Elsa, Keno, and Calumet are sometimes the forgotten communities in the grand scheme of Yukon history. They are, however, no less important to the history of the land. They are - or were - communities along the so-called Silver Trail.
Miners had prospected the area between Mayo and Keno City since the 1880s. Elsa was established in 1914. In 1918, large deposits of silver were discovered and large-scale mining began. In 1920, Keno Hill Limited, a subsidiary of the Yukon Gold Company of Dawson, staked six hundred silver claims on Keno Hill alone. A few years later, discoveries were made on nearby Galena Hill. At one time Keno City had five hotels. In the 1920s, the area's silver mines were famous around the world.
By 1932, deposits on Keno Hill were thought to be depleted. However, prospects on Galena Hill looked good so the company moved the mill from Keno to Elsa during the winter of 1932-33. Elsa gained importance in 1935 when the Treadwell Yukon Company moved its mill from Wernecke to Elsa because of the discovery of the Calumet mineral deposits.
By 1938, Elsa had a school, a hockey rink, stores, churches and a community hall. The mine employed almost two hundred workers on a year-round basis. Then, with the outbreak of World War II, the U.S. Government decided it would no longer buy foreign silver. Treadwell Mines closed their Mayo District operation.
In November 1945, the Keno Hill Mining Company was formed around the old Treadwell properties, financed by the Frobisher Exploration company and Conwest Exploration Ltd.
In 1947, the Treadwell Yukon Company reorganized under the name United Keno Hill Mines Limited, and revived the mines and town of Elsa. A tram line delivered ore from Calumet to the mill in Elsa whose population grew rapidly between 1950 and the mid-'60s, in part because the Calumet workers moved to Elsa so that services could be consolidated. By 1953, United Keno Hill had become Canada's second largest silver operation, and perhaps the fourth largest in the world.
Whitehorse was a busy place partly because of the endless truck loads of ore from the Keno Hill region to the waiting White Pass trains. However, in 1989, after years of losses and low silver prices, United Keno Hill Mines closed down its operations.
The residents of Elsa moved away and most of the houses and buildings have been dismantled. No one remains except for caretakers. But Keno City, population 20, still thrives, nestled in the mountains at the end of the Silver Trail.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin
One of the delights in attending the Whitehorse Elementary High School on Fourth Avenue, back in the fifties, was taking art class. Strangely, as I recall, art was a mandatory subject until about grade ten. I can’t imagine why because I doubt there many students that would decline to take art class.
After all, the art teacher was one of the Yukon’s great treasurers, Miss Farley. Oh, how we all loved Miss Farley. Now there was a teacher who cared if we cared. And in the spring, she made sure the arts classes were held outside the classroom. What a delight to spend part of the school day down by the river under the watchful eye of Miss Farley, as we tried to capture on paper the Yukon’s flora and fauna.
Lilias Farley’s background in art was something we never knew until we were long graduated and gone. She was born in Ottawa in 1907. She moved to Vancouver with her family in 1924, when she was seventeen, and attended the Vancouver School of Decorative and Applied arts. In her own right, Miss Farley was an accomplished painter and sculptor who studied with the best in Vancouver and counted among her friends, famed Group of Seven artists Fred Varley and J.W. MacDonald.
In the mid-1930s, she taught at the BC College of Art, which was founded by these two men. She also worked in theatrical design. It is said that in 1937 she designed the first uniforms for stewardesses for Trans-Canada Airlines (now Air Canada). During WWII she worked for Neon Electric Co., which was manufacturing depth sounders for the British navy.
She moved to the Yukon in 1948 and taught school until her retirement in 1972, while continuing to exhibit her sculpture in Vancouver. In 1967 she was awarded the Centennial Medal for service in the arts.
When she passed away in 1989, many a Yukon student of an earlier time fondly recalled the impact Miss Farley had on their careers even if they did not become artists of renown. The memories of outdoor art excursions were enough.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin