Hougen Group

1985b

Pierre Berton on the Klondike River Boat with George Dawson, 1985.

PIERRE BERTON

He’s written books on every Canadian subject you can imagine. Railways, churches, the west, the Arctic, and so much more. But it was the Yukon which made him a household name across Canada and around the world.

Pierre Berton was the son of a Klondike stampeder. Francis George Berton was trained as a civil engineer in St. John, New Brunswick. He, like a surprising number of men from eastern Canada, caught the goldbug early on, and headed to the Yukon via the Chilkoot Pass in 1898. Francis staked one claim which proved worthless, but he stayed in Dawson City for the next 34 years, working jobs both in the town and out in the gold fields. In 1912, he married Laura Berton, a school teacher who had come to Dawson in 1907.

Pierre Berton was born in Whitehorse in 1920. His first 12 years were spent in Dawson City, where the family lived in a small but pleasant little house across the street from Robert Service. Berton recalled living among the relics of that glorious age. Everything, it seemed, was rusty and old, yet he had no idea he was living in a ghost town of old saloons, and gambling halls and houses filled with the decaying riches of the Klondike Gold Rush.

The family moved to Victoria in 1932. Pierre attended Graigdorroch College here before enrolling in the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He joined the student staff of the Ubyssey newspaper and became a member of the University’s radio society. It was here that his interest in journalism flourished. For three summer seasons, beginning in 1938, Pierre Berton returned to the Klondike to work as a labourer with the Yukon Consolidated Gold Corporation on Dominion Creek.

He joined the army in 1942 and contributed to military newspapers. He eventually worked for the Vancouver Sun and began writing radio scripts on the gold rush days. This work led to some serious research on the Klondike and resulted, in 1957, in his first major novel called, simply 'Klondike'. It was this book which catapulted him to national acclaim, and astounded both he and his publisher by selling ten thousand copies in the first three months after it was published.


With the publishing of 'Klondike', Pierre Berton began to realize this period was a large part of a much larger story. It led him to research and write about the epic Canadian story which began long before Canadian confederation in 1867, and has not ended yet. What might Pierre Berton have written about or done had he not been raised in the Klondike? It’s likely the Yukon story would be less well known and Dawson City might still be a decaying ghost town instead of a vital destination to many visitors from around the world.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

 

See also: A new biography of Pierre Berton

The Raven

The Yukon's official bird is certainly not only found in the Yukon. It's found all across the circumpolar world and ranges as far south as the mountains of central America. Still, if you're going to choose a emblematic bird, it might as well be the smartest, funniest, coolest bird in the land.

Know anyone who doesn't have a raven story to tell? I don't. We had a German Shepherd in Whitehorse a long time ago. We tied him to the clothes line so he could range at will around the back yard without heading down the street or into the bush. How ravens would torment poor Rockey, who never came to realize that his chain would let him run only so far. But the ravens knew how far the chain would go, and would croak as they ate his stolen dog food just out of range. More than once he nearly choked to death as he came to a shuddering stop while the ravens, if they could show glee, did so.

Smart. These birds are smart. And gregarious. They know humans are good providers of nutrients - garbage cans, grocery bags left unattended in pickups, dog mash left in the backyard. Ravens know how to find this stuff, and that's why they hang around. Ravens are the largest of all songbirds. They are members of the crow family and thus related to magpies, jays and nutcrackers. As with much bird life, not a lot is known about their communication systems. But some researchers say they have the most complex vocalizations of all birds.

While most birds breed in the spring, the Raven breeds in winter. The young are hatched in winter, often in communal roosts. Most bird watchers say they have never seen a baby Raven. That's because when they leave the nest, the three-week-old chicks look as big as, if not bigger than, the adult. A lot of feathers on a tiny body.

Ravens are likely monogamous. They take one partner for life. Or so bird biologists believe. But then, anything about a bird as smart as the Raven is open for debate. For example, do birds play? Like kids? When you watch Ravens in groups of ten or more soaring and diving with the wind currents over some Yukon sidehill, it's hard to imagine anything at work but play. Nor, as one lucky photographer found out when he took a series of startling pictures, can it be anything but play.

The series of photographs show a solitary Raven on a snow-covered sidehill. At the top, it curled into a ball and rolled twenty or more feet down the hill. This happened six times before the playful bird quit - perhaps dizzy from all that rolling down the hill. The photos are proof that this is not another urban raven legend.

So it seems the Yukon's official bird is a gifted creature with a complex lifestyle suitable for the large range of options available in the Yukon. Now, if we could only find one complaining about the weather. Nah, they like the weather.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

carnation

Interior view of the tent Commissary at the White Pass Summit showing piles of milk (and currants and onions) in front of the counter. Date: June 1899. Yukon Archives. H.C. Barley fonds, #5531.

Carnation Evaporated Milk

You gotta hand it to the Klondike Gold Rush. It was much more than a rush to find the precious metal in the obscure hills around Rabbit Creek in the unknown Yukon. It helped propel Seattle into a world-class city. It had a huge impact on the early motion picture industry in Hollywood. And it saved a milk company from bankruptcy.

Today, Nestlé Foods own that milk company and is worth billions. Back in 1899, however, it was a fledgling business that had trouble selling its product.

The product was evaporated milk. A Seattle grocer named E.A. Stuart had a dream of making wholesome, good-tasting milk as available to consumers as sugar and salt. So in 1899, he co-founded the Pacific Coast Condensed Milk Company and spent $25,000 to buy the rights to a new process for producing canned evaporated milk.

At first, poorly sealed cans were spoiled, by the wagon load, after leaving Stuart's farm near Seattle. Even worse, local customers weren't convinced they needed his product because fresh milk flowed freely.

Nevertheless, Stuart perfected his milk evaporation process and improved canning procedures. The process was extraordinary because it took about 60% of the water content out of dairy milk, thus making it easy to transport and store without refrigeration. But buyers remained wary.

Then luck struck in the form of the Klondike Gold Rush. Demand for evaporated milk skyrocketed as Yukon-bound gold-seekers poured through Seattle. Prospectors bought evaporated milk as fast as Stuart could make it. Soon, the sale of cans of evaporated milk had grown from nothing to more than four million dollars a year.

As sales soared, Stuart searched for the perfect name for his product and stumbled across the answer while walking in downtown Seattle. As he passed a tobacconist's window with cigars on display, he saw a sign proclaiming their name — CARNATION.

Stuart thought it was a curious name for a cigar, but perfect for his new milk product. He also believed that quality milk came only from contented cows and eventually established his own breeding farm known as Carnation Farms.

 

In 1907, Stuart introduced the promotional phrase, "Carnation condensed milk, the milk from contented cows." Carnation used the slogan for decades on a radio variety program called "The Contented Hour," with entertainers like Dinah Shore and Burns and Allen.

 

In 1985, the descendants of E.A. Stuart hit pay dirt when the international food giant Nestlé bought Carnation for about $3 billion in cash. Today, Carnation Farms is just forty-five minutes outside Seattle and is still home to contented cows and the riches the Klondike Gold Rush brought.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin