Phillips to keep circling. When the 737 landed and the passengers deplaned, Wood asked the Vancouver office if he could try an unusual rescue mission. He and first officer, Brian McMahon then took off in search of the tiny Cessna.

They spotted the plane and asked Phillips how fast he could fly. About 100 miles an hour was the reply. The slowest the jet could travel was 140 miles an hour. The Cessna got behind the jet and followed its lights. When he got too far ahead, Wood circled around, overtook the Cessna and continued leading it toward Whitehorse. This was done four times. Finally, the big jet dipped beneath the clouds as Phillips followed.

Down through the snowstorm they plunged. The jet could be of no more assistance. As they came through the snowstorm, a glorious sight greeted the four in the Cessna. The Whitehorse airport lay dead ahead. When they touched down, more than five hours after taking off, the fuel gage read ... zero.

Truly a remarkable bit of luck, and a lot of courage on behalf of the Cessna pilot, Doug Phillips, and Captain Ron Wood of CPAir.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin