Hougen Group


Rusty & Bob Erlam at a Yukon Foundation Dinner 1980.

Bob Erlam

Bob Erlam belongs in the Yukon’s colourful five percent. As one time owner of the Whitehorse Star, he has to be. With Bob Erlam, the ideas just kept coming. More often than not, they were offbeat stories with a strange twist. More on that in a moment.

Bob and his wife Rusty arrived in the Yukon in 1947. He had been in the Canadian Army overseas during the Second World War. On a whim, he and Rusty decided to move to the Yukon. Whitehorse was a real frontier town then, and they shared a two-bedroom shack with two other couples in downtown Whitehorse. No running water, of course.

Bob got odd jobs - mainly as a handyman and electrician. The couple left the Yukon in 1957, but returned in the early 60s. Bob’s newspaper career began when he drew a cartoon featuring a dispute between a local resident and Yukon Electric and left it tacked to the door of the newspaper. The Star owner, Harry Boyle ran the cartoon on the front page. Bob became hooked on newspapers though his wife Rusty was the real writer in the family. Both were employed by Boyle at the Star.

In 1963, Bob arrived at work one day to find a note from Boyle saying he was now in charge since Harry was going back to school to study law. Bob became the publisher and then in 1967, the Erlam’s bought the Star.

Bob always carried his camera and shot many scenes of Yukon life during his 35 years as publisher of the paper.

In 1965, he was contracted by Time Magazine to take photos of Senator Robert Kennedy’s climb of the Yukon's Mount Kennedy,named for his brother, the late U.S. president. He was also a jack of all trades - fixing the printing presses and keeping the spartan offices of the Star on Main Street operational - often with duct tape. The one thing he didn’t do, though, was a lot of writing. He said he couldn’t spell so anything attributed to him as a writer had been checked by Rusty.

Bob always thought of the Star as the opposition to the government. He said it was the job of the newspaper to criticize and expose wrongdoing, and Bob was a champion of independent thinking.

Once, as the debate raged over whether parking meters should be located on Main Street, the City hired a meter maid to police the system and hand out tickets. Bob hired an anti-meter maid to feed nearly expired meters. That story made international headlines.

The Erlams sold the Whitehorse Star to Jackie Pierce in 2002. Bob Erlam, a true Yukon pioneer, passed away on March 26, 2009 at the age of 92.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Left to right: Howard Ryder, Lloyd Ryder, Gordon Ryder.

Lloyd Ryder

There’s something about long time Yukon families that remind me of that pleasant old song from the late forties. It was called Dear Hearts and Gentle People.

The Ryder family of Whitehorse were dear hearts - important members of Yukon society who contributed much to the vibrant life people enjoy in the territory today.

Lloyd Ryder was such a man. Born into a family of three boys and one girl, he lived a good life in the Yukon. His father George served with the Canadian Expeditionary Forces in Europe during the first world war where he managed to keep his sense of humour.

In a letter to his father sent from somewhere in France in February 1917, George Ryder wrote that he and his mates had been over the top of the trenches, through fields of frozen mud and into German trenches. George said they were quote - playing tag with Fritz with bayonets and bombs and - to quote George "we paid off a few debts we owed to Fritz."

In the same letter he thanked the ladies of the Yukon IODE for taking good care of the boys overseas with special parcels.

Back in the Yukon after the war, George started a family which included three sons - Lloyd, Howard and Gordon and a daughter Audrey. George also started an essential business called Ryder’s Fuel Service. The fuel was cord wood cut in the bushes near town and delivered first by horse drawn wagon and then by truck to houses like ours on Strickland Street that relied on wood for winter warmth.

I recall with mixed emotions, the arrival of the Ryder’s Wood truck. It meant the house would be warm, but it also meant I had a lot of chopping to do. Split cord wood was more expensive than uncut logs and money being tight - we bought logs.

George Ryder also served as Alderman on the first city council when Whitehorse became the capital of the Yukon in 1953. Meanwhile, his son Lloyd was making a name for himself in the flying business.

He began flying commercially in 1962 with Whitehorse Flying Service. It later became Yukon Flying Service, a bush plane operation which specialised in going places in the Yukon that were hard to get to.

Lloyd Ryder flew many a mining prospector to remote camps and made sure they were well supplied and safe in their isolated environment. You could count on Lloyd Ryder and his ski and float equipped aircraft.


US Senator Robert Kennedy counted on Lloyd Ryder to deliver him to the ten thousand foot level of a St. Elias Mountain he was about to climb. That was in March of 1965 when Lloyd made sure the world famous expedition to honour the late US President John F. Kennedy was safe and sound and had all the supplies they needed for the amazing mountain climbing feat.

He also took part in the miraculous air search for Ralph Flores and Helen Klaben who survived for 49 winter days after their plane crashed near Watson Lake in 1963. In 2007, Lloyd was awarded the 'Order of Polaris' Aviation Award for his significant contribution to northern aviation.

Lloyd Ryder served as President and of the Yukon Order of Pioneers. He also spent a lot of time and energy in helping raise the standard of living for Yukon seniors. Lloyd Ryder passed away at the age of 87.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Lloyd & Marny Ryder, Commissioners Ball 1995.


Lloyd Ryder - Wigwam Harry - Rendezvous 1969.


The original Ryder Whitehorse business.

Lloyd Ryder - 2

The Ryder family began their Yukon saga in 1900 when Roland Ryder left his home in Chilliwack, B.C. and headed for Dawson City, where he hoped to make his fortune since he had a wife and eleven children to support back home. When he reached Whitehorse, Roland had travelled far enough and so he stayed. He began a water delivery service in the town of three hundred people.

His wife decided to stay in Chilliwack, but three of Roland’s boys followed him. In 1923, his son George carried on with the business, adding stove wood to the water delivery business. Through the years, George was an undertaker, fire chief, and on the city of Whitehorse’s first elected city council.

George married his wife Edith in 1919 and had three sons, Lloyd, Gordon and Howard, and a daughter, Audrey. The eldest, Lloyd, who was born in 1922, helped his father with the delivery services. Lloyd recalled feeding the family’s horses every morning where they were pastured near Main Street.

After graduating from high school, he trained as an aviation mechanic in Vancouver. In the early 1940s, he worked for White Pass Airways and took part in surveying the Aishihik road. He spent a brief period with the Canadian military in Holland, at the end of WWII.

When his father George died unexpectedly at age 59, Lloyd took over the fuel delivery business and ran it until it was sold to Les Murdoch in 1965.

Meanwhile, Lloyd had retained his keen interest in aviation which he had developed as a teenager. He began flying commercially in 1965 and continued in this career until he retired in 1994 at age 72. When Lloyd and several partners bought out Yukon Airways, he began flying full-time under the new company called Great Northern Airways. When this company folded in 1971, he spent the bulk of his flying career with Elvin’s Equipment in Whitehorse.

In 1969, on one of his many medivac trips, Lloyd met a young nurse from Ontario, Marny Prentice, and they were married later that year. They had two children, John, born in 1971, and Jennifer, born in 1974.

The family loved the outdoors, and spent as much time as possible, camping out at the various Yukon lakes in their trailer and at their beloved cabin at McClintock Bay.

In 1995, Lloyd and Marny were honoured as Mr. and Mrs. Yukon. Lloyd was also active as a community volunteer for more than sixty years. He devoted countless hours to the Whitehorse Lions Club, CPR Yukon, Yukon Order of Pioneers, Yukon Transportation Museum, and the Boy Scouts of Canada. He received the Whitehorse Volunteer of the Year award in 2001.

Lloyd was a pioneer member of the Canadian Owner’s and Pilot’s Association and an inaugural member of the Yukon Flying Club. He was inducted into the Yukon Transportation Hall of Fame in 1997 and in 2007, he was honored with the presentation of the Order of Polaris Award.

Lloyd Ryder passed away peacefully, surrounded by family, at his home in Whitehorse on December 7, 2009, at the age of 87.



A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

A new biography of Pierre Berton

On October 14 th, 2008 in Ottawa, a Carleton University historian is releasing his new book called" Pierre Berton, a Biography." The book is a massive 681 pages and is the subject of this Yukon Nugget.

Ontario author, Brian McKillop, thinks Pierre Berton is a Canadian icon and he set about to prove it in this sweeping biography. During his research, McKillop discovered a family secret that even Pierre didn’t know. Pierre’s father Frank, who trekked to the Klondike in 1898, grew up in New Brunswick. However, Pierre was unaware, until just months before he died in 2004, that his father had lived much of his young life in an orphanage.

In 1878, Pierre’s grandmother, then a widow, had two boys and was unable to raise them both. So she kept five-year-old Jack and left Frank at Wiggins Male Orphan Institution, where he lived for 10 years. He then graduated from the University of New Brunswick and headed off to the Klondike to seek his fortune and start a family in Dawson City.

Pierre Berton was born in Whitehorse on July 12, 1920 and raised in Dawson City. His mother, Laura Beatrice Berton (née Thomson) was a school teacher in Dawson City, where she had met Frank Berton.

The book details Pierre’s rise to fame, from his days as a young newspaper reporter in Vancouver to national prominence with Maclean's magazine, TV shows, including Front Page Challenge, and best-selling books.

Behind the scenes, there is a more notorious story. For many years, says the author, Berton led a racy private life and sought to keep the details private.

During the Second World War, while a soldier serving in Britain, his girlfriend, named Frances, announced she was pregnant by him. The two went their separate ways and Mr. Berton, according to McKillop, never made inquiries to determine whether he had a son or daughter in England.

In the 1960s in Toronto, Berton was known to his close friends as an habitual skirt-chaser and a member of the Sordsmen's Club, an organization of Toronto men dedicated to good food, lively discussion, beautiful women and more. A young Adrienne Clarkson, later to become Governor General, was one of the women invited to dine and cavort with the Sordsmen.

Author McKillop calls Berton Canada's first modern celebrity and its most iconic figure because he spent a lifetime researching Canada's history and writing renowned books, including The National Dream, The Last Spike, Klondike, and The Comfortable Pew.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


See also: Pierre Berton

Mount Churchill

It was so remote that no one had ever heard of it. Even today, Mount Churchill is seldom seen and rarely explored. But this giant mountain in the St. Elias has certainly left its mark on the Yukon. Located 25km west of the Alaska-Yukon border in the Wrangell St. Elias National Park, Mount Churchill is more than 15,000 feet high, and permanently covered with ice and snow. The first explosion that blew the top off the mountain occurred about 1900 years ago, when volcanic ash was sent flying over northwest Alaska, landing as far away as Eagle. Then, 1250 years ago, Mount Churchill erupted again in a much larger explosion, which blew the lid off the mountain, and carried the ash into the southwest Yukon. It’s known as the White River Ash, and covers almost 600,000 square kilometers in Alaska, the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories. Along roadways it appears as a thin white line close to the surface. However, closer to the volcano, the ash can be 60cm thick. The ancient ash is well preserved, leading scientists to believe that the explosion occurred in the winter because it was immediately frozen and protected by a layer of snow. People and wildlife living in the southwest Yukon at the time would have been well aware of the eruption, and may even have heard it, but they would have no idea of its source. The ash would have killed vegetation in the area, making it difficult for people living on the land, and would have darkened the skies for weeks, if not months. So massive was the explosion that anthropologists think it could have caused the migrations from the north that eventually led to the formation of Athabascan cultures, such as the Apache and Navajo in the southwestern United States.

Mount Churchill, the source of all the misery, has been inactive for a long time because it has a thick magma, and takes a while to build up pressure before exploding again. Volcanoes of this type tend to erupt in 100 to 1000 year cycles, so it’s an open question as to when the mountain may blow its top again. But it will, and when it does it will have a significant economic impact on Canada. It could obstruct air travel, trigger mudslides and floods in the region, and cover a large area with more white ash. Although southwestern British Columbia and the Yukon have not experienced a major volcanic eruption in a long time, the potential for future activity remains. A volcano can be dormant for many centuries while gas pressure slowly builds up in its subterranean chambers. Mount Churchill in the St. Elias is certainly a candidate for a future catastrophic event.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Bill Reid, left, with a group at the 2005 Vancouver Island Yukoners picnic.

Bill Reid

In the days before there was a TV set in every room and the constant blare of Much Music tormented the ear drums with another pseudo song, those of us lucky enough to live in the Yukon, were entertained by Bill and Rusty Reid and their fancy swing band appropriately called The Northernaires.

With the passing of Bill Reid, a truly important member of the Yukon music scene is gone. But his memory will linger long in the hearts and minds of those of us fortunate enough to swing the sixties away dancing up a storm to the creative melodies of this celebrated Yukon band.

Bill was born in Wallace, Nova Scotia - the last of 12 children in a muscial family. Bill played in his first band when he was 14. Growing up in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Rusty began playing the fiddle at the age of 11.

In 1949, when he was 18, Bill said farewell to Nova Scotia and ended up in Vancouver, where he met Rusty. It was the beginning of a life long love. The pair headed to Whitehorse in 1951 and were married in the old that May.

Soon word got around that Bill could play a mean piano and he was asked to get a band together for a dance at the Elks Hall. He agreed, but only if Rusty would accompany the band with her fiddle. It was the beginning of more than a half-century of entertaining in every corner of the territory. Unique with The Northernaires was their manner and dress. Professional is one way to describe an event staged by Bill and Rusty Reid with The Northernaires.

On time, dressed to kill, short breaks and a musical repertoire to satisfy every dancer's taste. These were the hallmarks of The Northernaires in a musical career that spanned more than 50 Yukon years.

Wayne Smyth joined the band as a 13-year-old high school drummer. His memories of band leader Bill are filled with delightful stories of dedication to the craft and of travels to every Yukon community under often dicey travel conditions to entertain. Never late or unprepared is the way Wayne Smiyth remembers his years with The Northernaires.

Smyth recalls that as the band leader, Bill never talked down to him even though he was just a kid, but rather treated him as an equal with other member of The Northernaires. Smyth said the reliability of The Northernaires fostered by Bill was a big part of the band's success.

But there was more than music that kept Bill Reid busy. The list is long. He was a member of the Whitehorse fire department. With Rusty, he formed and kept the Whitehorse Women's softball league up and running.


Together, they helped form the Yukon Sports Federation. Both were inducted into the Yukon Sports Hall of Fame. The couple was instrumental in organizing the Yukon's branch of the Civilian Aircraft Search and Rescue Association. Bill was the president of the Yukon Flying Club for seven years and sat on the executive for another three years. He was instrumental in getting the DC3 weather vane aircraft placed on a pedestal at the Whitehorse airport. Rusty and Bill flew their own plane, joined air searched and often put on training searches.


Fittingly, their son Dave became an Air Canada pilot.

Bill and Rusty were involved in the Sourdough Rendezvous Fiddle Contest and competed in and judged the contests on many occasions.

In 2003, Bill and Rusty Reid received the Commissioner's Award for public service, one they justly deserved. With his passing, Bill Reid has left a substantial legacy of community involvement that has made the Yukon a better place.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

Carcross Desert

The Carcross Desert isn’t. A desert, that is. Rather, it’s a remnant of the last Ice Age; this ‘desert’ is really a sand dune. The sand accumulated during the Pleistocene age when large glacial lakes filled the valleys in the southern Yukon. The Pleistocene period, which lasted almost 2 million years, ended about 10,000 years ago. A good thing too, or most of the Southern Yukon would still be covered with vast glaciers. As the ice receded, it left a huge glacial lake in the region now occupied by Lake Bennett. As the glacial lake dried up, sand from the bottom was exposed. Today active sand dunes like Carcross are rare in the North, many that survived the drying up of glaciers have become overgrown with forests.

Not so with the Carcross dunes, which have a readymade supply of sand from around Lake Bennett. The Carcross desert is a haven for amateur botanists. Most, if not all, of the plants at the dunes would never survive in a real desert, though several of them that do survive are rare species for this part of the world. One of the most interesting species is the Baikal Sedge, a flashy Asian species found only in 4 other locations in North America. It’s also found in the sand dunes near Kusawa Lake. The Yukon Lupin, distinguished by a silvery appearance caused by hairs on the upper surface of the leaves is more common here than any location in the world. Other interesting plants because they are rare or of limited distribution are the Blue-Eyed Mary, Button Grass, and Nelson’s Needlegrass, showy Jacob’s Ladder, common Juniper, and kinnicknick grow on the more stabilized or sheltered areas of the dunes.

Formal protection of the dunes has been the subject of some discussion either as a territorial park, or some other designation. But so far nothing has come of it. Still, the area is a major tourist destination, and a fine spot for local photographers. With just the right lighting and by keeping all those tall trees out of the shots, creative photojournalists can certainly makes the dunes look like the Sahara desert of the far North.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Buzzsaw Jimmy

His real name was Jimmy Richards but I never knew anyone who called him anything but Buzzsaw Jimmy.

It’s a nickname he earned for the unsafe but effective contraption he used to cut cord wood.

By looking at Jimmy, you could tell the machine got the best of him – more than once.  He had hundreds of stitches on his body, a missing finger, and a missing leg that he lost – twice.

Jim Richards left home in Saint John, New Brunswick in 1898, bound for the Klondike Gold Fields.

The wonder is that he ever made it to the Yukon at all.  First, the train he was riding derailed on the Prairies killing two of his fellow passengers.  Then, the backup train derailed near Canmore, Alberta and the car he was riding in left the tracks.

When he reached Vancouver, he hired on as a deck-hand for passage on a steamer heading for Alaska.  During the voyage, the rickety ship was damaged in a storm.

He finally arrived in St. Michael, Alaska, near the mouth of the Yukon River, and boarded the paddlewheeler James Domville for the journey up the Yukon River to Dawson City.

Like others who arrived in 1898, he found all the gold-bearing claims taken so got back on the James Domville and worked for passage to Whitehorse by chopping wood along the way.

He still had gold fever when he arrived in Whitehorse in October, so he built a sleigh and headed for Atlin, where he spent the winter working for wages on small claims.

Thus, he began a career of doing odd jobs.  He worked on the Yukon River as a jack-of-all-trades, and then settled in Whitehorse where he built his strange, but effective, mobile woodcutting machine with parts salvaged from an old tractor and Model T Ford.

Wood cutting in a land of almost perpetual winter could be profitable.  With his homemade gizmo, Buzzsaw Jimmy could cut ten cords an hour.

He had regular contracts to cut wood for businesses like the Whitehorse Inn.  But it was dangerous work.  In 1911, he almost lost his right arm to the open buzzsaw.

Things got worse when, a few years later, he fell off the seat, caught his leg in the gears, and made a beeline for the hospital where the doctor amputated his leg.

Photo: Buzzsaw Jimmy with his unique wood cutting machine.
1942 photo by Odin Hougen,

Fitted with a wooden replacement, the irrepressible Buzzsaw Jimmy was quickly back on the job.  But accidents continued.  During his cutting career, he cut his arm, back and leg… again.  Buzzsaw was becoming a regular guest at the tiny Whitehorse hospital.

Then came his most famous accident when again he fell into the rotating saw blade and severed his right leg.

But this time, he picked up the leg, shook it at the wood sawing contraption and said: “Fooled you.”  He had severed his wooden leg.

Sometimes, if someone new happened to be watching him cut wood, Jimmy would deliberately pretend to cut through his wooden leg.  The ploy never failed to evoke gasps or worse… a fainting spell from the onlooker.

How much wood could  a woodcutter cut with a  wood-cutting machine like Buzzsaw Jimmy’s?  Good question.

Countless cords, I am sure, in a wood-cutting-career that lasted fifty years.

Sometime in the 1950s, he retired and his machine was dragged away to the dump.  Buzzsaw Jimmy left Whitehorse and his colourful career in 1963 when he moved to Vancouver, where he died at age 94.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Ralph "Buzz" Hudson and Jan Hudson at their daughter Lori's weddding August 1992.

Buzz Hudson

Ralph Hudson was at home on two courts. The basketball court and the court of law. Born and raised in Victoria, he was better known to his many friends as Buzz. On the basketball court, he played for the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, where he did his law degree and graduated in 1959.

Buzz moved to the Yukon in 1960 when he took his first job as a lawyer with Eric Nielsen's firm, where he practiced criminal, corporate and mining law. Hudson moved back to Vancouver in 1974 and joined a friend's law firm. However, he returned to the Yukon from time to time as a judge after he was appointed to the territorial court in 1976.

He was appointed to the B.C. provincial court in 1982 and sat as a judge in Vancouver and Victoria until he became the senior judge of the Supreme Court of the Yukon in 1993.

But Buzz always enjoyed sports. He was on the team that represented the Yukon in the first ever Canada Winter Games in 1967. Yukon athletes were badly outclassed by the more numerous contingents from the provinces and the Territory decided to stage a games of its own at home. These are now called the Arctic Winter Games.

During his Yukon basketball days, Hudson often travelled to Alaska for games. The Yukon teams travelled to Skagway by train to play the American game. Often on these trips, friends in Haines would pick up the team in a fishing boat and take them to parties. A great life, said Buzz.

In 1970, Hudson ran for the Whitehorse East seat on the Yukon territorial council, finishing third behind Norm Chamberlist and Don Branigan and ending a promising political career.

Throughout his legal career, Hudson was an active volunteer as the president of the Law Society of the Yukon and a director of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce. He also organized a number of continuing legal education seminars for Yukon lawyers.


Buzz Hudson loved jury trials because, he said, it was an opportunity for the public to be involved in the judicial process. He retired from law in 2003, after ten years as the Yukon's supreme court justice. He and his wife Jan moved to Salt Spring Island, a beautiful property with a magnificient view of the Pacific Ocean.


When Buzz Hudson passed away in January 2005, he was remembered as a fair-minded, active Yukoner who loved the quiet serenity of nature and made a valuable contribution to life in today's Yukon.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


3 of the 4 Nordic Tugs.


18 grandchildren age 5 to 16 all of whom landed a halibut.

Southeast Alaska Hougen Family Adventure 2004

One June 17, 2004 our entire family of thirty-two, including grandparents Rolf and Marg Hougen, six families, and eighteen grand-children drove to Skagway to begin our Southeast Alaska ocean adventure. We took the brand-new fast-ferry, the “Fairweather” to Juneau in about two hours. Al and Linnea Castagner, along with Linnea’s mother Swanie (Rolf’s sister) had gone down to Juneau a few days earlier in Krafty II, which was to be our mother ship for the week’s adventure. Al was the undisputed “Admiral of the Fleet” due to his extensive experience in Southeast Alaska and his experience in fishing these waters.

The vessels for our trip were four Nordic Tug boats – two 42’ models, a 37’ and a 32’ and of course Al’s 28’ GlasPly. We spent the next day buying groceries and other supplies for the boats. Later in the day, we received our “operational course” and check-out for the Nordic Tugs. We took possession of the boats later that evening.

We were up at 6am the next day and on out way to Al’s Secret Cove in Icy Straight. Some boats went out halibut fishing; others just relaxed and took in the breath-taking scenery. We set out several crab pots that evening. The next morning, we checked the pots and had caught plenty of Dungeness crabs – all of the grandchildren participated in the cleaning of crabs and halibut. After another great (and successful) day fishing, we had a wonderful seafood feast that lasted until well after midnight!

The next day we were off to Hoonah, a picturesque Tlingit village situated about 40 miles west of Juneau on Chichagof Island. This is the largest Tlingit village in Alaska with a population of about 900 with the economy based on commercial fishing and lodging, and more recently cruiseships. We spent a few hours there getting a few needed items and we set course to Glacier Bay National Park. It is mandatory to pre-register in order to be allowed entry into this park. We cruised into the Park Warden Centre and registered, stopped by the amazing Glacier Bay Lodge and then headed north and set anchor in a sheltered bay.

We had the most amazingly hot weather, with mostly calm seas and no rain for the entire trip. That’s pretty good for Southeast Alaska. Day 4 was no exception: we were up early and went to Marble Island which is well known for the many sea lions and puffins that inhabit there. We saw hundreds of sea lions but few puffins. From there we were off for the 3 hour trip to Elfin Cove – a small town of about 50 people. It’s a fish-buying and supply center for fishermen. Residents participate in commercial fishing, sport fishing and charter services. We took the South Inian route to this town, which was quite rough with a lot of tidal action. The people there treated us like family and even opened up the gym that evening so the 18 grandkids (and a few adults) could let off a little steam after being on the boats for the better part of 4 days.

After a foggy morning, Day 5 saw us fishing our way back to Hoonah. We paused for an hour to watch the whales put on a show and then did some serious halibut fishing. All 18 grandchildren could claim that they had landed a halibut by the end of the day! Le Grand Fromage (Rolf) caught the biggest one of the day at 73 pounds. We spent the night in the Hoonah harbour.

After a relaxing morning we fished our way back to Al’s Secret Cove for our final night of the boat trip. We got some more halibut and a few salmon, and spent the evening cleaning, cutting and packaging fish. Of course, we had another great seafood dinner.

On Day 7, we reluctantly headed back for Juneau. We had a great family trip in a very special part of the world. Southeast Alaska is so close to home, yet it’s such a different environment on the ocean – so dynamic and alive. It makes one wonder what the heck the Canadian negotiators were thinking when they were negotiating the borders of the Alaskan Panhandle in the late 1800’s. That’s another story…

Recollections by Kelly Hougen


Pierre Berton, right, at the 1962 Dawson City Festival seen here talking to the Minister of Northern Development, Walter Dinsdale.

Pierre Berton

In the tiny clapboard hospital in downtown Whitehorse, on July 12, 1920, a future Canadian icon came into the world. His mother, the now-famous Yukon school teacher, Laura Berton, delivered a healthy eight-pound boy and named him Pierre.

His childhood years were spent roaming the dilapidated streets and alleys of Dawson, where memories of the explosive Klondike Gold Rush still lingered like a fresh, though fading, flower.

He unknowingly soaked up the atmosphere of this defining moment in Canadian history. His teen years were spent working the diggings on Dominion Creek, where the mere sight of legendary Klondike gold would inspire his first and most important book of Canadian history.

Klondike - published in 1958 - was his first epic volume and would remain, until his death on November 20, 2004, at age 84, the most significant in a series of fifty important historical volumes.

The Berton family moved to Vancouver when Pierre was old enough to attend the University of British Columbia. He was a moderate scholar and said later he went to university only because they had a campus newspaper.

He became editor of that paper - The Ubbessy - and began a journalistic career which would lead to the editor's desk of the prestigious McLean's magazine in 1947, at the tender age of 27.

Moving to Ontario, he wrote a daily 1500-word column for the Toronto Star for four long years. His enterprising Star stories formed the basis of his coming books including the Comportable Pew, a tome attacking the Anglican church, and the Smug Minority in 1968, which railed against the cronyism between politics and big business. It gained him few friends on Bay Street, but many readers outside the corporate headquarters in Toronto.

In the 1970s, he continued work as a popular historian. The building of the CPR was told in the National Dream in 1970 and the Last Spike the following year. His wonderful tome, Hollywood's Canada in 1975 examines the way American films misrepresent Canada. The Dionne Years, published in 1977, showed he was versatile enough to write a real social history of the country.

He chronicled the country's early-day troubles with the United States in The Invasion of Canada in 1980 and Flames Across the Border, written in 1981.

Drifting Home, written in 1973, is an unexpected autobiography in the form of an account of a northern rafting trip with his family. It was during his publicity tour for this book that I met Berton for the first time in Montreal.


I was moderately in awe since he was not only by now a radio, television and book-writing icon, but a huge man whose size dwarfed mine. He barely fit in the front seat of my aging Chevelle as I drove him, in a torrential downpour, to his next studio interview.


During the 1980s, Berton continued writing popular history, with The Promised Land in 1984, a history of the settling of the Canadian West, and Vimy, an examination of the WW I battle in which tough Canadian troops took VIMY RIDGE in April, 1917.

His lasting contributions to the Yukon are many. Though often thought of as pompous - even unconcerned about the average person - his commitment to Berton House, for writers in Dawson, and his constant references to the Yukon, in almost every public setting, show that the man truly did care about his home and native land.

And for those who were certain he lacked any sense of humour, his final public appearance on CBC Television, teaching Canadians how to properly roll a joint of weed, should dispel that myth.

Pierre Berton, a Yukon and Canadian Idol had kept the good name of his birthplace in the public spotlight. For that alone, in the Yukon, he will be sorely missed.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Miles Canyon before the 1958 hydro dam.


Shooting Whitehorse Rapids.

The Yukon River

Where does the Yukon River start? Where does it go? How does it get there? So many questions. Many answered only in the eye or mind of the beholder.

Some say the source is the Llewellyn Glacier at the southern end of Atlin Lake while others say it is Lake Lindeman which empties into Lake Bennett.

Either way, Atlin Lake flows into Tagish Lake as does Lake Lindeman after flowing into Bennett Lake. Tagish Lake then flows into Marsh Lake via the Tagish River. The Yukon River proper starts at the northern end of Marsh Lake, just south of Whitehorse.

The upper end of the Yukon River at Whitehorse was originally known as the Lewes River. Then past Lebarge it became the Thirty Mile and finally it was known as the Yukon at Hootalinqa where the Teslin River joins up.

But then again, some argue that the source of the Yukon River should really be Teslin Lake and the Teslin River, which has a larger flow when it reaches the Yukon at Hootalinqua. So the definitive answer is somewhat of a mystery.

We do know that many large lakes and rivers are part of the Yukon River system including Kusawa Lake which flows into the Takhini River and Kluane Lake which flows into the Kluane and then White Rivers.

Merrily along flows the Yukon, joined by the Pelly and the Stewart before the White and then the Klondike river at Dawson and the Forty Mile further downstream. When the Yukon finally reaches Alaska the mighty river has taken a lot of water from the Yukon Territory.

The river is 3,185 km long and empties into the Bering Sea at the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. The total drainage area is a massive 832,700 km of which a third is in Canada. And bigger than Texas.

For all that length it is surprising to learn that there are only four bridges across the Yukon River that can carry vehicles.

They are the Lewes Bridge, north of Marsh Lake on the Alaska Highway, the Robert Campbell Bridge, which connects Whitehorse proper with Riverdale, the Yukon River Bridge at Carmacks on the Klondike Highway; and The E. L. Patton Yukon River Bridge, north of Fairbanks on the Dalton Highway.

Plans to build a permanent bridge in Dawson were announced in 2004, but they are currently on hold because it was going to cost a lot more than first estimated.



There is also one pedestrian-only bridge in Whitehorse. And of course, the Whitehorse Rapids dam which we used to be able to drive across.



The Yukon River, a sense of wonder and mystery right on our doorsteps.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


See also: The Yukon River (1945)


Margaret Hougen in front of the Dawson plaque located on the dike along the Yukon River.

Dawson Tribute

By Dan Davidson
Klondike Sun
Friday August 15, 2003

George Mercer Dawson

There have been many plaques erected around Dawson City of the last 30 years, but it has taken until this June for there to finally be a plaque in honour of Dawson’s namesake, George Mercer Dawson.

This oversight was finally corrected through a generous donation by the Hougen family of Whitehorse and the efforts of the Klondyke Centennial Society, which laid the groundwork for this memorial when it established the Joseph Ladue plaque in 2002.

According to Jon Magnusson of the KCS, Rolf Hougen came to him with a proposal to erect a $10,000 bronze bust of Dawson.

As Hougen tells it, Magnusson had a counter proposal, a substantially cheaper memorial which would be a match for the Ladue plaque already erected on a large rock atop the dyke, at the high end of the flowered walkway known locally as Norm’s Hump (after the superintendent of public works who commissioned it).

“I agreed with them,” Hougen said in a telephone interview some weeks later. “I thought it was a great idea.” It also cost a bit less, probably around $4,000 when all the bills are in, though that was not an issue.

The monument reads that it is placed in memory of Berent Hougen, one of the legions of gold seekers who lived in Dawson in the early years of the 20th century, but Rolf Hougen says there’s more to it than that.

“That’s true, yes, but we’ve had an association with Dawson for 50 some years. We’ve often gone to Dawson City and I’ve always loved it there.

“It’s the reason the Yukon exists, you might say. I’ve always had a special place for Dawson in my heart.”

What of Berent Hougen?

“My father, as a young sailor, ended up in Dawson City. Not at the gold rush, but in 1906. He spent three years there before migrating on to Alaska.”

Rolf Hougen himself recalls many of the colourful characters, such as Black Mike, who used to enchant visitors to the Klondike. He recalls being on the dredges himself when they were in operation.

George Mercer Dawson was a most unusual man. Stricken with Pott’s disease when just a boy, he scarcely grew taller after that and was left with a humpback created by a deformed spine. For some time after the illness he was confined to a wheelchair, but he refused to accept that fate, and set himself a tough life. He studied geology at McGill University and in England and was, by age 24, a member of the North America Boundary Commission, traipsing the woods to help define the line between Canada and the USA along the 49th parallel.


In 1875 he joined the Geological Survey of Canada and in 1887 he led a seven month reconnaissance of the land around all the Yukon’s major rivers, including in his studies the Stikine, Dease, Liard, Frances, Pelly and, of course, the Yukon.


Dawson’s report on the Yukon, in particular, was much in demand during the 1890’s and on into the Gold Rush years. In “The Little Giant”, biographer Joyce Barkhouse writes that he was often called “Klondyke Dawson”.

“Oddly enough, he was then sitting in his office in Ottawa, but it became known to the thousands of prospectors that his were the only maps available for the region. To possess a copy was thought to be the magic charm for ‘hitting it rich’.” (Barkhouse, foreword)

Dawson lived only to the age of 51, but by then his name was splattered all over western Canada.

When Joe Ladue was trying to establish the townsite that would become Dawson City, he needed a surveyor. That man was William Ogilvie, who had accompanied Dawson as his surveyor in 1887. His fee for doing Ladue’s survey was simple; he asked that the town be named after his boss, George Dawson. If Barkhouse has it right, it would have been Dawson himself who added the little dot with its name to the official maps of the Territory a few weeks later.

A Klondike Sun article by Dan Davidson


Sam Johnson of Teslin in full Tlingit regalia.


Marg Hougen with Sam at the Canada Games in Whitehorse in February 2007.

Sam Johnson

In the sixties and seventies, they were like rock stars. They attracted public attention and adulation wherever they went. They were the "out of town" dog racers who mushed into Whitehorse in colourful clothes, with happy dogs - tails wagging - as they arrived for the show.

The show was the Sourdough Rendezvous dog races. The mushers and their malamutes were kings of the trail. Among them each year was a smallish, smiling man from Teslin named Sam Johnson.

Sam was often an also-ran in the company of Stephen Frost, Paul Ben Kassi and Wilfred Charlie. But he was no less a competitor. Win or lose, Sam Johnson was a happy musher.

Sam was born and raised in Teslin and has dedicated his life to working with and coaching people of all ages. He has always been involved in sports and spent countless hours teaching young people how to run and care for race dogs.

He also teaches Yukon kids the traditional game of stick gambling and this passion branched into coaching Dene Games teams in the Arctic Winter Games. Hand games involve guessing and deceiving and is played to a chorus of drums. He believes that what is important is not so much the opportunity to compete as it is the chance to become proud of your efforts.

Sam's other passion is the sport of Archery, where he has been both an athlete and a coach at the North American Indigenous Games.

He spends a lot of time visiting schools all over the Territory encouraging students to take part in the sport. He tries to instill leadership qualities that include honor, trust, respect and integrity.

Sam has also had a long political career in the Yukon. He was Chief of the Teslin Tlingit Council for fourteen years. He was a Member of the Yukon Legislative Assembly and holds the honor of being the first First Nation Speaker of the Legislative Assembly for the Yukon Government.

Sam is an active Tlingit dancer who passed on the values of the Tlingit dance and heritage to both young and old and has travelled the world performing and sharing these values.



Sam Johnson was named Chancellor of Yukon College in 2004 and, in 2003, he was presented with the Yukon's Commissioner's award.



A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Fireweed at a log cabin on the "Marge of Lake Lebarge".

Yukon Fireweed

The Yukon’s official flower doesn’t have a very romantic name. But this tall, elegant symbol of the territory is much more than a pretty picture on a travel brochure.

Fireweed comes by its name honestly. It’s among the first plants to bloom after a forest fire. Its seeds are survivors and its growth is prolific once a raging forest fire has past by. But consider the value of this colorful symbol you see all over the Yukon. It contains a sugary gel that can be obtained by splitting young stalks and scooping it out.

Fireweed has quite a few different names, depending on where it grows. French Canadian voyageurs called it l’herbe fret. They cooked the leaves and ate them as a substitute for greens. In Russia, fireweed leaves are boiled and the resulting liquid, called Kapor tea, is a refreshing and nourishing beverage. Try pouring hot water over young tender leaves. It makes a fine brew, but be sure it’s fireweed you are brewing. The tea is light green and quite sweet.

Fireweed is also known as great willow herb, blooming Sally, French willow and rosebay, again depending on where you are. Some people call it mooseweed, with good reason. Elk, moose and deer consider a stand of fireweed their field of dreams as they feast on the sweet stalks and tender leaves. In many places, beekeepers try and to grow fireweed near their beehives. You see, it makes a dark, sweet honey, which is superior in taste to that of almost every other flower.

The scientific word for fireweed is Epilobium angustifolium. Quite a mouthful. No wonder most people call it fireweed. That strange name simply means “ on the pod” and describes the way the flower sits on top of a long ovary, which becomes a seed pod or capsule. In mid-summer, fireweed sends out an airborne flotilla of silky seeds looking for a recent burned-out clearing.

So, the next time you spot an exquisite field of fireweed waving in a soft summer breeze, consider the fact that this colorful symbol of the Yukon is more that just 'another pretty face'.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

Moe Grant

Moe Grant wasn’t born in the Yukon, but he arrived with his parents from Saskatchewan in 1929, when he was six months old. The family lived in Carcross and it was here that Moe developed his lifelong love of flying.

From the single-bay garage where he got his first job as a mechanic, Moe watched the busy gravel airstrip from which there seemed an endless parade of airplanes. Moe was hooked. In 1947, the teenager earned his pilot’s license.

He flew mostly for fun for the following fifty years. But, in 1950, his flying days nearly ended when he crashed his single-engine plane on an isolated mountain between Atlin and Carcross. Only the determined searching by Herman Peterson saved Moe from certain death.

He survived on the snow-covered mountain for five days before he was rescued. But his feet were frozen and he lost both legs in the ordeal. However, that did not stop him from flying well into his seventies. He didn’t officially retire until last year, when he was inducted as a pioneer aviator into the Yukon Transportation Museum’s Hall of Fame.

Moe married wife Cora in 1953 and the couple had two children, George and David.

In 1969, Moe became a partner in the Ford dealership when Rolf Hougen purchased the company from the Northern Commercial Co. He was already managing the car business, then located on Main Street, which was relocated to its current location on Fourth Avenue.

Moe gave much to the Yukon as a musician, and as a member of the Yukon Order of Pioneers. He is also fondly remembered for driving his Model "T" Ford in the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous parade.

He was the man with a mandolin and he liked to share the music. In 1975, he began visiting Macaulay Lodge to play for senior residents. Eventually, other musicians joined the group and their performances became a meaningful part of activities at the lodge. Recently, a group of musicians celebrated the 32nd anniversary of the weekly performances begun by Moe Grant.

In 2002, Moe was honoured with the Commissioner’s Award "for his tireless dedication to bringing music into the lives of Yukon ’s senior citizens."

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Commissioner Jack Cable presenting the Commissioner's (Yukon) Award to "A Community Icon", Flo Whyard - 2001 at the Yukon Transportation Museum.


Florence Whyard at Herschel Island. Yukon Archives. Richard Harrington fonds, #445.

Flo Whyard

Flo Whyard is a journalist - always has been - and a good one at that. She comes by the trade honestly. One of her first memories is the sound of an old typewriter banging away on the other side of the wall beside her crib, in the London, Ontario home of her father.

W.E. Elliott was then a reporter with The London Free Press.

At home, there were always books to read with a newsman's point of view on the world. In her teens, the public library, an excellent resource for Flo, was just across the street from her family's home.

In the Thirties, Flo Elliott went to the University of Western Ontario as a general arts student. But the depression made paying for college impossible so she left Western and signed up for credit courses by correspondence, and worked three jobs, graduating from Western with a Bachelor of Arts in 1938.

When World War II began, Flo's father moved to Ottawa to help run the newsroom in the Information Branch of The Wartime Prices and Trade Board.

Flo followed and learned there was an opening for an information officer with the navy. So she enlisted in the Women's Royal Canadian Naval Service and wrote about Canadian Wrens serving in Canada.

In Ottawa she met, and in 1944, married, James Whyard, a graduate engineer who had worked on surveys in the north and taught map-reading to his reserve army unit.

A year later, he was transferred to Yellowknife to help create order out of the staking boom in the Northwest Territories. It was an exciting time to be in the settlement on the rocks, as Flo discovered after her discharge in 1945 to join him there.

Ten years later, they were off to Whitehorse, where James was to provide mapping and claim services.

In 1955, the Whitehorse Star editor, Harry Boyle, hired Flo to write about social items, women's organizations, church activities, and, when her three kids were in school, police court, city and territorial council.

Later, Flo became the editor of the Star and in the mid-sixties provided daily news copy for the fledgling news service of CBC Radio. I clearly recall reading the nightly news that Flo hand-delivered to the station on yellow news copy sheets, neatly typed and ready to be mangled by this rookie radio news reader.

In 1974, politics beckoned. Flo won the Whitehorse West seat on Yukon Territorial Council, and assumed cabinet posts for Health, Welfare and Corrections.

After a four-year term, she went back into journalism and community life, but politics soon called again, and she became Mayor of The City of Whitehorse in 1981.

Shortly after putting on chain of office, Flo was faced with a major flood, the closure of the largest producing mine, and the shutdown of The White Pass Railroad. It wasn't a happy time.



But Flo was gaining recognition for her years of service. In 1979, she received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Western Ontario, where she had graduated forty years earlier.



In 1984, she was invested as a Member of the Order of Canada.

Of all her accomplishments, she is perhaps proudest of her role in promoting Martha Louise Black's Yukon legacy. Flo authored an updated version of Martha's biography called My Ninety Years, and is tireless in promoting her role in Yukon history.

Flo continues to write, and participate in community life as well as being an active volunteer with the Transportation Museum - all the while researching the Yukon's colourful history of which she has become a very integral part.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Photo1: Rolf with statue of Jack London.


Photo2: in Oakland, California.


Photo3: Rolf with London Cabin, Marg took the picture.

Jack London Square, Oakland California

Marg and Rolf Hougen visited Oakland, California, in 2000 to see the Jack London Square. The Oakland area was London’s home. Thanks to the dedication and hard work of Dick North, the Jack London cabin on a creek in the Klondike was carefully disassembled and some of the logs were transported to Dawson City and assembled as a complete cabin and others were donated to Oakland where the city created Jack London Square. His favourite bar has also been preserved. More than any other individual, London’s works have made the Yukon famous throughout the world.


He was a high-school dropout who roamed the seas as a sailor, a hobo who – like others of his day - rode the rails in boxcars and walked the land in search of ideas.  He needed ideas because he was primarily a story teller like few others of his time.  The Klondike Gold Rush saw to that.  Though he became world famous for his stories crafted in the Klondike, he also wrote on subjects ranging from boxing to romance, from survival in the Arctic to the strange, exotic beauty of Hawaii.

Jack London was born John Griffith Chaney on Market Street in San Francisco, California, on January 12, 1876.  As a lad he was a labourer, factory worker, oyster pirate sailor, and, mostly, a railroad hobo.  During his cross-country travels, he came to know socialism, which became his holy grail.  For a time, he was known as the “Boy Socialist of Oakland” because of his fiery street-corner oratory.  As a mere lad – 21 years old – he heeded the call of the wild – the Yukon wild.

Like others during the great depression, he caught “Klondike Fever.”  London sailed from the San Francisco wharf on the SS Umatilla on July 25, 1897.  In Skagway, with a load of desperate men seeking wealth and escape, he teamed up with four other Klondikers and scaled the cruel Chilkoot Pass.  Like others, they built a boat at Bennett and sailed down the river.  Like others in 1897, they made it only to the mouth of the Stewart River.  Then, freeze up.  The long Yukon winter of Jack London had begun.

He moved into a cabin and staked a claim on Henderson Creek, a tributary of the Stewart River in early November of 1897.  In the days and weeks to come, he became well known to his fellow prospectors for his storytelling ability.  There was little else to do but stay warm, stay healthy and tell stories.

However, he could not stay healthy.  In May 1898, he developed a severe case of scurvy.  Desperately needing medical attention and in pain, he watched the melting ice on the Yukon River.  Then he headed for Dawson and a brief stay at St. Mary’s hospital.  Here, they told young Jack to go home.  On June 28, he arrived in St. Michael, after making his way in a hand-hewn raft down the river.  From St. Michael, he sailed home.  Jack London’s career in the Klondike lasted less than a year.

Back in Oakland, California, he could not find steady work.  In desperation, he pawned his stuff and began writing.  As with most authors, his first manuscripts were rejected.  Nevertheless, he carried on and the Jack London the world knows today began to take shape.

The scenes in his stories of the Klondike were developed from what he saw and heard during his one winter in the Stewart River district.  While he wintered there, gold seekers were still uncertain whether or not the Klondike valley was a better bet for the prospector.  Partners argued endlessly while trying to decide where to head come break up in the spring of 1898.

Thus, London’s gold rush ideas came from rumours, barroom tales, and his personal experiences.  It is left to the imagination what he might have accomplished if he had stayed a full year, or a decade for that matter.  But London’s brief exposure to the Yukon resulted in stories so captivating that they live today as though they were just printed.  The classic tales Call of the Wild, White Fang and To Build a Fire represent storytelling at its brilliant best.  Throughout his narratives, London never forgot the little guy.  To him, Buck, the Yukon sled dog in Call of the Wild, represented the struggle of the working-class to maintain dignity.

Though Call of the Wild is steeped in seething adventure, London was even more masterful in describing the physical sensations experienced in the Yukon during that winter at the mouth of the Stewart River.

In “The White Silence” he wrote of winter:

“All movement ceases, the sky clears, the heavens are as brass; the slightest whisper seems sacrilege, and man becomes timid, affrighted at the sound of his own voice.”

In the Call of the Wild, the death-cry of the rabbit is described as “the cry of life plunging down from life’s apex in the grip of Death.”

There are some who say the dog Buck in Call of the Wild is modeled after Belinda Mulroney’s Dawson City sled dog.  Perhaps.  Whether or not that is true, Call of the Wild brought the image of remote Canada to the world.  It has been published in more than 400 editions in eleven languages.  And Jack London, that writer of dog stories who lived in the Yukon in a small log cabin in the bush became the highest paid and best known North American fiction writer of his day.

In 1905, he bought the first piece of what would become, in 1914, a fifteen hundred-acre ranch in the Valley of the Moon near Glen Ellen, California.  The ranch became the foundation of his life, and his passion.  He raised prized cattle, operated modern barns, practiced soil reclamation and water conservation.  Ahead of his time, many would say.

In 1907, with his second wife, Charmain, Jack sailed the Pacific to the South Seas in the sailing ship Snark, which became the basis for a book.  He fell in love with the South Pacific.

During his final journey to Hawaii, in 1915, he came to know and admire the Hawaiian people, a part of his character that shows in the short story On the Makaloa Mat.  When he died in 1916 at age forty, London’s admiration of the Hawaiians was recognized in a declaration from the Royal Family: “By the point of his pen, his genius conquered all prejudice and gave out, to the world at large, true facts concerning the Hawaiian people.”

Conventional wisdom says that Jack London died of a combination of drug overdose and alcohol abuse, resulting in kidney failure.  However, others believe that he died of systemic lupus, a disease that resembles scurvy.  In fact, he may have had the disease during his Yukon winter on the creeks.  Still, in his short life, he produced 200 short stories, over 400 non-fiction articles and twenty novels.  His life was far too short.

Whatever the cause, his early death did nothing to relinquish his place as a literary genius who was inspired by events around him – inspired as few others – by the last great gold rush.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


This 1965 photo is of Jim Brooks as a boy at his mothers home located at the entrance of Graham Inlet, south of theTagish Lake.

Yukon Meteorite

Fragments of a meteor, that stunned viewers when it exploded in a giant fireball over the Yukon in January of 2000, could help explain the formation of solar system and life on Earth.

A tall order for the Tagish meteorite. It's the space rock that streaked across the early morning Yukon sky producing sonic booms, sizzling sounds, green flashes, a foul odor and a huge explosion.

As many as seventy people were watching as the meteor started its historic descent. The rock, about the size of a small truck before entering the atmosphere, triggered Defense satellites into recording its fiery explosion and landing on the Taku Arm of Tagish Lake.

Captured on film an hour before sunrise, the space rock exploded with the force of nearly one quarter the blast power of the Hiroshima atom bomb. That's pretty powerful stuff for the brightest fireball in years.

The black, porous rock fragments look like used charcoal briquettes, but they are actually examples of carbonaceous chondrite, a rare meteorite type that holds the basic ingredients from which life arose.

The Tagish meteor is in rare company. Only about two percent of meteorites that reach the Earth are carbonaceous chondrites. And to find one in good condition is special since they deteriorate when they enter the atmosphere or during weathering on the ground.

Fortunately for the scientific community, one week after the event, on January 25th, Jim Brook found the first meteorite fragments while driving home on the frozen surface of the Taku Arm.

Just as darkness was setting in, he spotted some small, black rocks several hundred meters from the shore.

He covered his fingers, picked up the pieces and put them in plastic bags. In a few hours of searching, Brook found seventeen meteorites weighing almost one kilogram. Five were the size of small oranges, and twelve the size of walnuts.

What Brook had found was a relic from the early solar system.

Research teams analyzing the Tagish specimen say it came from a D-type asteroid, possibly a piece of asteroid 368 Haidae, that roams the cold, outer region of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

Space geologists believe the pristine pieces of the space rock make it the most important meteorite found in more than thirty years. In fact, a NASA spokesman said that no one had ever recovered a meteor and kept it so pure. It may never happen again.


The meteor was old...very old...four and a half billion years in fact. The fragments offer a glimpse into the original composition of the solar system before the planets formed.


As they studied pieces, NASA scientists say the find was so significant for them, it was the next best thing to sending a collection mission to an asteroid.

A major scientific research mission in the spring of 2000, recovered two hundred additional specimens weighing between five and ten kilograms.

In the years since its explosive landing on the scientific scene, the Tagish Lake meteor has become world famous as the most pristine, the largest tracked by satellites, the most fragile, and one of the oldest.

Because it is so primitive, scientists studying the space visitor say it's a little like being given a picture of the solar system as a baby, and being able to understand what it was like when it was young!

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


On the silver anniversary of the incorporation of Whitehorse, June 1975: The 5 mayors are (from L to R): Paul Lucier, with Bert Wybrew, Ed Jacobs, Gordon Armstrong, Howard Firth.

Paul Lucier

When the young man arrived in Whitehorse in 1949, he was looking for adventure – or maybe just a job. Over the years, he found both - and more.

Paul Lucier was nineteen when he made his way from Windsor to Whitehorse. His first job was as a deck hand on the SS Klondike, the riverboat that still provided a vital transportation link between Whitehorse and Dawson City.

In the mid-fifties, he became a driver with the Army Service Corp. and had by then become a close friend of our family. Sunday dinner on Strickland Street was often graced with the presence of this delightful, humble young man.

When I was a volunteer at the community-operated CFWH, Paul was often the driver sent by Service Corp. to deliver me to my job at the radio station, then located in a Quonset hut roughly where the Airport Chalet is today. Thank goodness for Service Corp. since most of the volunteers, like me, lived downtown and had no means of getting to work - except on foot.

I got to know Paul well from his days as a driver, and later as a man who was deeply involved in the Whitehorse sports scene. He coached the Town Merchants team during my last year as a senior men’s hockey player. I know it pained him to tell me that my days as a useful forward had somehow past even though I was still young, but somewhat out of shape.

His job with Service Corp. ended when the Army left the Yukon. Then he became a Whitehorse firefighter, and his involvement in community affairs began to get noticed.

In 1964, he successfully ran for Alderman and was re-elected in 1965. In 1966, he ran for mayor but was defeated by Howard Firth. That interrupted his political career until 1970, when he was again elected as an Alderman, a position he held until 1974 when he was elected Mayor of Whitehorse.

In the fall of 1975, he was getting ready to campaign for a second term as Mayor, but in October he received a phone call from the Prime Minister that changed his life. Pierre Trudeau was on the phone to offer him the job as the Yukon’s first Senator.

It was a task he took seriously. Not always did he toe the Liberal party line. He opposed gun control legislation because he said it would adversely affect Yukon native people who relied on hunting for their subsistence. He vigorously opposed the implementation of the GST tax and successfully helped hold legislation up with an effective, but finally losing filibuster on the Senate floor.


Paul was also a tireless worker for Yukon land claims and opened many doors for negotiators through the 1990s, when land claims talks were in danger of falling apart.


The turbulent 1990s were a time of political upheaval. He conducted an effective lobby during this time of proposed constitutional change, including ensuring the north had a say in changes that could come about if they had passed the Meech Lake Accord. He was also a supporter of an elected Senate.

The turbulence of the nineties was also a time of personal turbulence for Paul Lucier. He was diagnosed with cancer. But he kept up with his Senate duties for ten years until he finally succumbed to the disease in the summer of 1999, just days before his 69th birthday.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

Amy Sloan

A time long ago and far away, I produced a series of radio programs for kids called The Adventurers of Ookpik, the arctic owl. The stories of Ookpik’s adventurers were brought to life through a variety of arctic animals who were given voice by young actors from the National Theatre School of Canada in Montreal.

I have always had great respect for that school. The youngster, who portrayed whales, polar bears and foxes were on a steep learning curve. Greg Wanless, who played Ookpik, went on to become artistic director at the famed Gananoque Playhouse in Ontario. Dianne D’Quallia, who was terrific as the voice of whales and other arctic creatures, starred in a one woman show, Elizabeth Rex, at Stratford. One of the narrators, David Ferry, excelled as a character actor on many television and movie dramas.

So it was with great interest that I learned that a Yukon-raised actress had graduated from the National Theatre school in 1999. Her name is Amy Sloan. Many of you may know Amy, her father, Dave Sloan, who was once the Yukon’s Minister of Health, and her mother Mary who was also an actress.

Amy lives near Hollywood these days, but her roots are in theatre in the Yukon.

She was born in Manitoba where she spent her first year. The family moved to Pelly Crossing and then to Watson Lake, where they lived for twelve years.

In 1992, they settled in Whitehorse where Amy attended the Porter Creek Junior Secondary School, where she’ll be remembered as President of the student council. After graduating from F H Collins, Amy’s first professional acting job was in the Gaslight Follies at the Palace Grande Theatre in Dawson City.

Then she attended the National Theatre School in Montreal, and graduated in 1999. Within a month, she was booked for two national commercials and a lead role in a television film. She also earned rave reviews for her role as Mary Warren in the Centaur Theatre’s production of "The Crucible" in Montreal.

In Whitehorse, Amy played the role of Catherine in the Guild Hall Theatre’s production of Dave Auburn's play "Proof."

Catherine is a young woman who has spent years caring for her unstable father, Robert. Robert was a brilliant mathematician in his younger years, but later became unable to function without the help of his daughter. His death brings Hal, a former student of Robert, into Catherine's life. She ends up falling in love with him, but in the process gravely misses her deceased father while resenting the great sacrifices she made for him.

In the past few years in the United States, Amy has worked with such notable actors as Halle Berry, Alan Alda, Ben Stiller, and Penelope Cruz. She has also worked with prominent directors like Richard Donner, Martin Scorsese and The Farrelly Brothers. After a North American search, Martin Scorsese cast her in the Academy Award winning film "The Aviator" in which she played the mother of young Howard Hughes. Some of her recent television credits include "Without a Trace," "Cold Case, "Gilmore Girls" and "C.S.I." Amy Sloan of Whitehorse has done well.

Too bad she wasn’t at the Theatre school when I was casting Ookpik animal voices. I’ll bet Amy Sloan would have had fun playing a Yukon salmon.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

The Whitehorse Waterfront Trolley

A Yukon video by Les McLaughlin

Fast Pitch

Let George do it. That’s a motto that seems to symbolize the history of fastball in Whitehorse. When I was playing the sport back in sixties, we counted on George -Kolkind, that is. The elderly gentleman was always there for the players and the fans. George Kolkind made sure the fastball diamond on Fourth Avenue, where the Sport Yukon office now stands, was ready for the cry ‘play ball’. The field had been covered with crushed granite delivered from somewhere on the Fish Lake road.

To make sure the field was smooth, Kolkind invented a unique system that involved dragging an old bed spring, attached to ropes, around the infield. Pulling the contraption, he looked like a harnessed plough horse, but it worked. He also invented a chalk dispenser that consisted of a single wheel and a funnel to mark the foul lines and the on-deck circle. On the few occasions when we had tournament play with out-of-town teams, George Kolkind set up a primitive but workable PA system. He was our go-to guy and fastball was never the same without him.

Fast forward forty years and the go-to guy is still George, as in George Arcand. The longtime player and member of Softball Yukon has helped organize softball tournaments of all kinds since the late seventies. He was instrumental in the creation of the Pepsi Softball Centre 25 years ago. Arcand has played a major role as the executive Director of Softball Yukon for the past fifteen years.

He was inducted to the Sport Yukon Hall of Fame in 1998 and continues to be involved with various committees. Born in New Westminister, George’s Yukon softball career started in 1975 when he was first elected President of Softball Yukon. He was named Sport Yukon Administrator of the year in both 1983 and 1984. In 1989, he coached the Yukon Senior Men’s Fast-Pitch team to a Silver Medal at the Canadian Championships.

This week George Arcand’s dream of putting Whitehorse and the Yukon on the international fastball stage has been emphasized by the ISF Junior Men’s World Fastball Championships. The tournament features the largest number of teams since it was first held thirteen years ago.

George Arcand deserves much of the credit and that has been recognized as he was just named to the Canadian Softball Hall of Fame.

George Arcand is a passionate advocate for sport in the Yukon just as George Kolkind was four decades ago. I guess the only difference is that today’s George doesn’t have to drag a bedspring across the infield at the Pepsi centre to smooth the surface, but he’d probably do it if he had to.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


The Ladies of Hougen's Department Store Dressed for the Rendezvous 1970.


Flour Packing on the Yukon River - 1970.


Erik Nielsen, Member of Parliament for the Yukon Greets Bon Homme from Quebec City - 1971.

The Sourdough Rendezvous

There hadn't been a mid-winter carnival since 1950. So when the Board of Trade met in October of 1961, Rolf Hougen, acting as chairman for the 30-member organization, convinced everyone it was high time to get growing Whitehorse community back into a mid-winter party mood. The Sourdough Rendezvous was born.

No-one is sure why mid-winter carnival celebrations weren't staged during the 1950s, but in the early 60s the business community was determined to re-establish the spirit of what we now know as the Rendezvous. The first Sourdough Rendezvous opened on February 16th, 1962. There was no shortage of carnival experience among the organizers. As a teenager back in 1946, Rolf Hougen had been a member of the ski tourney committee, while Bob Campbell had been the general manager in '46 and '47.

The dog races were the focal point of the first Sourdough Rendezvous although the Queen contest and the beard judging were key to community involvement. Belle Desroiser organized the dog races and the mushers included Park Southwick, Sylvester Jack, Fred Stretch, Fred Chamber, Father Rigaud and 50-year-old Andy Smith of Teslin, who had finished second back in 1945 in the first Whitehorse winter carnival. Andy seemed determined to avenge his narrow defeat of 17 years earlier. And avenge he did ... winning the three-day event in a total time of 89 minutes 57 seconds. Father Rigaud was second, trailing Andy by a mere 9 seconds over three days. There were 10 Rendezvous Queen contestants - the event won by Alice Martin, who was born in Moosehide. The weather back in '62 was described as warm and slushy ... but not too warm for Bud Fisher to grow a big bushy white beard and take the best-beard title. That beard grown that year became Bud's trade mark as he went on to represent the Yukon around the world as Yukon Bud Fisher. When my young daughter met Bud in the early 70s, she was convinced he was Santa Claus. I'm sure kids all over North America thought the same of the Yukon's travelling ambassador.

Over the years, the Sourdough Rendezvous grew in stature and size and the outside world came to know how Yukoners got rid of the mid-winter blues. Television, radio and newspaper reporters covering the event helped put Whitehorse on the international stage. The publisher of the Edmonton Journal was a visitor in 1965, when tragedy struck the Rendezvous. Musher Babe Southwick died of a heart attack after running her dogs in the first day of racing. The mushers met to decide whether the races should continue.

When the decision was made to carry on, Babe Southwick's number 8 was retired and Andrew Snaddon of the Journal sponsored the Babe Southwick throphy for the fastest lap.

And the spirit continues today, 35 years after that first Sourdough Rendezvous back in 1962.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


83 oz. 5 dwt. 15 grs. Nugget found on #126 Spruce Creek, B.C. (Atlin Mining District). The largest gold nugget ever discovered in British Columbia. Date: 1899. Yukon Archives. Anton Vogee fonds, #119.


Miners standing in front of sluice displaying gold nuggets. Date: 1899. Yukon Archives. Anton Vogee fonds, #151.


A miner holding a gold nugget over a rocker. Date: July 1938. Yukon Archives. Claude & Mary Tidd fonds, #8062.

Gold Figures

"Just the facts, ma'am". That's a line Joe Friday frequently used in the 1950s radio drama, Dragnet. But when it comes to gold in the Yukon, sometimes "just the figures" tell a more interesting story.

Figures for gold production in the Klondike date back to at least 1885. That year, just over 4800 ounces were declared, fetching $100,000. Not bad considering a dollar would buy a lot of grub back then ... at least in the city.

The amount of gold found in the next twelve years fluctuated, reaching 12,000 ounces in 1897, a year after the big strike on Bonanza Creek. Then came the deluge. By the end of 1898, the year of the big rush, over 48 thousand ounces were declared, carrying a total value of 10 million dollars.

But the best was yet to come. In 1899, as big companies bought up large tracks of paying ground, 77 thousand ounces were found for a total of 16 million dollars. But it was in 1900, the turn of a new century, that the motherlode was declared. That year, over one million 70 thousand (1,070,000) ounces turned up in the pans and dredges working the Klondike valley...the largest single year of gold production, yielding over 22 million dollars at a time when gold was $16.00 an ounce.

Production dwindled from then on until 1972, when just over 4,000 ounces were found with a value of $254,000 dollars. After that, there was a steady rise in production as placer miners began going over the old ground with new methods making significant cleanups.

The biggest dollar value in Klondike gold occurred in 1988 when nearly 130,000 ounces resulted in a payout of 68 million dollars.

In the 110 years between 1886 and 1996, over 12 million ounces have been officially declared for a total dollar value of just over one billion. Just the figures, ma'am, just the figures.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Les McLaughlin today.


Les McLaughlin, Age 7, in the alley behind the McLaughlin home on Strickland Street.

Les McLaughlin

Born in Valleyview, Alberta, Les McLaughlin was just three years old when he arrived in Whitehorse. His youth included playing midget, juvenile for the Hougens team, and senior hockey, along with volunteering at the military-run radio station CFWH in the late Fifties. It was just the beginning of a long broadcasting career.

Les has spent countless hours helping to preserve the history of the Yukon with his recordings of special people and events over many years for CBC Radio.

More than two hundred hours of audio selections are housed in the Prince of Wales Heritage Centre in Yellowknife and the Yukon Archives in Whitehorse.

The founding producer of the True North Concert series broadcast across Canada, Les also produced a unique and innovative series of broadcast recordings featuring Northern musical talent from across the north. The series includes over one thousand musical selections.

Another musical offering is "The Songs of Robert Service", a CD featuring ten poems by the famous poet, set to contemporary music.

Robert Service was the subject again in one of a series of hour-long recordings created for the Yukon tourist market, including "Colourful Characters of the Klondike", "North to Alaska on the Trail of ’42," "The Northwest Mounted Police in the Klondike;" and "The Robert Service Story."

Les was also the author of "High Flyers", the story of the improbable quest for Olympic gold in 1948 by the RCAF Flyers hockey team, which ran in the national publication AirForce Magazine and in the Globe and Mail.

In 1996, he was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Yukon Historical and Museums Association, who wrote that it was "to recognize the contribution of Les McLaughlin to the preservation of the Yukon’s heritage".

With his efforts to record and highlight the history of the North, Les McLaughlin himself has left his own mark in the more recent history of Whitehorse.

You may know him best as the author and host of CKRW’s "Yukon Nuggets".

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Ron McFadyen




Les McLaughlin passed away on January 08, 2011.



Friends of Les McLaughlin have established a "Les McLaughlin Fund" in his honour to be administered by the Yukon Foundation. The family directed that the annual proceeds of the fund be used to assist students who wish to pursue a career in journalism or history. Contributions can be made to "The Yukon Foundation" P.O. Box 31622, Whitehorse, Yukon, Y1A 6L2 or by dropping it off at the CKRW Studios, 4th & Elliott St.


Flashback: The remains of the Columbian, 1906.


View of the 'Columbian' travelling down the river. Date: ca. 1903. Yukon Archives. H.C. Barley fonds, #5192.

Flashback: The Remains of the Columbian – 1906

Riverboats were the life-blood of the Yukon at the turn of the century. One day - Tuesday, September 25th, in 1906 - one of them was the scene of a disaster which led to the death of six young men.

A photograph tells much of the story.  The smoldering ruins show only the paddlewheel, some pieces of engine and other metal gear, and a few boards from her main deck.  The Columbian had left Whitehorse, bound for Dawson with 150 tons, of cargo, including potatoes, hams, bacon, apples and canned vegetables.  She also carried 21 head of live cattle - and three tons of blasting powder, covered and stored on the foredeck.

The Columbian was built in Victoria in the spring of 1898. It was sailed to Dawson by way of St. Michael and had performed excellent service on the Yukon, plying the river between Whitehorse and Dawson.

On that fateful day in September of 1906, she was five miles below the mouth of the Little Salmon River and 20 miles above Tantalus Butte (now Carmacks). Here, a young deckhand Phil Murray noticed a flock of ducks on the river.  Murray had a loaded rifle on board although this was against company rules.  The ship’s fireman, Edward Morgan, asked for the gun.

What happened next is uncertain.  Some accounts say the gun went off by accident.  Others say the flock of ducks flew over the ship and Morgan fired over the bow.  What is certain is that there was a massive explosion on board the Columbian.  The resulting fireball was carried the full length of the ship.  Purser Lionel Cowper, Mate Joe Welsh, deckhands John Woods, Carl Christianson and Phil Murray, and fireman Ed Morgan, all died in the incident.

Passenger, EE Winstanley, a miner from Dawson was severely burned, but recovered.  If there were any heroics in this sad affair, it was likely the actions of the ships Captain J.O. Williamson, who steered the stricken riverboat to shore where it smashed into the bank while the fire raged.  His actions allowed the uninjured crew members, and what few passengers were on board, to jump clear.

The only body never recovered was that of fireman Ed Morgan, who was supposedly holding the gun when the blast occurred.



Apart from the tragic deaths of the six riverboat men and the loss of the steamboat, the biggest losers were the Barton Brothers whose consignment of 21 cattle died in the blast.



A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.


Marg and Rolf donated a bust of Sam Steele during the 100th anniversary of the Mounties in the Yukon.


Canadians in the Klondike

Samuel Benfield Steele (1849-1919)

There is a street in Whitehorse and a mountain in the St. Elias Range named for him. I suppose that's the least that could be done to honour someone who dedicated a significant chapter of his illustrous life to ensuring that law, order and good government thrived during the height of the gold rush, where otherwise there may have been none.

Samuel Benfield Steele was born near Orillia, Ontario on January 5, 1849. He joined the newly formed Canadian Militia in 1866 during the Fenian troubles in western Canada and was a private during the Red River Expedition of 1870. In 1873, Steele enlisted as a Sergeant Major in the North West Mounted Police, becoming one of the first to join the newly created force. His inital command as a Mountie was at Ft. Qu'Appelle, Saskatchewan in 1879, during construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway.

It was no easy task to maintain law and order here. In 1885, as disenchanted workers gathered in the town of Beavermouth to examine grievances against the CPR, Sam Steele, Winchester rifle in one hand and the Riot Act in the other, told the rebellious men that if he saw more than a dozen gathered together he would open fire on them. Figuring Steele to be a man of his word, the crowd dispersed.

Later that same year, he became a NWMP Super­intendent. On February 3rd, 1898, Superintendent Steele was on board an old ship called the Thistle, sailing up the Inside Passage to Skagway. He was under direct orders from Clifford Sifton, the powerful Minister of the Canadian Interior, to establish a border post on top of the most inhospitable land in the Canadian dominion, the Chilkoot Pass.

When he arrived, Skagway had at least two things going against it. First, the thermometer registered -30F with a bitter coastal wind, and second, gangs of lawless men led by Soapy Smith were making the place what Sam Steele called "a hell on earth".

Steele's first job, as commander of the Mounties on the gold rush trail, was to prevent the same lawlessness from occurring in the Klondike. His second, and more important job, was to convince Americans, either by verbal argument or by Gatling gun, that the country beyond the height of land at the Chilkoot was Canadian territory.

In the appalling weather conditions of mid-February, he and a small contingent of men climbed the pass on February 25th. In a raging blizzard, the Mounties hoisted the Canadian flag and declared themselves open for business. That business was to ensure everyone entering Canadian territory carried a thousand pounds of supplies, paid duties on stuff taken across the border and remitted royalties on any gold taken out of the Klondike.

The Mounties would also ensure that the turmoil men and women encountered on the American side of the border would not happen in Canada. It was a defining moment in Yukon history and essentially ensured that Dawson and the gold fields would be as peaceful as possible under the onslaught of tens of thousands of foreign - mostly American - gold seekers.

Steele's first headquarters in the Yukon was at Lake Bennett. Miles Canyon and the Whitehorse Rapids were the most treacherous obstacles for the thousands of ill-equipped stampeders drifting down the Yukon River to Dawson. By June of 1898, a huge boat bottleneck had developed just above the rapids at Canyon City. Far too many boats had been wrecked and at least five people had drowned. The only surprise for Steele was the small number of deaths.

"Why more casualties have not occurred is a mystery to me", he wrote years later in his memoirs. In June, Steele issued an order that only skilled river pilots were permitted to take the boats through. The boats had to be registered and numbered at the Tagish Post and were required to report to the Mountie checkpoint at Canyon City, just above Miles Canyon. Those who tried to avoid the twenty-five dollar fee, charged by licensed river pilots, would have their outfits seized.

In the later summer of 1898, Steele moved his headquarters to Dawson City, where he was shocked to find "deposits of unimaginable kinds of filth". The town was a cesspool, an open sewer waiting to explode in the misery of disease and death. Typhoid raged and by the end of 1898, almost one hundred people would die, far more deaths than were caused by the austere land, the raging rapids and the icy blast of winter.

As well as heading up law enforcement, Steele assumed another duty when he named himself chairman of the Klondike Board of Health. His first order was to bartenders. "Make sure all the water served in drinks is boiled", he wrote.

He also constructed a substantial jail beside the Mounted Police barracks and ensured that the large building was kept warm all winter through the labour of convicts. Judge Sam Steele may not have been classed as a "hanging judge", but poor souls who appeared before his court were fined a significant sum before sentences to spend their days in the bush cutting wood, sawing it in the compound and piling it in neat cords. No Klondike crook escaped in the woodpile under Steele's command.

When the Yukon Field Force arrived to bolster the small contingent of Mounties, Steele immediately placed a number of the newcomers "under cover" since they were not known to the local criminals. He also put them on guard duty. There was a lot to guard since gold was flowing into the two local banks faster than booze was flowing out of the saloons. Steele's strategy was to make life very unattractive to gangsters who tried to relieve honest miners of their pokes. It worked so well that the hardened crooks usually left for greener pastures. Those who did not soon learned first-hand what it meant to receive a "blue ticket". Anyone issued a blue ticket by the Mounties was compelled to leave the Territories, never to return.

Sam Steele's memories of the early days in the Klondike tell a tale of governance "by the seats of the pants". "...my working hours were at least nineteen. I retired to rest about 2 am or later, rose at six, was out of doors at seven, walked five miles up the Klondike on the ice and back over the mountain, visited every institution under me each day, sat on boards and committees until midnight, attended to the routine of the Yukon command without an adjutant, saw every prisoner daily, and was in the town station at midnight to see how things were going." It's a good thing that the word "overtime" had not been in vogue during Steele's tenure as the boss of just about everything during the first year of the gold rush.

But it couldn't last forever, and Steele moved on as things calmed down in Dawson and the newly appointed Commissioner, William Ogilvie, was less inclined to give him free rein. It was not, however, the kind of departure the proud Mountie had hoped for. Steele, Conservative, had become embroiled in a series of messy controversies involving Liberal-appointed officials in Dawson. The man ultimately in charge of everything, and Sam Steele's boss, was Liberal Minister of the Interior, Clifford Sifton.

Sifton heeded the calls for the removal of Sam Steele. All three Dawson newspapers came to his defense and urged the government to reconsider. It was not to be. When the man now called "the Lion of the Frontier" left the Yukon, thousands of Dawson citizens lined the wharves to bid him farewell. He was presented with a purse of gold nuggets, in appreciation for his services, by Big Alex McDonald. The speech by the Nova Scotia - born, Klondike gold millionaire was succinct: "Here Sam - here's a poke. Poke for you. Goodbye." Big Alex McDonald, the Klondike King, was a man of few words.

In October, 1899 Sam Steele signed up to join the Canadians sent to the South African War, and was given command of Lord Strathcona's Horse, a mounted regiment. The unit saw plenty of action in the brutal guerrilla war and Steele won favourable attention from the British high command. After returing to Canada early in 1901, Steele went back to South Africa that same year to command a division of the South African Constabulary, a position held until 1906.

By 1907 he was back in Canada, but he was ill-prepared for the quiet life. The old warhorse was commanding Canada's military district No. 10 in Winnipeg in 1914 when World War I broke out. Steele signed on for active duty though he was sixty-four years old. He was given the rank of Major-General and put in charge of training all Canadian land forces from the Great Lakes to the Pacific. He served in Europe but again became involved in a bitter, political struggle over who should command the Canadian forces overseas.

He was now on the 'outs' with the Canadian government and he was overlooked for the British Empire's highest honour in 1918. Canada did not include him on a short list of names for knighthood. Instead, it was the British Home Forces Command that put his name foreward.

Sir Sam Steele wasn't a knight for long however. Shortly after receiving his title, he became another victim of a silent killer. The Spanish flu, which was devastating London, snuffed the life from a man who seemed larger than life itself.

The Lion of the Frontier, who could easily have died during the blizzards of a Chilkoot winter, succumbed instead in a small house in Putney, England in 1919. The troop ships returning from the First World War had no space for a corpse so it took six months before his body was returned to his old home in Winnipeg.

Strangely, the body of Sam Steele arrived in the middle of the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919. Riots were raging along Main Street but, the following day, there was a lull in the ongoing violence when the largest funeral procession Western Canada had ever seen made its way through the city streets.

Rioters, who hours earlier had pelted the Mounties with rocks and bottles, stood heads bowed, caps in hand and watched as Mounted Police officers in full uniform followed behind a riderless black horse with Sam Steele's boots reversed in the stirrups. Not a single voice was raised in anger. At his funeral, as in his colourful career, Sam Steele was bringing order to the Canadian West.

Note: Mount Steele, located in Kluane National Park, is Canada's fifth highest mountain at 16,664 feet above sea level. Steele Street in downtown Whitehorse, is also named for the famous Mountie.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin



Yukon Collared Pika

I once owned a hamster. Well, actually it was my kids’ hamster. A family pet. He lived to the ripe old age of five years - a long time, I am told, for a hamster. The little guy had his share of adventures, like the time he escaped, and was found two days later walking down the sidewalk near our house.

There is no doubt he was happy to come home - being a house hamster. I thought of that little rodent when I was doing some research about the Yukon pika. They look alike and are about the same size. About the size of a tennis ball, and cute. But the similarity ends there. The Yukon Collared Pika is one tough animal. Truly a special breed.

These tiny creatures live on isolated islands of rock rising out of the glaciers in the St. Elias Mountains. Their favourite foods – like willows and grasses -- are scarce, so they have adapted to life on the edge. They not only eat plants, but also dead birds.

Strange as it may seem, storms blow migrating songbirds onto the icefield glaciers, where they often die. The little pikas scurry out from the rocks and onto the glaciers to collect the dead birds, just as they collect alpine plants for drying. They are the only North American pikas known to eat meat.

The amazing creatures pile the dead birds like cordwood in their haystacks. Pikas build "haystacks" of dried grass in preparation for the winter. These so-called haystacks can be quite large. Building haystacks is essential to pika survival because they don’t hibernate and therefore need food for winter.

Since most rocky outcrops can support only one pair, pika juveniles are kicked out of the family home. Then, amazingly, the little creatures set off across the glacier to find another high mountain meadow and rocky outcrop.

It is hard to imagine an animal living in a more extreme environment. Food includes leaves of mountain avens, lupines, dwarf huckleberry, kinnikinnik, and grass. So if you are ever lucky enough to travel across the Kluane icefields, look and listen for the chattering call of the pika – a welcome sound in the often quiet landscape - the sound of an incredibly adapted Yukon wild creature.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

Click here to listen to this story

Emerald Lake

In the old days, as we old timers like to succinctly say, things were different. Yep, when we used to make a rare trip to Carcross on the winding, narrow dirt road, we rarely stopped to take pictures at Rainbow Lake.

That’s what we used to call this most photographed of all Yukon scenes. There weren’t many tourists around in the fifties and we had precious little interest in taking pictures anyway. Getting to Carcross - fast - was the main goal. I forget why!

Today, of course, that most photographed location is called Emerald Lake. I don’t know when the name changed from Rainbow to Emerald. Anyway, it is a favourite photo-op because of the gorgeous blue-green colour. Why does Emerald Lake look like that? Well, scientists who study such things explain it this way.

The colour is created by sunlight reflecting off a white layer of "marl" on the lake bed. Marl is calcium carbonate clay that forms in the water and then settles onto the lake bottom. It forms when the carbonate from dissolving limestone reacts with calcium in the water.

The limestone, in the surrounding hills, was created about 200 million years ago in a shallow sea. Imagine what it was like around here two hundred million years ago.

The valley of Emerald and Spirit lakes - now known as the Watson River Valley - was at one time covered by a glacier during the last ice age. These lakes formed when the glaciers retreated about 14,000 years ago.

Retreating ice deposited limestone gravel, eroded from the surrounding hills, onto the valley floor. The carbonate rich gravel eventually led to the formation of marl in the lake. Thus, the colour of Emerald Lake.

Got that? Good! So the next time you stop to take a picture on your way to Carcross, impress your travelling companions with the story of why the beautiful Emerald Lake looks the way it does.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Ted Harrison in his studio.


Ted Harrison and first nations student drawing at Vocational School. Whitehorse 1972/1973. Yukon Archives. Richard Harrington fonds, #391.


Ted Harrison instruction pottery class, Whitehorse. Yukon Archives. Richard Harrington fonds, #558.


He was trained as a classical painter in England.  He served with the British army in the 40s.  He came to the Yukon to teach school in the late 60s. Here, the scenery changed the way he looked as things, and turned him into one of Canada’s most recognizable and loved artists.

Ted Harrison headed for Carcross in the summer of 1968.  At the time, his mind was on his new job as a school teacher, but it wasn't long before the Yukon landscape took on almost mystical proportions for him.  In later years he would call the territory his Shangri-La.

Ted threw out all the classical painting knowledge he had been taught.  He saw the Yukon as a land of vibrant colours and strange shapes.  His skies became awash in golds, yellows, purples, reds and pinks.  His tilted houses were equally colourful.  The ravens were slightly out of kilter.  People wore brightly coloured clothes.  His hills, valleys and mountains curved hither and yon under the vivid sky.

Ted Harrison had developed a style so distinctive that I remember looking at a particularly stunning Yukon scene, and my sister saying… it looks just like a Ted Harrison painting.  In the early days of this style, many critics called his work naïve and child-like.

Many of those detractors would now be hard pressed to afford a Ted Harrison original. Outside the Yukon, his works are contained in the best of collections.  To have a Harrison in the art world is to have a Yukon gem.

Ted received international acclaim with the publication of his first book “Children of the Yukon.”  Subsequent books include two hard-covered art illustrations featuring the Cremation of Sam McGee and the Shooting of Dan McGrew. 

He’s had numerous showings outside the Yukon and the National Film Board made a feature film called “Harrison’s Yukon.”  I’ve enjoyed many a pleasant time with Ted and his wife Nicki, both gentle souls, who though they no longer live in the Yukon. Yukoners were saddened to learn of the depature of artist Ted Harrison with his wife Nicky for Victoria, B.C. Their move was necessitated by the deteriorating health of Nicky. They have left a legacy of art which has changed the way many people see the Yukon landscape.

Yukon has received international fame with poet Robert Service, writer Jack London and, now, artist Ted Harrison.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget of Les McLaughlin

Yukon Horse

Most of us love horses, and why not. They have worked for and played with us for centuries. They are generally friendly and sometimes downright loyal, and in the Yukon, they have a history that may pre-date man.

Horses originated in North America about fifty million years ago. They were then the size of a terrier. Through time, they increased in size, and grew larger teeth with better grinding surfaces.

In the north, scientists call the early ancestors of today's horse, the Yukon horse. It lived on grasslands of Eastern Beringia, areas of the Yukon that remain unglaciated. The Yukon horse was one of the commonest Ice Age animals. Indeed, horses evolved in North America and spread out to the Old World via the Bering Land Bridge. Yukon horses probably arose in Beringia two hundred thousand years ago.

We know what the Yukon horse looks like, partly because of an exceptional carcass found in 1993 by placer miners at Last Chance Creek near Dawson City. Backhoe work had exposed the foreleg and a large part of the hide in a mining trench. Archaelogists collected tail hairs and a small portion of the lower intestine.

It had died about twenty thousand years ago. The horse, about four feet tall, had lived in a parkland environment. While one of the best specimens, there have been many other partial carcasses found over the years. Many excellent specimens were found near Fairbanks, Alaska and the Dawson City area.

Fossils have been found as far north and east as Baillie Islands, Northwest Territories, and as far south as Ketza River and Scottie Creek in the Yukon.

Yukon horses seem to have died out about twelve thousand years ago in Eastern Beringia, mabye because of quick climatic change about the time of the last glaciation. It is also possible that human hunting hastened its demise.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Mammoth Tusk.


Dawson YT. Mastodon Head (Skull) uncovered at a depth of 42 feet on #5 below A. Mack's discovery. Yukon Archives. Walter R. Hamilton fonds, #17.

Mammoths and Mastodons

Once upon a time, the world grew cold. Got your attention? Beats another story about global warming eh! Well, about a million or more years ago, the earth began to cool. That lasted until just ten thousand years ago.

Great sheets of ice, sometimes a thousand feet thick, moved from the north, gouging out the land. It was the ice age. Somehow, these harsh conditions encouraged the development of giant mammals. Among them were the Mastodon and the Mammoth.

Both Mastodons and Mammoths were closely related to today's elephants. The Mastodon was shorter than an elephant, but more heavily built, with upward curving tusks. Mammoths ranged from six to 14 feet high at the shoulder.

Both were covered in thick reddish-brown hair. Both were vegetarians.

Mastodons originated about thirty-five million years ago in North Africa, spreading to Eurasia about twenty million years ago, and then came to North America via the Bering land bridge about fifteen million years ago.

They were followed by the Wooly Mammoth. We know what they looked like because of an amazing number of skeletons and sometimes, full animal carcasses were trapped in ice and kept frozen over the last thirty thousand years. The woolly mammoth, which was about the size of present-day Asiatic elephants, had a shaggy coat and large, curved ivory tusks.

Unlike most of the Yukon Territory, the Klondike was not glaciated in the last ice age. Thus gold nuggets, mammoth tusks and the bones of long-extinct, prehistoric animals settled to the bottom of the creeks and remained there, frozen in permafrost. In 1903, the New York Times featured an article about an amazing mammoth tusk more than ten feet long that had been found by a miner in the Klondike and brought to his Chicago home.

Hundreds of these ancient tusks have been found in the Klondike, along with the frozen remains of other primeval animals and artifacts from prehistoric peoples. The Yukon has become one of the world's major sources of fossilized woolly mammoths.

But these creatures could not cope with the rapidly changing environment and increasing human hunting toward the close of the last glaciation, and most became extinct about 11,000 years ago.



However, in 1993 came the startling discovery that dwarf woolly mammoths lived on Wrangel Island in the Bering Sea only about 4,000 years ago.



A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

Randy Hahn

It’s a long way from describing the Sourdough Rendezvous dog races on radio to doing the play-by-play broadcasts for the San Jose Sharks of the National Hockey League. However, it’s a journey Randy Hahn made with relative ease.

He was born in Edmonton and took his schooling at F.H. Collins in Whitehorse. In 1974, at age fifteen, Hahn impressed the folks at CKRW with his pleasant youthful voice and easy-going manner. He was hired for a weekend shift as a disc jockey.

Nearly a year later, that job would lead Hahn to his first play-by-play assignment -- calling the dog sled races at the Sourdough Rendezvous. He refers to it as "paw by paw" coverage.

A move to CBC and a series of summer relief jobs followed. When he graduated from F.H. Collins, Randy attended the University of British Columbia and got a job offer from a Vancouver radio station working broadcasts of NHL and Canadian Football League teams. That eventually led to a play-by-play job with the Edmonton Drillers soccer team.

In 1988, Hahn was hired as studio host of Los Angeles Kings hockey games on the Prime Ticket cable network. However, his broadcast career would continue to revolve around soccer. He was the play-by-play announcer at the 1990 World Cup in Italy and called action for the USA National Team soccer games on SportsChannel.

In 1990, Hahn was living in San Jose and helped bring the NHL to the area when he served as vice president of Pro Hockey San Jose - a grassroots corporation formed to attract an NHL franchise.

Hahn worked ten games as the Sharks' play-by-play man during their inaugural 1991-1992 season, and twelve during their second season. Then in 1993, he was hired as the full-time play-by-play announcer for the San Jose Sharks, and has held the job ever since.

Randy is looking forward to the day when he calls the games for the San Jose Sharks in the Stanley Cup final.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Bonnet Plume and Pinquit Lake. Yukon Archives. Ernie Barz fonds, #6.

The Bonnet Plume River

The Bonnet Plume is a beautiful Yukon river named for a Gwitchin Indian Chief, who all of his life, helped white trappers, traders and gold seekers, teaching them the ways of the land and, in some cases, saving their lives.

The Loucheaux or Gwitchin people called this river the Black Sands River because of the extensive deposits of magnetite-rich sand found on its bed. Andrew Flett, whose native name translated by French explorers as Bonnet Plume, was a chief of the band which used this region as traditional hunting and trapping grounds. He worked for the Hudson Bay Company when they began setting up posts in this remote region, the streams of which feed into the mighty Peel River.

Bonnet Plume also assisted Klondike gold-seekers who made their way over the so-called easy interior route to the Klondike. It was anything but easy, and many would-be prospectors had the good fortune to stumble upon his hunting camps. Otherwise, death was assured in this unforgiving land.

The Bonnet Plume is home to large, healthy populations of grizzly bears, wolves, moose, gyrfalcons and woodland caribou. It was also the site of the largest Peregrine Falcon study undertaken in the Territory. The falcon is the fastest bird in the world, reaching diving speeds of nearly 300 kilometers an hour. A stable population lives in the region.

The entire Bonnet Plume watershed was nominated as a Canadian Heritage River in 1992. It covers 12,000 square kilometers and extends almost 350 kilometers, from the river's headwaters along the Yukon - Northwest Territories border, to a point where it enters the Peel River.


The Canadian Heritage River System was established in 1984, as a cooperative program between federal, provincial and territorial governments. The objectives are to give national recognition to Canada's outstanding rivers and to ensure long-term management and conservation of their natural, cultural, historical, and recreational values. Three of the 28 designated rivers are in the Yukon - the Bonnet Plume, the Alsek, and the "Thirty Mile" section of the Yukon River.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


A monument to the many prospectors who have tramped the hills and valleys of the Yukon.


View of two men standing next to their three dogs carrying packs. Yukon Archives. H.C. Barley fonds, #5133.

The Prospector Statue

Welcome to the Yukon - Canada games participants. Hope you enjoy your stay and take in the sights when you are not swept up in the search for ulus.

There's a lot to see in my hometown, so maybe you'll need to come back in the spring or summer. Ah summer, when the prospectors head for the hills, hoping against hope that another Vangorda Creek or even an Eldorado might magically appear and help put their names in the prospectors honour role of lucky hunches.

But right now, if you want to see a larger-than-life prospector who represents all the men and women who have trudged the trails in search of a motherlode, you have only to walk down Main Street, where there stands a bronze figure at the corner of Third Avenue.

He is decently dressed, this marvellous facsimile of the McCoy. With high-top boots, a feather in his hat, a poke of gold hanging at the hip, he looks ready to take the mineral world by storm. His faithful malemute looks quite convincing, too.

The project to bring the prospector sculpture to life took four years from concept to construction, beginning in 1988, and would not have happened had it not been for Chuck Buchanan and Bruce Patnode.

In 1986, Patnode was president of the Yukon Prospectors' Association and served seven years as a director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines. He and Buchanan, founder of the Yukon Museum of Natural History and Frontierland Theme Park near Carcross, had ideas. The larger-than-life bronze goldseeker statue was the most ambitious.

As project co-ordinator, Patnode called the project "a good idea", but at one point, the project was destined to die on the drafting table. Patnode pressed on. Only he knows how he managed to pull the money together and find such a prominent place for the landmark in record time.

First, with a miniature clay prospector-dog model, known as maquette, Patnode promoted the "good idea" while circulating among the delegates attending the Geoscience Forum at the Westmark Hotel in November, 1991.

Once they accepted the plan and a cost-sharing agreement was set up with federal and territorial governments, Buchanan started the clay work in June 1992. They then sent the casting to a Montana foundry for bronzing, and shipping back to Whitehorse in record time and on schedule.

It was just then months from the day Buchanan cast the miniature image until the three-metre-tall prospector and his malamute companion magically appeared for the unveiling as part of the Mines Ministers' Conference in Whitehorse in September 1992.

When the conference delegates began their morning meetings, there was no sign of a statue. By lunch time, it was bolted down and covered with plastic. The area was clean and the heavy equipment gone. The prospector and his dog were unveiled to thunderous applause.



Attached to the base of the sculpture is an Honour Roll that pays tribute to individuals, companies and organizations who have walked the prospector's rocky road to fame.



A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


View of 'City of Seattle' in Glacier Bay with Muir Glacier in the background. Date: 1899. Yukon Archives. H.C. Barley fonds, #5138.

Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay is aptly named because it is home to many northern glaciers. Icebergs, that calve off the glaciers, float elegantly but dangerously in the frigid crystal blue water.

Many Yukon boat owners have used the ports of Skagway and Haines to sail into and around Glacier Bay. They marvel at the breathtaking mountain backdrop where the snows, that are older than history, add to the glacier’s ice cover before being dumped into the sea.

Here, along the 60-mile stretch of narrow fjords at the northern end of the Inside Passage, there are six tidewater glaciers.

Glacier Bay was first surveyed in detail in 1794 by a team from the H.M.S. Discovery, captained by George Vancouver. At the time, the survey showed a mere indentation in the shoreline. The largest glacier, the Grand Pacific, was more than 4,000 feet thick in places, up to 20 miles wide, and extended more than 100 miles to the St. Elias mountain range.

By 1879, American naturalist John Muir discovered that the ice had retreated more than 30 miles, forming an actual bay. By 1916, the Grand Pacific Glacier – the main glacier credited with carving the bay – had melted back 60 miles to the head of what is now Tarr Inlet. The most rapid glacial retreat ever recorded had occurred by 1916, when it was discovered that the ice had retreated 65 miles.

And that’s where the Yukon comes into play. In the mid-'60s, prospector and developer Leo Proctor, on behalf of the Yukon Research and Development Institute, flew over the area taking pictures of Tarr Inlet. He then boldly declared that the glacier had receded so far that Tarr inlet was now in Canadian territory and that a Canadian port could and should be built there.

He showed that building a road, from the port along the Tatshenshini valley to the Haines Road, would be easy. The economic implications for Canada, and the Yukon having its own seaport, were enormous, said Proctor. Well, nothing much came of the idea, and while the head of Tarr Inlet is sometimes in Canadian territory depending on what the glaciers are doing, it is unlikely a port will be built anytime soon.


In 1992 Glacier Bay became part of an international World Heritage Site, along with Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Kluane National Park. The park features snow-capped mountain ranges rising more than 15,000 feet, coastal beaches with protected coves, deep fjords, twelve tidewater glaciers, fresh-water lakes, and many plant species.


But for now, it does not feature a Canadian deep water coastal port.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


The future of a mining town is usually guaranteed. It will become a ghost town. So it was with Cassiar, a company-owned asbestos mining town in Northern British Columbia. After 40 years of operation the mine closed in 1992.

Early prospectors had seen asbestos in McDane Mountain in the Cassiars as far back as the early 1870s. Native people told goldseekers about the wooly hill to the north. They talked of birds that built their nests of white fluff that could withstand the heat of fire.

Famed Yukon prospector Anton Money visited the remote region in 1923 and saw veins of asbestos. He wrote that although transportation seemed far away from this isolated corner of the wilderness, this could be an important discovery. He was right.

In 1950, two prospectors, Victor Sitler and Hyrum Nelson and two equipment operators from Lower Post, BC staked the first claims on McDane Mountain. Then the renowned Alec Berry a Conwest Mining man in Whitehorse heard about it. Pretty soon his company Conwest Exploration sent a geologist from Toronto to Watson Lake with instructions to “get up there and buy it”. This event led to the formation of Cassiar Asbestos Corporation.

In 1952 Conwest decided that a mine was feasible. A tent town was built to accommodate Cassiar’s first 250 pioneer miners and construction workers. In 1953 the company’s first production mill was in operation, eventually producing more than 4000 tons of ore a day. It was shipped by truck over the grueling Cassiar highway to Watson Lake, then to Whitehorse for loading on to the White Pass railway. A Cassiar transport division with headquarters in Whitehorse was established and a fleet of trucks carried 24 tons of bagged fiber the 350 miles to the railway.

It was a heady time, but it came to an end in 1992. The shutdown was driven by diminished demand for asbestos and huge costs after converting from an open-pit mine to an underground mine. Cassiar which once had a population of 1500 is gone. A few houses were sold off and trucked away, but many were bulldozed and burned to the ground. Today the ghosts walk the land were once a thriving mining town existed.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


This 1989 photo shows the restored No.4 dredge.


This photo shows the beauty of the tailings left by the gold dredges.


A side view of dredge Canadian No. 4. Date: 1916. Yukon Archives. Claude & Mary Tidd fonds, #8396.

Gold Dredge No. 4

When she was built in 1912 on Bonanza Creek, she entered the record books as the largest dredge in the world. For almost 50 years, this magnificent structure helped turn the Klondike valley upside down and produced millions in gold for her owners.

They didn't give personalized names to dredges as they did riverboats back in the old days. If they had, dredge no. 4 would have been called King of the Klondike. She was built in the summer and winter of 1912, on claim number 112 below discovery on Bonanza Creek, by the Canadian Klondike Gold Mining company. Looking like a huge floating hotel, she was eight storeys high and two-thirds the length of a football field. Massive. That's the only way to really describe her.

The dredge, with huge 16-cubic-foot buckets, could dig down almost 50 feet to bedrock where millions of dollars in gold lay waiting to be dragged to the surface. When she started work in the spring of 1913, it took 300 men to keep the dredge operational from April till November. She slowly, but surely, dug her way upstream into what was then known as the Boyle concession, ground owned by Big Joe Boyle. There, in 1924, she sunk and was out of service for three years. In 1927, dredge no. 4 was refloated and dug her way down the Klondike valley and over to the rich ground on Hunker creek. Here it's said, she dug up 800 ounces of gold in a single day on claim 67 below discovery.

In 1941, she was dismantled and rebuilt by the Yukon Consolidated Gold Corporation on lower Bonanza, where she operated until 1959. The end came because the gold just wasn't enough to maintain the operating costs. But in her day, old dredge no. 4 had produced almost nine million dollars in gold when the yellow metal was no more than $35 an ounce.

The dredge sat in her final pond for more than 30 years. In 1991, she was excavated, refloated and moved to her present location on high ground near the world famous Bonanza Creek, an impressive reminder of how gold and the Klondike made Yukon history.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

Elijah Smith

It was an historic day for native people in the Yukon. In February, 1973, representatives for the Yukon Native Brotherhood were in Ottawa to present their Yukon land claim.

Led by Chief Elijah Smith, they delivered a document called 'Together Today for Our Children Tomorrow' to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau. The meeting is often heralded as the turning point for settlements of aboriginal rights in Canada. I was there that day, and well recall that they impressed the Prime Minister with the presentation, and with the ad-libbed words of wisdom from Elijah Smith.

Later that year, the Yukon Native Brotherhood and the Yukon Association of Non-Status Indians joined forces to form the Council for Yukon Indians to further the land claim process that had just begun.

Edward Elijah Smith, the son of Annie Ned, had a lot to do with that. He was born on July 12, 1912, in Champagne, and lived in the Yukon all his life except the six years he spent with the Canadian Army overseas during WW II. However, it was in the Yukon that Elijah Smith became a fighter.

By the mid-1960s the Yukon First Nations, fearful of losing their cultural identity, began to organize. During hearings on the federal white paper at Whitehorse in 1968, Smith spoke of being treated like squatters in their own country. He said that Yukon Indians wanted the government of Canada to see that we get a fair settlement for the use of the land.

Elijah Smith was the founding president of the Yukon Native Brotherhood and was also a founding Chairperson of the Council for Yukon Indians, since renamed the Council of Yukon First Nations. He encouraged Yukon native people to stay in school. Many of these students would eventually play instrumental roles in land claims and self-government negotations.

He served as Chief of the Kwanlin Band, Founding President of the Yukon Native Brotherhood, Founding Chairman of the Council for Yukon Indians, and Yukon representatives to the National Indian Brotherhood.

He spoke persuasively of the need for unity among First Nations people long before his vision was widely accepted. Twenty years after Elijah Smith led a group of Yukon native people to Ottawa, they signed the umbrella final land claim agreement, setting the stage for the completion of modern-day treaties for each of the Yukon's fourteen First Nations.

Smith held an honourary degree of Doctor of Laws and was named to the Order of Canada. He remained a prominent figure throughout the land claims process until his death in a tragic accident in October, 1991. To honour his memory, the federal building in Whitehorse is named for him, as well is the Elijah Smith elementary school in Whitehorse opened on September 8, 1992.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Hootalinqua junction at Carmacks with Lewis River. Yukon Archives. Frank Foster fonds, #158.

The Thirty Mile River

The Yukon River is one of the grandest in the world. It flows almost two thousand miles from Marsh Lake to the Bering Sea. One of the gems in the entire Yukon River system - a section only thirty miles long - is now Canadian Heritage river.

More than half of the territory is drained by the Yukon River. That's a lot of fresh water heading into the salt-laden Bering Sea. The Yukon is fed by tributaries from the great mountain areas...the St. Elias, Cassiar, Pelly, Selwyn, and Ogilvie Mountains.

It might be surprising to some, but the Yukon River originates in the southern lakes, just 25 kilometers from the Pacific Ocean. Then it meanders northwest for 1140 km through the boreal forest of Yukon's central lowlands to the Alaska border. From here it flows westward for another 2,060 km through central Alaska and empties into the Bering Sea. A long river by any standards.

The Thirty Mile section is a relatively narrow channel. It begins at the northern end of Lake Laberge, and ends at the Teslin River, at a place called Hootaliqua. And the river has a special place in Canadian history.

At its peak in 1898, the Klondike Gold Rush saw more than 30,000 gold seekers, in at least 7,000 boats, travel the Thirty Mile sailing from Lake Bennett to the goldfields. Although Hootalinqua already existed as a stopping place for Teslin River miners, both it and Lower Laberge became very important during and after the gold rush. At Lower Laberge, there was a telegraph station, a North West Mounted Police post, supply depots, and a roadhouse. At Hootalinqua there was a telegraph station and police post, and later, on nearby Shipyard Island, slipways and a winter storage yard for paddle-wheelers. 17-Mile Wood Camp, as it was called, was one of many along the river.

At Lower Laberge, Hootalinqua and the 17-Mile Wood Camp you can still see the remains of the log buildings in varying states of repair. Of particular interest are the remains of the slipways and winter storage facility on Shipyard Island. Built in 1913 by the British Yukon Navigation Company, it is the last such site in the Yukon.


Here the 360-ton S.S. Evelyn, built in 1908, lies as a rustic reminder of those riverboat days. It was hauled to shore at the close of the 1913 shipping season. Sadly, the hull is slowly disintegrating.


The swift, narrow channel of the Thirty Mile was the most difficult part of the stern-wheelers' run between Whitehorse and Dawson City. Its strong current, shifting shoals and treacherous rocks claimed more ships than any other stretch of the Yukon River. Simply marked grave sites are found along the Thirty Mile, and some locations are named after the boats wrecked there - Domville Creek, Casca Reef, La France Creek and Tanana Reef. The Thirty Mile was designated a Canadian Heritage river in 1991.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

Yukon Flying Squirrel

My Dad used to say that this or that would happen when pigs fly. Pigs can't fly, I'd tell him. "It's just an old expression," he would say, frowning at my naiveté.

But squirrels can. Really? Yep, some can, and today we'll explore the lifestyle of a tiny creature whom you will seldom see. Just like flying pigs.

On the limb of a tall spruce tree in the dense Yukon forest, a tiny rodent - not much bigger than a mouse - prepares for a 50-metre journey through the air to a landing spot on another chosen tree. As it leaps into space, its four limbs spread wide, withloose fur-covered skin stretched out to create a parachute, the Northern Flying Squirrel glides along, twisting and turning through the trees.

The squirrel steers by adjusting the tightness of the skin flap and position of its front legs. The tail acts as a stabilizer, like the tail of a kite.

As the long journey nears its finale, the squirrel swoops up at the last moment, reducing its speed with air brakes - like a just-landed 737 - and settles gently on the branch.

It turns out this miracle of squirrel flying is not really flying. Instead, the Yukon Flying Squirrel is an accomplished glider. The tiny mammal is common in Yukon forests, but because it's a nocturnal owl, few Yukoners have ever seen one.

Because biologists have not studied the flying squirrel much in the Yukon, its distribution is not well known. Still, they say there are plenty of them around.

You've all seen red squirrels. Well, the flying guy is about half that size, weighing in at about 100 grams, the size of a big chocolate bar. Brown-grey fur on the top of its body contrasts sharply with the pale, cream-coloured underparts.

The loose skin that runs from the wrist to ankle means the little guy is not very agile on the ground, but a thing of beauty in the air. With the help of its flattened tail, the flying squirrel can bank and turn in mid-glide. The large bright eyes help give the flying squirrel a unique appearance.

Like all squirrels, the young are born in a tree in spring. Sometimes a mother will glide while holding one of the young in her mouth.

Unlike red squirrels, flying squirrels are very sociable. As many as twenty flying squirrels have been found sleeping in a single communal winter nest.

So you ask, how can I see this tiny creature that only comes out at night. Well, usually you don't, but some observers have reported seeing flying squirrels as they land softly on a bird feeder.

I saw one in the small forest above the clay cliffs many years ago. What kind of bird looks like a mouse, I later asked my Dad.

Dunno know, he said, but if you think you saw such a creature, the next thing you'll be telling me is that pigs can fly.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


See also: Ground Squirrels


Source: National Geographic.

Ground Squirrels

Spring has sprung, the grass has riz, I wonder where the ground squirrel is? Well, by mid-April or early May, these indicators of Yukon spring will be everywhere - along the roadsides, standing straight up watching and talking. Most people call them gophers and that's OK, but they really are squirrels.

You'll be happy to see them too, because they have been well hidden in their burrows under the deep snow since mid-September. Ground squirrels live all over the Yukon, from southern meadows to the Arctic coastal plain and from sea level to above 2000 meters - or 6000 feet. They like ground that has sandy soil because it makes digging easy and quickly drains spring flood waters and the heavy summer rain.

The ground squirrel is built for life close to the land, with stubby legs and powerful claws which makes them natural diggers. These digs or burrows are their colonies, where the dominant male controls the territory.

A colony's burrow may have fifty entrances and a maze of tunnels that are used year after year. In winter, arctic ground squirrels go into deep hibernation and their body temperature falls to near 0°C.

They are the only mammals known to allow their body temperatures to drop below freezing. By super cooling in hibernation, they save lots of energy needed for the long winter snooze and early spring romps when food is scarce.

In the spring mating season, encounters between males gets downright nasty and can turn into a boundary brawl. The fighters roll around in a ball and sometimes can be hurt quite badly. The winner earns the right to mate with the females residing in their hard-won space. Females come out one to two weeks after males do, and are ready to mate within a few days.

The young are tiny, but grow up fast. At twenty days, their eyes are open. Soon after, the young squirrels make their outside debut.


Female Arctic ground squirrels produce a single litter of five to ten young each year. To protect their offspring, mothers move them to different burrows and forcefully defend them from marauding predators, including strange squirrels. A Yukon study proved that male intruders from other colonies sometimes kill the young.


If a coyote comes by, the ground squirrel exhibits its native name by chattering "sik-sik-sik".

They often sit on rocks or brush piles, always on the lookout. So keep an eye out for them, and take some time to enjoy their antics. They are a hoot to watch as one of the Yukon's natural summer treasures.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

See also: Yukon Flying Squirrel

Elsa & Keno

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

Lilias Farley

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


Johnnie Johns.


Ken McKinnon presenting the Commissioners Award to Johnnie Johns 1987.

Johnnie Johns was born at Tagish on July 10, 1898.

Johnnie Johns was born at Tagish on July 10, 1898. He was the eldest son of Maria and Tagish Johns and was a member of the Crow clan of the Deishheetaan tribe. His Tlingit name was Yeil Shaan, which means Old Crow.

During his lifetime, his contributions towards the development of the Yukon have been numerous. At the age of 19, he started his own guiding outfit. During his time as an outfitter he was known as one of the top ten guides in the world. As a life-long trapper and fisherman, these talents were second to none. He helped blaze the way for the construction of the Alaska Highway.

He was one of Yukon's best gems and most widely respected elders, who generated warmth and kindness. His domain was the outdoors and all it had to offer. He sang, drummed and danced the stars to bed.


The Klondike Gold Rush was in full swing.  The tiny village of Caribou Crossing was witnessing first-hand the largest mass movement of humanity in North American history.  Johnnie Johns was born that year.  One time, in the '50s, the Duke of Edinburgh asked him where he was born.  In typical Johnnie humour he answered, “Under a spruce tree.”  Not quite, but the village, later known as Carcross, was his life-long home.

Young Johnnie grew up with the greats of the gold rush all around him.  Skookum Jim, Patsy Henderson, Tagish Charlie: they were all there in Johnnie’s formative years.

By the time he turned 17, Johnnie Johns had become a full-fledged big-game guide.  In 1918, years ahead of his time, he placed an ad in Outdoor Life magazine.  Soon, the young man had more rich American hunters knocking at his door than he could handle.  He quickly became known throughout North America as the guide who could guarantee a trophy.

By the 1930s, he was guiding as many as a dozen hunters at a time - each paying 100 dollars a day.  Huge money back then.  He loved to say that as a guide he provided everything needed for a hunt, except “liquor and women - bring your own, ” Johnnie told his guests.

Hunts with Johnnie often yielded Boone and Crockett records of Dall Sheep, woodland caribou and southern lakes moose.  One photo shows Johnnie dwarfed by a massive moose rack.  He recalled that photo was taken in the Wheaton River valley on the last day of a hunt in 1942.  He remembered that he let loose his patented call over a moose pasture and 12 moose stood up to have a look.

When Alaska Highway construction brought another wave of newcomers to the Yukon in the form of the American Army, Johnnie was hired as a guide to help survey the route between Carcross and Teslin.  The US government paid him 26 dollars a day plus two dollars for each of his eight horses.  Forty-two dollars a day was big money then.  With his guiding and other work, Johnnie Johns was rarely short of that necessary commodity, but he was also generous to a fault.

He had three children, including Art Johns, who learned the big-game trade working with his dad, and many grandchildren who in his later years gave Johnnie great pleasure when they would show up en masse and unannounced at his home.



In the early 80s, he finally gave up his life-long career of big-game outfitting, though he still took visitors to his favourite fishing holes in the southern lakes that he loved.



The last time I saw Johnnie Johns in 1986, he was singing and telling stories at the kitchen table of our mutual friend Willard in Carcross.  Willard asked Johnnie to recite a poem he had written while on a hunt with a long-time American friend, William Buchan.  Johnnie said that he and Buchan decided to sit around the camp instead of hunting, and they composed the poem that sums up his attitude to life.

I remember a tear in Johnnie’s eye as he recited the poem; the last verse of which goes:

I’ll tell the piper what to play
Until the fates my threads have spun
Death never takes a holiday
It’s time to get some living done.

Johnnie Johns did some living.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Cover of a booklet written by McQuesten.

Leroy Napoleon “Jack” McQuesten (1836-1909) FATHER OF THE YUKON

He was in the Yukon long before almost anyone knew where the territory was, long before it was a territory, for that matter. Leroy "Jack" McQuesten rightly earned the nickname, Father of the Yukon.

He was born in New Hampshire in 1836. He worked on a Puget Sound-based schooner owned by his older brother. That’s where he got the nickname, "Jack", which was later prefixed with the title "Captain." And why not - when he entered the Yukon district, McQuesten skippered one of the first steamboats that plied the Yukon River.

In 1874, McQuesten established Fort Reliance, six miles down the Yukon river from what would later become Dawson City. He used Reliance as his trading post for about a decade. While there, he made the first recording of Yukon weather in 1880-81. In 1879, McQuesten was hired by the Hudson's Bay Company to manage their trading posts. In 1893, he founded Circle City, Alaska.

McQuesten was one of the first white men to marry a native Athabascan woman in the Yukon Alaska district – Katherine McQuesten. He proudly told his relatives in the southern United States how much he loved his dark-skinned children. McQuesten came into the country with his partners, Arthur Harper and Al Mayo. They established trading posts at Stewart City, Fort Reliance, Forty Mile, Eagle, Circle City, and Fort Yukon, and McQuesten’s patience with native trappers became legendary. The trading posts also served as meeting places.

Before the Mounties arrived in the Yukon, McQuesten, Harper or Mayo presided over miners’ meetings. This is where the law was established and enforced in the mining camps. At the post in Forty Mile in 1894, the Alaskan and Yukon Order of Pioneers were formed, with Captain Jack McQuesten as the first President.

As a businessman, McQuesten did well. His philosophy was that if everyone is digging for gold, someone has to sell them the shovels. After twenty-five years in the North, he could afford to move his family into a palatial Victorian home at Berkeley, California, and educate his children in the best schools. Leroy Jack McQueston died in 1909 and his wife Katherine in 1921.


A tributary of the Yukon River is named the McQuesten River. The area also features the McQuesten Mineral Belt. Yukon Jack, the 100-proof Canadian whiskey is said to be named after McQuesten. Leroy “Jack” McQuesten was also inducted into the Yukon Prospectors’ Association’s Hall of Fame in1988. His name is engraved on the goldseeker statue in Whitehorse.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

Audrey McLaughlin

When Audrey McLaughlin loaded her pickup truck and headed west from Ontario in 1979, she could not have imagined the roller-coaster ride that in ten years would take her into Canadian history book.

Ontario-born Audrey Brown married a mink rancher, Don McLaughlin, when she was just 18. Soon she found herself living in an old farm house with two kids and hundreds of mink to look after. She left the relationship in 1972 and moved to Toronto to become the executive director of the city's Canadian Mental Health Association.

By 1979, she was once again ready for change. The call of the mountains beckoned and she drove the Alaska Highway in her new maroon half-ton pickup. In Whitehorse, she started a consulting business - working on projects such as child welfare legislation and conducting research on land claims and aboriginal self-government.

By 1987, the political landscape in the Yukon was undergoing dramatic change as Erik Nielsen's 30-year career, as the Conservative member of parliament, ended.

The door was now open to new faces with new ideas. Audrey was recruited to run for the NDP nomination in the coming by-election.

On the third ballot at the NDP's Yukon party convention, McLaughlin surprised everyone with a victory over favourite son, Maurice Byblow.

Until then, her only political experience, apart from 17 years of working behind the scenes for the NDP, was to run for Whitehorse city council. She lost.

In the federal by-election of 1987, she beat the Liberal candidate, former Mayor Don Branigan, by 332 votes and was on her way to Ottawa.

During her first two years in office, McLaughlin served as the NDP critic for Northern Development, Tourism, the Constitution and Revenue Canada. In 1988, she became chair of the party caucus.

Then, after just two years as a federal MP, she ran for the leadership of the party, after Ed Broadbent resigned. To everyone's surprise, she beat Dave Barrett, the former Premier of B.C., on the fourth ballot. Audrey McLaughlin entered the history books on that day in December of 1989, as the first female leader of a national political party.

Some views she held strongly, and she was not afraid to go against her party's official position. She opposed the proposed Meech Lake constitutional accord because - she said - it would forever prevent the Yukon from becoming a province. The Meech Lake accord died.

In the 1993 federal election, she retained the Yukon riding, but the NDP lost its official party status in the House of Commons. In April 1994, she stepped down as party leader, but remained interim leader until her successor, Alexa McDonough, was chosen at the NDP convention in Ottawa in 1995.

McLaughlin remained a member of parliament until 1997. After her retirement, she served as President of the Socialist International Women and was appointed special representive for the Government of Yukon on circumpolar affairs.

From her office in the country's only log skyscraper, the Ontario native, who chose the Yukon as her home, has made a significant mark on the Canadian political landscape.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Erik and Shelley Nielsen in Whitehorse 1984.


Letter dated August 30, 1979 when Erik Nielsen became acting Prime Minister.


Erik and friends on a goose hunting trop to Nisutlin Bay near Teslin.


Erik on a swing at Army Beach, Marsh Lake 1954. - P.J. Nielsen and Marg Hougen looking on.


The Nielsen Family 1961 - Erik, Roxanne, Rick, P.J. and Lee.


C. Supt Harry Nixon congratulating Roxanne on joining the RCMP - proud father looks on.


Leader of the opposition, Brian Mulroney, addressing the crowd in Whitehorse at Erik's 25th anniversary in the H of C.


Marg and Rolf Hougen joined Erik and Shelley for dinner at their home in Kelowna 2006.


Chief Charlie Abel, Erik Nielsen, Joe Netro in Old Crow.


P.J. and Erik prior to a RCAF Mess Hall dinner 1954.


Erik talking to George Bush Senior, then U.S. Vice President.


Erik with brother Leslie in Ottawa during his swearing in as Deputy Prime Minister of Canada.

Erik Nielsen

From June of 1957 until April of 1958, he ran in three federal elections. In less than a year, this Yukoner lost and won more elections than most politicians do in a lifetime.

Erik Nielsen's life as a politician is the stuff legend, except most of it is true. The young lawyer came to the Yukon in 1952, and he brought with him a distinguished war record. As a pilot in the RCAF during World War II, he flew 23 missions with a Lancaster bomber squadron. Then, as a commissioned pilot/officer, he flew 33 bombing missions over Europe, including the epic D-Day invasion in 1944. Nielsen was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, but that was just the beginning.

In 1957, he won the Progressive Conservative nomination and headed into the June federal election against long time Liberal incumbent, Aubrey Simmons. When the vote was counted in the Yukon, Erik had a 52-vote lead. At the time, however, members of the Armed Forces overseas could designate their voting riding. One hundred and 77 voted in the Yukon riding. When that vote was counted, Simmons won the election, by 70 votes. Nationally, under John Diefenbaker, the Conservatives formed a minority government.

But it wasn't over in the Yukon. The local conservatives filed a petition claiming numerous voting irregularities, including that of seven people having voted twice. Even the winning Liberals agreed that the election was flawed. In December of 1957, a by-election was held in the Yukon. This time, Nielsen won by a slim 128-vote margin. He was now a member of the minority federal government.

Having toured the Yukon in his private plane during the previous two elections, Nielsen kept his engines running. Good thing. In April of 1958, Diefenbaker called yet another federal election. Erik Nielsen and Aubrey Simmons were again on the hustings, for the third time in 10 months.

This time, Nielsen won the Yukon seat by a margin of nearly 700 votes. The Progressive Conservatives won a huge majority nationally, and Erik Nielsen began a thirty-year career which took him further, politically, than any Yukoner had gone before.

As a member of the largest majority government in Canadian history, he became known in Ottawa as Yukon Erik. Slowly but surely, he was making a name for both himself and the territory he presented.

In May of 1958, after the Conservative landslide victory in the federal election, Erik Nielsen was selected by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker to address the reply to the Speech from the Throne. It was a small, but important gesture. Nielsen would become a confidant of the Prime Minister, a supporter and friend for the rest of Dief's days.

It would stand the Yukon in good stead, as federal eyes turned northward for the first time since the gold rush. A 'roads to resources' program was established, which eventually included the building of the Dempster Highway, the Skagway road, and upgrades to the Alaska and Haines highways. Dawson City became a national historic site. Nielsen also made the first federal proposal to allow the Yukon and NWT a seat each in the senate. It was a heady time for the young lawyer-turned-politician from the Yukon.

In 1962, after four years with the largest majority in Canadian history, the conservatives were hammered in the federal election. They were barely able to form a minority government. Nielsen easily won the Yukon seat, but he knew yet another federal election was not far off. A year later, in 1963, Nielsen fought his fifth election in six years, certainly some sort of parliamentary record. Again, Yukon Erik won handily, but the Diefenbaker government was defeated. As the Liberals under Lester Pearson assumed power, Nielsen became a member of the opposition. It's a role the feisty lawyer seemed to enjoy and would earn him yet another nickname...Hawk of the House.

The mid-60s heralded a tumultous time in Canadian politics, and the member of parliament for the Yukon would be at the centre of it all.

By 1964, Erik Nielsen was considered a veteran on Parliament Hill. He'd been there for seven years. The Liberals were in power. As a member of the official opposition, Nielsen thought it his duty to challenge the government at every turn. And to embarrass if if he could.

But never in his wildest dreams did the Yukon MP think he'd be the spark that kindled a wild-fire of scandal in the Liberal party. Nielsen had developed a select group of sources. This paid off when he learned that Liberal political aides in Quebec were receiving kickbacks in exchange for political favours.

His revelations rocked Ottawa. Then, when he discovered that a notorious Montreal drug dealer, Lucien Rivard, had been allowed to water a skating rink outside the confines of his prison cell and escaped to the US, the scandal resulted in a judicial inquiry. The Liberal justice minster Guy Favreau was forced to resign. The Liberals were in disarray. Nielsen was dubbed by the media...Hawk of the House.

The result was yet another federal election, in November of 1965. Nielsen fought and won his sixth election in eight years. But, the Conservatives, under Diefenbaker, lost and Nielsen was again a member of the official opposition. Not until 1979 would he be a member of the governing party. That year, under leader Joe Clarke, the Tories held power for a mere nine months. Nielsen joined the cabinet as Minister of Public Works. In 1980, the Liberals were returned to office. It would be four more years before Yukon Erik would again taste the fruits of power.

It seems a distant memory now, but it was only fourteen years ago that the Conservatives, under Brian Mulroney, were swept into office with the largest majority government in history. Along with it, the political fortunes of the member for the Yukon rose and fell in three short years.

Pierre Trudeau had taken a long walk in the snow. John Turner took a short stroll to lead the Liberal party into the federal election of 1984. Both were political veterans with political baggage. On the other hand, Brian Mulroney was a fresh face on the national scene, and he led the Progressive Conservatives to a stunning landslide victory.

When it came to politics, Mulroney's closest advisor was Erik Nielsen. In September of that year, the member of parliament for the Yukon achieved his highest office. Yukon Erik was appointed Deputy Prime Minister. He was also given the job of re-organizing all aspects of the way federal departments operated. For a time, he also held the post of defense minister when Bob Coates was forced to resign. He was also fisheries minister for a short time when John Fraser was forced to resign.

Nielsen, backed by Mulroney, was arguably the most powerful politician in the country. But the hodge-podge collection of conservatives, including separatists from Quebec, long time political hacks from Ontario, and alienated liberals from the west, proved an unwieldy bunch. As Nielsen had revealed Liberal scandals in the 60s and 70s, now the Liberals were doing the same to the Conservatives. Cabinet ministers were forced to resign. Back-benchers were caught using their political power to personal advantage.

As Deputy Prime Minister, Nielsen was forced to defend Sinclair Stevens in the House of Commons as the opposition accused the cabinet minister of using his ministerial office for personal benefit. It's likely Nielsen knew he was defending the indefensible. What became known as the 'Stevens affair' in 1986, got Nielsen to thinking about his political future.

Then the press revealed excerpts a from private interview Nielsen gave in 1973. They charged that Nielsen received much of his information about Liberal scandals back in the '60s by installing listening devises in the Liberal caucus rooms. Nielsen vehemently denied the charge, but the resulting furor in the House of Commons prompted Brian Mulroney to force Nielson to offer an apology. Reluctantly, Yukon Erik stood in the House of Commons and, looking at the Prime Minister, he apologized.

Shortly thereafter, Nielsen announced that he would be leaving federal politics before the next federal election. His friendship with Mulroney was shattered. His love of the House of Commons turned to disgust. After he resigned on January 19th, 1987, he wrote a book whose title reveals the thoughts of this 30-year veteran of the political wars in Ottawa. It was called "The House is Not a Home".

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


See also: Leslie Nielsen

Richard Finnie

When I first met him in the late 1960s, he liked to be called Klondike Dick. Richard Finnie had a soft spot for Dawson City where he was born in 1906. His father O.C.S. Finnie was a mining recorder at the time. His maternal grandfather Richard Roediger was founder of the Dawson Daily News in 1899.

But Klondike Dick didn’t spend that much time in the Klondike. The family moved to Ottawa in 1909 when his father became inspecting engineer for the Department of the Interior and later served as director of the Northwest Territories and the Yukon until his retirement in 1931.

From there Richard began his beat, which was the entire North. He carried both still and motion picture cameras. He served as an assistant radio operator under Captain Bernier on board the Canadian government ship “Arctic” first in 1925.

Then in 1928 he took the first official motion picture of the Arctic’s expedition. It was the first in a long line of professional films by Richard Finnie. One photo shows a comical Richard Finnie, dressed in only a bathing suit diving off the wooden ship into an open lead in the ice-covered waters, probably the first Polar Bear swim.

In 1939 he produced a film in Fort Rae entitled “Dogrib Treaty”. Then in 1942 he produced two films which have contributed a great deal to Northern history about the Canol pipeline and the Alaska Highway, both of which gained much acclaim.

His book “Canada Moves North” was described by Stefansson as "the best general book about northern Canada". Finnie retired as official historian and film producer for Bechtel Corporation in 1968 after 25 years covering in word and picture Bechtel’s international construction projects. During Finnie’s 25 years with the company he produced more than 60 films often being his own cameraman as well as writer, director and narrator. His subjects included the first major Athabasca oilsands development in Northern Alberta.

Klondike Dick Finnie was a fellow of the Artic Institute of North America and a honorary member of the Yukon Order of Pioneers. Richard Sterling Finnie, a resident of Belvedere, California since 1951, died at his home on February 2, 1987, at the age of 80.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Alsek River, as seen from summit of Mt. Kelvin 5000 ft. above it, July 3 1898. Yukon Archives. Joseph B. Tyrrell fonds, #27.

The Alsek River

The Alsek is a mighty river, and not one to be challenged by the faint of heart. It's fed by the massive glaciers of the St. Elias Mountains in Kluane National Park. Here lies an incredible landscape of towering mountains, active glaciers and broad valleys. The Alsek is one of the park's most precious jewels. Like a lot of places in the Yukon, it had many names. Its native name was first reported by Russian explorers in 1825. As early as 1786, a French explorer, LaPerouse, called it the Riviere du Behring. In 1886, Frederick Schwatka named it the Jones River after one of his expedition's sponsors. Schwatka had a habit of honoring those who paid his way and seldom cared if a geographical feature had another name. At one time, the U.S. geographical survey called it the Harrison River after a U.S. president. The Canadian government finally got its act together and officially restored the original name, Alsek, in 1891.

From its origin as a meandering stream at the confluence of the Kaskawulsh, Dust and Dezadeash rivers, the Alsek flows for 250 km across the Yukon, the northern top of British Columbia and the Alaskan panhandle, emptying into the Pacific Ocean at Dry Bay in Alaska. This is a region of big-water rapids, canyons, glaciers and floating icebergs. On its way through the park, the river passes through a remote wilderness area, an undisturbed natural habitat for species of both Pacific Coast and Arctic plant life. The largest population of Grizzly bears in the world lives here.

The Alsek River contains many significant natural features which have resulted from the action of water, wind and glaciers on the landscape. Many areas of exceptional natural beauty and some of Canada's most important northern ecosystems are found here. The Lowell Glacier, one of the largest in the world, forms a large section of the Alsek Valley wall and calves, with tremendous force, into the Alsek below.

Small numbers of native people have inhabited the Kluane region for perhaps 10,000 years. Ancestors of the Southern Tutchone arrived in the vicinity about 4,500 years ago.


Some of the traditional hunting, fishing and trading camps, such as the village of Klukshu, just outside the park, have been used for more than 1,000 years. In the 1890's, during the Klondike Gold Rush, the first white men came into the area from the south, travelling over the Dalton Trail to Dalton Post and other points north. Some stayed to prospect and mine the Kluane Ranges for a period at the beginning of the century.


In 1986, a 90-kilometer section of the Alsek River was designated a Canadian Heritage River. A plaque commemorating the dedication is located in Haines Junction.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

Expo ‘86

It was a magical time - a time during the endless Vancouver summer to showcase the sights, sounds and pleasures of the Yukon. They called it Expo '86, a six-month world fair about transportation and communications. It featured exhibits from fifty-four countries and countless corporations.

Expo '86 was opened by Prince Charles, Princess Diana, and Prime Minister Brian Mulroney on May 2, 1986. The largest single-day attendance was a whopping 341,806 on Sunday, October 12.

As someone lucky enough to spend time on the False Creek fair grounds, I can say the Yukon Pavilion was among the most colourful and accessible. The front of the dramatic Yukon Pavilion formed an open-air theatre with a brilliant 3-D northern sky backdrop designed by famed Yukon artist Ted Harrison and looking every bit like a colourful Harrison painting.

Mirrored panels helped capture the magical qualities of the Northern Lights. Surrounded by artefacts from the Klondike Gold Rush, the entranceway also served as a stage for entertainers.

Overhead hung a replica of the sister plane to Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis. The bush plane "Queen of the Yukon", owned by aviation pioneer Clyde Wann, was a striking symbol of the role played by aircraft in opening up the Yukon.

Inside, the Yukon's transportation story unfolded. The Klondike Gold Rush of 1898 came alive with the tales of the men and women who laboured to locate the gold in the valley of Bonanza and Eldorado Creeks. Visitors could pan for gold nuggets and, as I did, obtain a passport to take part in the Great Yukon Treasure hunt of 1986. Nope, I did not find the treasure, but that's another story.

Exhibits also showed the awesome story of building the Alaska Highway. The pavilion's main attraction was a stunning eighteen projector audio-visual show. From the ice-covered peaks of Kluane National Park to the wilderness of Dempster Highway, the Yukon's history and natural splendours unfolded to the delight of countless thousands of potential Yukon visitors.

The Yukon's native culture and history was highlighted through ancient artefacts from Old Crow. Also on display were traditional and modern dog sleds, including high-tech, long-distance racing sleds.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

Galloping glaciers

News that glaciers in Greenland are surging from their landlocked base to the sea brings to mind a similar phenomenon that has shaped the ice fields in the St. Elias Mountains. The Steele, Hubbard and Grand Pacific are glaciers known for erratic behavior.

From its source at Mount Logan in the Yukon, the Hubbard Glacier extends 76 miles to the sea, at Yukutat Bay in Alaska. In 1986 it advanced so rapidly that it trapped seals, porpoises, and other marine animals when a new lake was formed by the blockage of the bay. Hubbard’s surge was unprecedented in modern times, and is still underway. The glacier had been moving slowly for years. Now scientists say its current surge pattern was set off by the movement of other nearby glaciers. The Steele glacier is located on the north side of Mount Steele in the Yukon. It galloped for several months in 1966, and moved more than 1.5 billion tonnes of ice at about 50 feet a day. The Lowell is another surging glacier which usually ends at the edge of the Alsek river. Ice burgs calving off the glacier tumble into a wide spot in the river called Lowell lake. But every so often this glacier rushes forward dramatically. In the distant past it completely blocked the Alsek River, creating a massive glacial lake. In 1852 Lake Alsek was 100km long and about 100 metres deep, making it bigger than Lake Kluane. When the ice dam finally broke, it sent a wall of water down the Alsek River. Native stories tell of a group of people camped at the confluence of the Alsek and Tatshenshini Rivers who were drowned in the flood. If the town of Haines Junction had existed back then, it would have been either under water, or people living there would have had lakefront property. About 15km of the Alaska Highway would also have been submerged.

Studies have shown that surging glaciers seem to go for regular gallops regardless of whether the climate is cooling or warming. Surging, or for that matter receding, glaciers may also have geopolitical repercussions. For example, in the 1960s, the 25 mile long Grand Pacific Glacier, which flows into tar inlet just 70 miles from Skagway, began receding almost far enough to put its nose in British Columbia. I recall a local bush pilot and entrepreneur Leo Proctor stirring up a lot of excitement in the local business community by pointing out that if the glacier receded into B.C., Canada would then be able to claim a freshwater port in the Alaskan panhandle. At the moment the Grand Pacific still ends in Alaskan territory, but who knows what the future holds…

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


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


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


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

Leslie Nielsen

My first encounter of the close kind with Hollywood’s funniest man occurred in 1984. His brother Erik Nielsen had just been sworn in as Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister. Yukon Erik was, against all odds, the number two man on the Canadian political scene, a heartbeat away from the Prime Minister Brian Mulroney. On a September day outside the Governor General’s residence in 1984, I waited eagerly to hear who would be in the newly elected Conservative Government cabinet. We knew Yukon Erik, who had baited Liberals all his political life, was in for something. At the formal swearing in Erik, to the surprise of most reporters, was given the job of Deputy Prime Minister. I couldn’t wait to interview him. After all, I was reporting for Yukon radio, and had interviewed the hawk of the house many times. When the new cabinet ministers emerged from Rideau Hall, most headed straight for the microphones, for lesser lights, or the reporters they knew. Not Erik, he headed straight for his waiting limo. I yelled his name (Mr. Nielsen to be polite) as loud as I could at the black oversized car. Low and behold, out from the limo leaped Leslie Nielsen, the Naked Gun himself. This son of an RCMP constable who was born in Regina, and had grown up in Fort Norman in the NWT and in Edmonton had an obvious gift for public relations. He walked over to me, and I sheepishly told him I wanted an interview with his brother Erik. “Meet us at the National Arts Centre tonight” said the Naked Gun, “you’ll do it there”. No he wouldn’t.

At the tory celebration party that night, I rubbed shoulders with Erik, his wife Shelley, and the Naked Gun Leslie Nielsen. But no amount of sweet-talk could entice Yukon Erik into giving me an interview. His excuse: he wanted to take some time to learn his new job. I wasn’t happy, and I expressed my displeasure to Leslie. He looked at me, and with a twinkle I will not forget he said “well, you need a Nielsen interview, don’t you? How about me?” As my tape recorder rolled outside the front door of the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Leslie Nielsen gave an interview worthy of the humble Hollywood star that he is. He reminisced about growing up in the North, about how he became an actor while his brother took the long and winding road through the political landscape. He expressed a genuine brotherly fondness for the many accomplishments of his famous Yukon brother Erik. He never once talked about himself, or his many acting successes. He could have, since we all know and love him as the bumbling Lieutenant Frank Drebin, the silver haired patsy of the magnificent string of Naked Gun movies.

But there is much more to Leslie Nielsen, and his life history reflects a remarkably diverse career spanning six decades, nearly 100 movies, and more than 1500 television appearances. The first time I ever saw him, it was in the Capitol Theatre in Whitehorse in 1954. He was the young star of a movie called Forbidden Planet. Years later, that movie and the central character, then played by Leslie Nielsen, would morph into Captain Kirk, played by William Shatner as commander of the spaceship Enterprise, boldly going where no man had gone before in a TV series called Star Trek. As a kid in 1954 I thought Leslie Nielsen was great in Forbidden Planet, and as a reporter in 1984 I thought he was a great gentleman for giving me a Nielsen interview I badly needed.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


See also: Erik Nielsen


In this 1946 photo, Clyde Wann is seated next to Aubrey Simmons to his left. From L to R: York Wilson (foreground), Bob Campbell, Charlie Taylor, Bill Hamilton, Wann, Simmons, Jack Elliott.


Andrew Cruikshank on snowshoes. Cruikshank was an RCMP officer in Dawson and Mayo from 1923 to 1927, then became one of Yukon's early aviators and pilots of the Queen of the Yukon.Date: Nov. 1924. Yukon Archives. Claude & Mary Tidd fonds, #7838.


Clyde Wann

On the morning of October 25, 1927, residents of Whitehorse heard a sound which would set the stage for a revolution in northern travel. High over-head, a single-engine monoplane, carrying five aviation pioneers, headed for a clearing in Cyr's wood lot above the clay bluffs overlooking the town. The Queen of the Yukon had arrived.

Clyde Wann was a visionary, a Yukoner whose many business endeavours were geared to the future - none more-so than in 1927, when he established the Yukon Airways and Exploration company. He and pilot Andy Cruikshank had travelled to San Diego that year to take delivery of Ryan Brougham 1, a 5-seater aircraft. While in San Diego waiting for their plane to come off the busy assembly line, they met Charles Lindbergh who was there to buy the sister ship he called the Spirit of St. Louis. Lindbergh would fly his Spirit to Paris. Clyde and Andy would fly their 'Queen to Vancouver, dismantle the wings, ship it to Skagway - then fly it to Whitehorse.

When they took off from the beaches at Skagway, the weather was overcast. They had to circle upward through the cloud banks while trying to avoid the mountains all around them. They finally reached clear skies at 12,000 feet. The flight to Whitehorse took one hour and ten minutes. The next day, Wednesday October 26, Clyde and Andy left for Mayo and Keno, a trip which took two hours, and became the first commercial aircraft flight in the Yukon. The Queen of the Yukon operated for two years, carrying mail and passengers from Whitehorse to Mayo and Dawson, and to Carcross.

In 1929, the plane crash-landed at the Whitehorse airport and was damaged beyond repair. The Queen of the Yukon No. 2, a Ryan Brougham 5 monoplane was ordered to replace the first Queen. However, it had a more deadly fate, crashing in Mayo in 1932 with the death of the pilot and the end of the Yukon Airways. But, Clyde Wann had proven that air passenger and freight service would be an integral part of the Yukon's transportation system.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin



Click for larger view.

Roy Reber

Back in 1959, my last year in high school, I and three of my school chums played in the Whitehorse Senior men’s hockey league. We were all fresh out of Juvenile hockey, barely old enough to drive and had the good fortune of playing for one of the best hockey coaches ever to hit the Yukon.

Roy Reber was from the old time hockey school of hard knocks. He scheduled so many practices that our school work began to suffer, but the late night practices in the cold Civic Centre (later Jim Light) arena were making men out of us boys in a hurry.

He was yelling "hurry-hard" long before Russ Howard made the admonition famous at various curling championships. He taught us to keep our heads up and watch out for the other guy. For Roy, in hockey, defense was everything. Any player who didn’t like to back check would spend a lot of time on the bench. What kind of men did Roy Reber make out of us teenagers?

Well, the town Merchants team that year beat the older, tougher Army, Air force and Dawson&Hall teams to win the Whitehorse Senior men’s hockey title. Final score in the final game was 6-2, Merchants over Dawson&Hall. I still have the boisterous team photo to prove it.

Roy Reber was born in Lethbridge, Alberta in 1923. He moved to Whitehorse in 1948 and became very active in the sporting community. Sports were Roy’s life. He played hockey, basketball, fastball, badminton, golf. In 1967 he coached the men’s hockey team at the first Canada Games in Quebec City. In 1971 he coached the women's team at the Canada Games in Saskatoon.

Roy was an invaluable worker during the early years of the Arctic Winter Games. He attended the first games in 1970 as a basketball player. In 1972, he was the General Manager when the games were held in Whitehorse. In 1974 the Arctic Winter Games Corporation appointed him to the Steering Committee. He remained a member of the Board of Directors until 1978.

He served on the National Advisory Council for Fitness and Amateur Sports. In 1983, Roy Reber was inducted into the Sport Yukon Hall of Fame for his life-long commitment to coaching and promoting many sports.

I can still hear the sound of his voice echoing through the crisp air of the Civic Centre arena on any given cold winter night.

"Hurry-hard and keep your head up."

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

Yukon Quest

One thing is certain about Yukon Quest mushers: they respect their dogs. We all love our dogs, of course, but respect in a race like the Quest is key to success. When this respect is returned, the team of musher and dogs is complete. A sage once said that money will buy a pretty good dog, but it won’t buy the wag of his tail. If American humourist of the 1930s Will Rogers had been covering the Yukon Quest, he would quickly notice the bond between musher and dog. Rogers once accurately observed that if you are thinking you’re a person of some influence, try ordering someone else’s dog around.

The Yukon quest is as much about human-animal teamwork as it is about winning. Mark Twain, a colourblind humanitarian who wrote so eloquently about people of different racial backgrounds, was wise enough to note that if you pick up a starving dog and make him prosperous, his will not bite you. That is the principal difference between a dog and a man. Yes, the Yukon Quest is really a dog show. It began in 1983, as a dream of mushers and a Fairbanks saloon called The Bulllseye, and was dedicated to the vision of gold seekers, mail carriers, trappers and traders, all who knew the value of a good dog team. In the early days of the far off land good dogs were the difference between a life fulfilled, and a wasted youth. In the early days, Northerners learned quickly that dogs were their best friends – they learned it, or they failed. American President Woodrow Wilson said with much wisdom if a dog will not come to you after having looked you in the face, you should go home and examine your conscience.

The first Yukon Quest in 1984 tested both race, logistics and talent, as 26 teams left Fairbanks. At the races end, 1600km later, 20 teams crossed the finish line in Whitehorse. Sonny Linder became the first Quest champion, completing the race in 12 days and 5 minutes, and winning the $15,000 prize money. The purse soon grew to $25,000, as the race began to attract big-name sponsors and worldwide attention. Today, $30,000 goes to the winner, but most mushers will tell you they’re not in it for the money. The first Canadian to win the race was Bruce Johnson of Atlin in 1986. In 1984 Lorrina Mitchell was the first woman to finish the race. The fastest race was run in 1995 with Frank Turner’s winning time of 10 days, 16 hours, and 18 minutes. The longest time to finish and win was Bruce Johnson’s run of 14 days, 9 hours, and 17 minutes. But in a race of this magnitude records don’t mean much because conditions differ greatly from year to year. What doesn’t change is one the Quest’s main objectives, and that is commemorate the historic dependence of man and sled dog for mutual survival in extreme conditions, and to perpetrate mankind’s concern for his canine companion’s continued health, welfare, and development.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Commissioner Doug Bell presents to Allen Innes-Taylor the Commissioners Award, 1982.


Alan Innes-Taylor speaks of gold rush days to students at Whitehorse Elementary school. 1970. Yukon Archives. Richard Harrington fonds, #391.


Alan Innes-Taylor during reconstruction of Palace Grand Theatre at Dawson. Yukon Archives. Richard Harrington fonds, #420.


At the home of Marg & Rolf Hougen 1983.


Alan Innes-Taylor was a real gentleman. And for me, as a young radio reporter in the '60s, he was an invaluable source of historical knowledge about the Yukon.

Whenever I wanted to know something about the river boats, or dog teams, or Mounties or wilderness survival, I turned to Innes-Taylor for the answers.

He was born in England in 1900 and emigrated, with his family, to the United States in 1906. A few years later, the family moved to Ontario. Young Alan served as a pilot with the Royal Flying Corps during World War I.

In 1919, at age 19, he moved to the Yukon and, in 1920, he joined the RCMP. He once told me that during his five-year stint with the Mounties, he never arrested anyone. Crime, he said, didn’t happen very often.

In his late twenties he began a long association with Yukon River boats, first serving as a purser on the sternwheeler Whitehorse.

He once estimated that he had logged almost 26 thousand miles on Yukon river boats. He knew their captains well and often told funny stories about how various locations on the river got unofficial names, such as “Scatterass Bat.” I’ll let you use your imagination on that one.

In 1929, he worked with the Treadwell Yukon Mining Company at Keno. In 1930, Innes-Taylor’s northern knowledge would serve him well, half a world away from the Yukon.

He was invited to be the dog driver on an American expedition to the South Pole led by Admiral Richard Byrd. It was a journey of exploration to a largely unknown land, on foot, by dog team and by aircraft, as Byrd would become the first to fly over the South Pole.

On a second expedition in 1933, Innes-Taylor was promoted to chief of field operations.

He spent the next two years in the Antarctic and became renowned for his knowledge of the little-known continent. When it was over, he was invited on lecture tours throughout North America.

During World War II, he worked for the United States War Shipping Administration and was commissioned as a Captain in the United States Army Air Corps stationed in Greenland, where he taught Arctic survival.

From 1950 to 1953, Alan was recalled to the United States Army as a Lieutenant Colonel and commanded the Military Air Transport Command Survival School in Idaho.

Such was his world stature in things northern, that he also trained international commercial airline flight crews of Air France, KLM and SAS in Arctic survival.

For Scandinavian Airlines he wrote the highly acclaimed survival manual “This is the Arctic.” He also introduced special survival gear such as exposure suits and multi-person sleeping bags.

After the 1960’s, he spent most of his time in the Yukon where he made important contributions in recording the Yukon’s history, while working to set up the Yukon Archives.

He also wrote and recorded a radio series called “The Rivers of the Yukon”, describing his fascinating trips to Yukon historic sites.

Yet, whenever I met or talked with Alan Innes-Taylor, he was modest about his incredible lifetime of achievements which earned him two American Congressional Medals for his work on the Byrd Antarctic expedition, a Carnegie life-saving medal, and a member of the Order of Canada.

For all his world travels, his home was the Yukon, where he died in 1983.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Arthur Thornthwaite sitting on a rock at the top of Tantalus Butte near Carmacks. The Yukon River is in the background. Date: ca. 1920. Yukon Archives. Claude & Mary Tidd fonds, #7714.


One of the old Tantalus Mines on Yukon River. Yukon Archives. Finnie Family fonds, #219.


Tantalus Coal Mine, Y.T. Yukon Archives. John Patrick Kingscote fonds, #37.

Tantalus Coal Mine

When Lt. Frederick Schwatka, of the US army, made his famous journey of discovery down the Yukon River in 1883, he was baffled by the many bends in the river around what is now Carmacks.

He kept expecting to reach a bald hill - or butte - but again and again, the river took him away from his elusive geographic feature.

He wrote: " a conspicuous bald butte could be seen directly in front of our raft no less than seven times. I called it a Tantalus Butte, and was glad enough to see it disappear from sight".

Tantalus was a son of the Greek God, Zeus.

The Northern Tutchone people had a less heavenly name for the hill. To them, it was known as Gun Tthi, or worm hill.

Legend has it that a giant worm lived in the hill. If people made too much noise while travelling on the river, the worm would cause a bid wind that would swamp their boats.

In 1887, the famous Canadian geographer, George Dawson, reported that coal outcrops in the area provided a source of fuel for prospectors and trappers.

At the turn of the century, Captain Miller, who operated the steamer Reindeer, discovered a coal deposit six miles from the Five Finger rapids.

A Dawson City newspaper reported that: "The mine is located right beside the river and Captain Miller has already built a wharf 115 feet long. The quality of the coal is very good and fit for general use. He will soon be able to get out about twenty tons a day. He certainly has a bonanza as coal, in that section of the Yukon, will be a godsend to steamers and railroads".

However, it turned out that the coal was of poor quality, with a high ash content. The White Pass railway, which was expected to become a major buyer, brought its coal from Vancouver by ship instead.

In 1903, Captain Miller sold the mine to the Fiver Fingers Coal Company and then opened the Hidden Treasure coal mine just above Carmacks.

By 1906, the mine, now called the Tantalus Coal Mine, produced just over five thousand tons. In 1907, production rose to ten thousand tons per year.

Although the quality was better here than at the Five Fingers deposit, the few steamboats that tried to use it soon resumed burning wood.

After 1918, production at the Tantalus mine dropped to a few hundred tons per year, primarily for use by homes and businesses in Dawson City.

In 1922, the mine was closed and thus began a series of openings and closings from 1938 to 1967, including mining coal for heating the plant at the United Keno Hill mines in the Mayo area.

In 1970, the Anvil Mining Corporation re-opened the Tantalus mine, using the coal at their Faro lead-zinc mine for heating.

In the mid-1970s, production peaked at about eighteen thousand tons per year. The Tantalus Coal Mine shut down for the final time in 1982, when the mine at Faro closed.



Tantalus Butte is an important part of Yukon history. George Carmack built a trading post at the foot of the Butte in 1893, with the idea of developing the coal seam. Three years later he and his two partners discovered gold on Bonanza Creek, and his dream of a coal mine obviously lost its glitter.



His flirtation with coal mining is commemorated today, however, in the community named Carmacks, the town that grew up near his trading post and the Tantalus Butte coal deposit.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


In July 1987, Consul General of France, René Delille, presented the Order of National Merit to Father Mouchet.

Father Jean Mouchet

The lot in life for Oblate Priests who made the long journey from France to the Canadian north was to provide spiritual guidance in very isolated communities. It was no different for Father Jean Mouchet who arrived in Canada from France in 1946 to serve at Telegraph Creek.

Ten years later, he was posted to Old Crow. By 1982, when he left the community, he had become the driving force in a special program that made world class skiers out of an unlikely group of people.

Father Mouchet had developed a love for cross-country skiing while serving with the French Ski Corps during the Second World War.

In Old Crow, the physical fitness of the people astonished him. He realized that breaking trail on snowshoes all day with a dog team is an activity that develops strength and endurance.

In 1959, a team of Norwegian physiologists visited Old Crow and discovered what Mouchet already knew. Many people in Old Crow had the physique and endurance of Olympic athletes. Throughout the 1960s, however, the lifestyle changed. Snow mobiles replaced the dog sled and modern amenities meant they spent less time on the trap lines.

Because of these changes, he could see their self-esteem drop, and so he decided to use cross-country skiing to see if he could reverse the trend among the young people.


By 1967, with the support of the Yukon Territorial Government, he founded something called T.E.S.T., the Territorial experimental ski training program.


He later travelled to Whitehorse and Inuvik to set up the same program. The benefits of the T.E.S.T. program were quick and dramatic. Two skiers from Old Crow, and two from Inuvik, qualified for the Canadian National Cross Country Ski Team.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Maurice Haycock, former head of the Geological Survey of Canada, painter, musician, 1981.

Dr. Maurice Haycock

Dr. Maurice Haycock wasn’t a Yukoner, but he could have been. I first met him in 1964 when he accompanied his friend A.Y. Jackson to Whitehorse on one of their many northern painting expeditions together.

At the time, Mr. Jackson, the most famous Group of Seven painter, was approaching his 80th year. He needed the help of his friend and fellow artist, Maurice Haycock, who was 18 years younger. I met Jackson and Haycock in the Stratford Motel as they were preparing for a trip to Lake Lebarge to do, as Haycock always said, “some sketching.”

I was interviewing Jackson for local radio, and recall that I didn’t ask many questions. The famous artist was well prepared to discuss his life-long painting association with the north. He talked for about an hour.

Maurice Haycock, I learned when I accompanied him to Lake Laberge with A.Y. Jackson, was a trained geologist who fell in love with the north when he spent a year in Pangnirtung on Baffin Island in 1926.

He had gone there to assist in mapping the interior of the arctic island for the Geological Survey of Canada.

He lived with the Inuit, learned the language, journeyed by dog team and, when he returned south, he earned a Ph.D. in Economic Geology at Princeton University.

The inspiration for Haycock’s painting career came from the Arctic landscapes, and through a chance meeting with A.Y. Jackson, who was painting the north in 1927 while travelling on the government ship, the Beothic.

Following a visit to Great Bear Lake in 1949 with Jackson, he travelled and painted extensively across the north, virtually every year until his death in 1988.

To many in the art world, he became the eighth member of the Group of Seven. His paintings tell a story of geological vastness and beauty, of peace, challenge and exploration.

Dr. Maurice Haycock was more than a painter. He was a trained mineralogist, geologist, photographer, musician, and historian. He was, when I knew him in Ottawa in the 1980s, a virtual encyclopedia of both northern science and folklore.


I had many occasions to talk with him and glean his knowledge about the north that he so willingly gave for radio programs. One day at his home, he showed me sketches that he had recently made in the Yukon.


At the time, he was turning the sketches into full-blown oil paintings. Though the sketches were crude and quickly done, I could identify many of the Yukon scenes.

A few years previous, Rolf and Margaret Hougen had invited him to come to the Yukon to paint whatever he wanted. Haycock’s work had come to the attention of Marg Hougen, who had bought one of his paintings during the trip with A.Y. Jackson in 1964.

This time, Rolf wanted Dr. Haycock to paint the rest of the Yukon and provided a motor home in Inuvik so that he could drive down the Dempster Highway, painting and sketching. The Haycocks spent several days in Dawson City, Carmacks and Fort Selkirk.

They drove the Canol Road painting all the way. Rolf Hougen remembers that Dr. Haycock did about one hundred paintings, one of which appeared on the cover of the NorthwesTel phone book in 1986.

It is called “The Peel River Valley and the Ogilvie Range from the Dempster Highway.”

Maurice Haycock died on December 23, 1988, at the age of 88 years, in Ottawa, where he is remembered as the Artist of the Arctic.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

DC3 Weather Vane

My first airplane flight came in 1954 when I flew from Whitehorse to Dawson City where I would spend the summer holidays with my brother who was the Canadian Pacific airlines agent in the gold rush city.

Was the aircraft used on that flight the DC3 which now serves as the most unique weather vane in the world? Maybe. I’ll bet Bob Cameron knows!

Locals may be so used to the Canadian Pacific aircraft which sits on a pedestal at the airport that they barely notice it anymore. But next time you drive by, have a closer look at history.

On December 17th 1935, the first DC 3 took its maiden flight and marked the first time that airline operators could make money simply by carrying passengers. Between 1935 and 1947 the Douglas Aircraft Company built over ten thousand DC3. Today there are still almost a 1,000 in flying condition.

The Douglas aircraft at the Whitehorse airport was built in 1942 and spent the rest of World War two in the camouflage colours of the US air force flying in India as part of the India-China Wing of Air Transport Command.

Back then it was called a C47, but when the war ended, the plane was sold to Grant McConachie’s newly established Canadian Pacific Airlines. The plane was converted to a civilian DC 3 and issued the Canadian registration number CF-CPY.

The plane flew southern routes in Canada until CPA upgraded their mainliners to bigger aircraft in the mid ‘50s. Then it came to the Yukon for service on the Dawson-Mayo-Whitehorse route. In 1960 the plane was sold to Connelly Dawson Airways and for the next six years she hauled supplies into the northern Yukon including oil exploration camps in Eagle Plains.


In 1966, the plane was purchased by Great Northern Airways based in Whitehorse and did a lot of bush flying until her last flight in November 1970. Finally, it was donated to the Yukon Flying club which in 1977 came up with an eye-catching idea.


The plane would be restored to its original Canadian Pacific Airline colours for permanent display at the Whitehorse Airport. The unveiling took place in 1981 after four years of meticulous work by volunteers.

Pivoting on its base, the aircraft always points into the wind. And it is so precise that it will rotate with only a minor breeze.

In 1998, after nearly eighteen years on the stand, the plane was removed for a second restoration. It took three years and almost fifteen hundred hours of volunteer labour before CF-CPY was ready to be reinstalled on the original pedestal on September 16, 2001.

It is likely to be flying on the pedestal for the next twenty years or so with her brilliant white, black and red colour scheme of Canadian Pacific Airlines - 1950s vintage.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Left to right : Marg Hougen, Rolf Hougen, chairman, Ione Christiansen, vice-chair, Chuck Halliday, treasurer, Marylin Halliday, and (missing) James Smith, secretary, 1980.


Roy Minter presenting a cheque to Rolf Hougen, Chairman, to establish the "Minter Fund".

The Yukon Foundation

After a conversation with Howard Firth in the late 1970's, Rolf Hougen realized there was no organization that existed in the Yukon that could accept the proceeds of an estate for the benefit of the people of the Yukon. Rolf Hougen invited several long time Yukoners to participate in creating a body that could accept donations from wills or in honour of relatives or friends. In December 1980, seventeen Yukon men and women agreed to contribute their names and $100.00 to establish the Yukon Foundation, using the Vancouver Foundation (established in 1950) as a model.

The founding members of the Yukon Foundation are:
Ione Christensen, Laurent Cyr, Belle Desrosier, William L Drury, Robert Erlam, Thomas Firth, Charles Halliday, Rolf Hougen, Lorraine Joe, Roy Minter, Hon. Erik Nielsen, Willard Phelps, Gordon Ryder, James Smith, Aubrey Tanner, Charlie Taylor, Flo Whyard The Yukon Foundation is registered under the Societies Ordinance of the Yukon Territory and it's objectives are based on time honoured standards:

"The objects of the Foundation are to promote educational advancement and scientific or medical research for the enhancement of human knowledge; to support, which may be in the discretion of the Board, contribute to the mental, cultural and physical well-being of the residents of the Yukon Territory. In order to attain these objectives, the Yukon Foundation is empowered: to receive bequests, devices and donations of every kind and description whatsoever, and hold, control, administer and deal with property of every kind and description, whether real or personal, and whatsoever situate."


An aerial view of the Gold Fields of the Klondike, 1980.


A 1958 photo of a dredge in operation.


Dredge Canadian No. 2 at work near Dawson. Date: ca. 1920-1930. Yukon Archives. Claude & Mary Tidd fonds, #8394.

Klondike Gold Dredges

It was the summer of 1966. It was the year they shutdown the Yukon Consolidated Gold Corporation – YCGC. This conglomerate had dredged the Klondike creeks near Dawson City since the turn of the century. Now those great squealing hotel-like hulks would dig for gold no more.

In 1966, just one gold dredge worked the creeks of the Klondike. They had been an incredibly efficient means of getting gold out of the ground. Consider that, in 1904, YCGC operated seven dredges and took more than 24 million dollars worth of gold from the creeks. That’s when gold was 16 dollars an ounce and the entire Canadian federal budget was 64 million dollars.

I spent part of that summer of ’66 in Dawson, talking with people who had been with the company all of their working lives. YCGC was Dawson City. There wasn’t much else. With the company going, the economy of this once booming town would no doubt suffer badly.

It was quite a sight to see one of those dredges – like great grey monsters, floating in a small lake created by the dredge itself. They looked like rustic old floating hotels. Huge buckets dug down to bedrock at the front of the dredge, then dumped the ground into the bowels of the dredge where the sand and rock were sifted through a mesh screen system.

The gold stayed on the shakers and was cleaned up by hand. The dredges literally turned the ground upside down digging to bedrock, sometimes as deep as 60 feet, then depositing the excess gravel out the back of the dredge. Thus, the creeks and riverbeds around Dawson City were turned upside down.

The dredges picked up more than sand, gravel and gold. Walter Troberg told me about the amount of mastodon ivory they used to collect. It was considered a nuisance and often disposed of by throwing it back into the pond or carting the stuff away to the bush. These great mastodons, which looked like huge hairy elephants, had roamed the region thousands of years before.

The tusks were pure ivory and worth a fortune today. Who knows how much ivory ended up in the dredge ponds or the bushes? Walter said they often picked up old whiskey bottles, sometimes intact, with whiskey still in them. He also found many old coins from the mid-19th century, lost in this gold-bearing country long before the Klondike rush of 1898.

Dredgemaster Johnny Hoggan told me how the dredge worked as we watched old No. 7 doing her final clean up that summer of 1966. I can still hear the screeching, grinding sound of the buckets on their huge chained pulleys, being pulled through the dredge and depositing this treasure inside the contraption.

The dredge which was the last to operate on the Klondike creeks that summer of ’66 now stands as a museum… a monument to ingenuity of an early time when gold in the Klondike made Yukon history.



A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.


A 1980 Photo of the Carnegie Library.


A front view of the Masonic Lodge/ Carnegie Library on the south side of Queen Street in Dawson. Date: ca. 1920s-1930s. Yukon Archives. Claude & Mary Tidd fonds, #8363.

Carnegie Library

In 1898, Dawson was fast becoming the largest city west of Winnipeg. It was an upstart place with hotels and fancy bars featuring gambling rooms, dancing ladies and boxing matches for money.

A boomtown if there ever was one. But as the prospectors left for golder pastures, the town settled down and a sense of permanency developed.

By 1902, Dawson was a modern city. It had running water, three hospitals, three churches, daily newspapers, electric lights, and a telegraph system. The town with a colourful past now looked to a secure future. Schools and libraries would be part of that.

Dawson had what was called a "Free Library", supported by public funds and by the Standard Library Restaurant and Hotel. Books could be taken out for 3¢ a day. However, residents wanted a more formal library.

Enter Andrew Carnegie. He was born in Scotland in 1835. His parents emigrated to America when he was a boy. Young Andrew developed a good business sense and built the Carnegie Steel Corporation.

When he sold out in 1901, he was worth half a billion dollars. Carnegie then became a philanthropist with libraries as the basis of his good work, contributing money for the construction of library buildings around the world.

One hundred and twenty-five libraries were built in Canada alone with donations from the Carnegie fund. His endowment was well known in Dawson and the Free Library was not about to miss out on the money. In 1902, they made a funding request to the Carnegie Foundation.

Carnegie replied with an offer of $25,000, provided the town would spend $2500 dollars a year on upkeep. The town council sent a letter of acceptance on January 1, 1903.

In March, Council agreed to buy a lot at Fourth and Queen Street from Joe Ladue, Dawson's founder, for $2600 and accepted a design from architect, Robert Montcrieff, who had designed the Bank of Commerce building. Work began at breakup, but the finishing materials didn't arrive in Whitehorse from the "outside" until the fall of that year, so the building was not finished until June of 1904.

The Carnegie Library was officially opened on August 16th, 1904, with gleaming gold letters on the front, making no mistake as to who financed the project. It was yet another architectural wonder in an isolated town that was becoming famous for fine buildings such as the post office, the Commissioner's residence and the Bank of Commerce building.

Dawsonites could choose from almost seven thousand books and magazines and relax on ornate chairs and sofas inside the beautiful building. But, alas, it did not last.



As the population dwindled, it became impossible for taxpayers to continue funding the upkeep on such an elaborate building. By 1920, with a population of less than a thousand people, the Carnegie library was sold to the Masonic Lodge.



Today, the Carnegie Libray and the Bank of Commerce designed by architect Robert Montcrieff stand as a fitting reminder of the days of Dawson's glorious past.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


The Reconstructed Post Office - 1980.


Outside view of new Post Office Dawson. [original photo caption] Yukon Archives. Walter R. Hamilton fonds, #106.

Thomas Fuller, Klondike Architect

His dad has been the architect who designed the Parliament buildings in Ottawa, among other great Canadian buildings. So there was good lineage for the man who designed the Yukon's first official post office. The first post office in Dawson City was operated by the Northwest Mounted Police from a tent on Front Street. When the newly built NWMP compound called Fort Herchmer opened, the Mounties moved the post office into a small log building beside the guard room.

With the first delivery in the spring of 1898, lineups were so long they filled the soggy streets for endless blocks. Miners on the creeks did not dare leave their precious mining claims and, instead, hired men to stand in line for them to get their much cherished mail.

During the summer, the Dawson post office was moved into a building owned by big Alec McDonald, one of the few wealthy Klondike Kings. However, on October 14th, 1898 a huge fire engulfed McDonald's building and the post office disappeared in a puff of smoke.

Twenty-six buildings were destroyed, but by now, saloons were everywhere, so the Mounties leased a place called the Brewery and set up semipermanent postal headquarters. They were not permanent for long.

Politicians and the public in the Klondike complained bitterly, but the federal government remained unmoved, refusing to set up a real postal service. Soon, a growing city emerged with churches, schools, hospitals, a fire hall and an elected municipal government.

While residents could buy just about anything in the shops, they were still forced to line up for hours, if not days, outside the makeshift post office to get their mail. People complained that men with money could jump the queue, slip the sorters some gold and get their mail quickly. It was known as the "five dollar window", a side door where a bribe would hasten the process. Frustration continued to grow and threatend to become the key issue in the local elections.

In the late fall of 1898, the Canadian Post Office finally agreed to take over the mail service from the Mounties and, in January 1899, the federal Post Master General urged that money be included in the budget to establish a real postal service in Dawson. The Department of Public Works wasted no time in appointing Ottawa architect Thomas W. Fuller to design the building.

He was a good choice. His father, Thomas Fuller Senior had been Canada's chief architect from 1881 to 1896. Walking in his father's fairly large shoes, Thomas Fuller Jr. took seriously his task of building the Yukon's first post office. The land presented its peculiar problems, as architect Fuller quickly observed the delights of building on permafrost.

When the top layer of earth was scraped away, Fuller discovered to his dismay that the ground melted into an oozing mass of mud. One novel idea he had was to dig holes in the muck and position two large metal boxes in the holes to provide a foundation for the heavy wood-fired furnaces in the building's basement.

Except for lumber from the local sawmill, most of the building materials had to be imported from "the outside" at outrageous prices, and carpenters skilled in fabricating anything more than a clapboard saloon were rare in Dawson. Specialized workers were hired from as far away as Montreal and young Fuller himself was often seen swinging a hammer while keeping a close eye on his unique design.



When the post office opened in November 1900, the Dawson Daily News heralded it as "...a thing of beauty and a monument to the architectural skill of the man who designed it,"high praise, indeed, from a generally cantankerous northern press. However, the official opening did not mean that Fuller's Yukon work was finished. He designed other important buildings including the Territorial court house and Administration Building, the Comissioner's residence, and the Telegraph office. Today, all are National Historic Sites.



While the post office was not in the architectural league with his father's Parliament Buildings, Thomas Jr. no doubt made a good impression with his Klondike construction efforts since he, like his father before him, was appointed the Chief Architect of Canada.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

Yukon Gold Potato

This nugget is about Yukon gold – the Yukon gold that sells for about fifty cents a pound. It’s the kind you can eat. And it is good for you too! Yep, the Yukon Gold potato. It took years of research to come up with a variety of potato that would eventually feature this famous name. Today, Yukon Gold is one of the most well known potato varieties in North America. How did it happen?

Yukon Gold is the work of the late Dr. Gary Johnston, a scientist at the University of Guelph, Ontario. During the 1960s, he headed a research team that was trying to develop a hardy potato with yellow flesh that would grow almost anywhere in Canada and be relatively disease free. It took thirteen years of work by Johnston and his team of scientists but it was worth it since the Yukon Gold is prized by chefs and homemakers around the world.

Why was the research done? Well, yellow-fleshed potatoes are common in Europe and South America and immigrants to North America preferred them. This untapped market required an enhanced, disease-resistant golden variety that could be easily grown in North America. The result was the Yukon Gold, the first Canadian-bred potato to be marketed and promoted by name. It received a Canadian license in 1980 and was soon being exported to the United States. Yep, potato varieties are licensed.

The job of a scientific potato researcher like Gary Johnston is complex. How does the potato taste? Is it resistant to diseases? Where will it grow? What is the yield? These are only a few of the many questions that must be answered. When the research is done and the potato is ready for market, the scientist who developed the new variety, gets the right to name it. Gary Johnston chose the name – Yukon Gold.

There are other gold-fleshed potatoes on the market, including Yellow Finn, Michigold, Banana, and Saginaw Gold, but none have the name recognition of Yukon Gold. Ever wonder how much this name recognition appeals to potential visitors to the land of gold?

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin



The McPherson RCMP Patrol which travelled from Dawson to McPherson and back again. Left to right: Indian Peter [Semple], Constable Pasley, Staff Sergeant Dempster, Indian Jimmy [Simon], and Constable Tyack. Date: March 19, 1920. Yukon Archives. Claude & M


Portrait of Inspector Dempster of the RCMP. Date: ca. 1930. Yukon Archives. Claude & Mary Tidd fonds, #7469.

Lost Patrol

The most northerly highway in North America, the Dempster, roughly follows a route taken by early North West Mounted Police patrols between Dawson City and Fort McPherson. It is named for Corporal Jack Dempster, because he led the expedition to find the Lost Patrol.

In 1905, the NWMP began a yearly winter patrol of some 550 miles over some of the toughest, coldest terrain in Canada.  These patrols, though very tough on men and dogs, went without incident until 1911.  The patrol that year was led by Inspector Fitzgerald, with Constables Kinney, Taylor and ex-Constable Sam Carter.  They began the return journey from Fort McPherson to Dawson on December 21, 1910.  They had three dog-teams, totalling 15 dogs and provisions to last about 25 days.

Somewhere around the Little Wind and Hart rivers, they lost their way.  The winter conditions were severe and their rations were getting low.  So it was decided on January 18 to return to Fort McPherson, a distance of about 250 miles.  Soon, the provisions had run out.  They began to kill the dogs one by one for food.  With all the dogs dead, they began to boil their buckskin thongs and dog harnesses.

Within 35 miles of Fort McPherson, Kinney and Taylor could go no further.  Fitzgerald and Carter carried on.  Within 25 miles of the village, Carter, unable to continue, died.  Fitzgerald laid his body in the snow and covered his face with a handkerchief.  Fitzgerald made it only a few hundred yards more before he too lay down and waited for death.  He had time to scratch his will on a crude piece of paper.

In February, when the party failed to arrive in Dawson, Corporal Dempster, along with three Constables and an Indian guide, were ordered to begin a search.  They left Dawson on February 28th, 1911.  On the 12th of March, they found a snow-covered trail on the Little Wind River and followed it finding the bodies of the four policemen.

Jack Dempster went on to become an Inspector and served the force in the Yukon for 37 years.  He retired in 1934 and died in Vancouver in 1965. The highway named for him, running from the Klondike Highway at mile 26 to Fort McPherson and beyond, was opened by Public Works minister Erik Nielsen on August 18th, 1979.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


A group from Ft. McPherson attend the official opening of the Dempster Highway. Erik Nielsen, centre, G.I. and Martha Cameron with Ch/Supt. Harry Nixon RCMP in the back row., 1979,
Click for larger view.

The Dawson Flood of ‘79

In the spring of 1979, ice jams in the Yukon, Indian, and Klondike rivers caused the build-up of water to over-flow the make-shift sand-bag dykes on the riverfront in Dawson. Around midnight, in spite of efforts to shore up the dykes, the water poured over the banks, enveloping the town and causing extreme damage.

In the morning, as people paddled around town in canoes and small boats, the real extent of damage became clear. Houses floated off their foundations. The water smelled of diesel and sewage. Parks Canada artifacts bobbed down the streets. Trailers were turned upside down by the silty, ice-choked waters. Propane tanks littered the streets.

The waters subsided later in the day. A hole was cut in the dyke to let the waters return to the Yukon river. Then the cleanup began. Parks Canada had 20 properties in the flood plain. Some emerged intact while others floated off their foundations. Over $ 200,000 dollars in damage was recorded by Parks Canada alone.

A dozen homes were written off. Some priceless artifacts from both public and private collections disappeared forever. The Yukon government created a disaster assistance program, flying in over 20,000 pounds of food and equipment the day after the flood. About 270 damage claims were filed, totalling over 2 million dollars. It took most of the summer to restore the town to some semblance of order. But for Parks Canada, restoration projects lasted for years.

It wasn't the first flood in Dawson City's history. Since 1898, 22 floods were recorded, but the one in the spring of 1979 went down in history as one of the worst.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Margaret and Karen Hougen looking up Tutshi Lake.


A 1979 photo of the Skagway Road - it is now hard surfaced.

Skagway Road

One day in the mid-seventies, my buddy Cal Waddington and I travelled to a construction site and spent a glorious afternoon in the company of friends who were building the Skagway Road. The work included blasting solid rock faces and moving endless tons of rock and gravel. The road was a mess, but my friend, the late Scotty Munro, was philosophical when he said that all great works of art are a mess until they are finished.

Today, the Skagway Road, better known as Klondike Highway 2, is indeed a work of art. A proud reminder of persistence and creativity. Especially persistence. As far back as 1913, newspaper articles publicized the efforts of both the Yukon and Alaska governments to get the road pushed through.

In August 1913, headlines in Dawson read that the "Auto Road From Skagway to Dawson May Be Opened Soon." The optimism was premature and then some. British Columbia said it would construct the necessary 35 miles of road through the province, but never approved funding, and the project died.

Then, more surveying was done in 1920, and speculation was that the road would be completed in 1921. Nope.

In fact, they did not revive the project until 1961. That year, a crew of Skagway volunteers, and the State of Alaska, began work on the toughest part of the road, blasting through the solid granite of the Coast Mountains. However, except for a rough road built in 1966 for the re-opening of the Venus Mine, nothing happened on the Canadian side until 1974.

From then on, progress was erratic because of constant money woes, several legal challenges by the White Pass Railway and, of course, engineering difficulties, especially on the Alaskan side because of the major problems with blasting through seventeen miles of solid rock to reach the Canadian border.

Between 1970 and 1972, Canada built a new bridge at Carcross and extended the road to the B.C.-Yukon border because of renewed activity at the Venus Mine. In February 1972, Canada agreed to build the remaining thirty-three miles to the Alaska border, and Alaska agreed to construct its remaining nine miles.



The road was completed between Skagway and Carcross in August 1978 but it was open for only a few weeks before it was closed for the winter. The first full summer of use was in 1979.



A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

Roy Minter

When he was transferred to Whitehorse in 1955, the 37-year-old Canadian Army Captain was sure he had arrived in the right place at the right time. Thus, Roy Minter began his lifelong career as a publicist and a public relations man such as the Yukon had seldom seen.

Roy was born in London, England in 1917. As a kid, he moved with his parents to Vancouver. When he was old enough, he joined the Army. He spent some years with the Army in Whitehorse and then left the service to join the White Pass and Yukon Route as a special assistant to the President. He spent the rest of his life promoting the company and the territory.

In 1960, he was a member of the board of directors when the Dawson City festival foundation was formed to stage the rebirth of Dawson as a tourist destination. Roy had played a key role in getting the federal government to invest a large amount of time and money into the project.

Roy became an author, historian, photographer and film producer. He won international awards for two films, "Brave New North" and "Take Four Giant Steps. He also produced the 1967 centennial film called "It’s the Land, Have You Seen It?" as one of the White Pass company’s contributions to Canada’s centennial year.

Roy Minter rarely took a back seat when the Yukon’s name and honour were at stake. In 1966, he helped spearhead the movement called the Klondike Defense Force. It was formed to do battle with the city of Edmonton when they decided to use the Klondike as the theme for their annual city celebrations. It was Roy who convinced Yukon politicians that Edmonton was stealing the Yukon ’s birthright and should be stopped.


In 1965, an attempt by Crown Assets to sell the riverboats’, the Casca and Whitehorse was stopped, largely through the efforts of Roy Minter. In 1974, when those same boats went up in flames, he cried as he watched the raging inferno and said that the Yukon had just lost part of its soul.


Roy was as much attached to the White Pass company as he was to the Yukon. So it is no surprize that he is the author of the most authoritative book on the historic railroad. Published in 1987, "Gateway to the Klondike" is the title of his award-winning tome.

The Roy Minter Fund within the Yukon Foundation, is dedicated to fund those who write about Yukon history.

He was a founding member of the Yukon Foundation and a one hundred thousand-dollar donation is dedicated to recipients who write about the Yukon ’s history.

When he was awarded the Order of Canada in 1991, the citation read, in part:

"He has dedicated himself, since the 1950s, to promoting an appreciation of the Yukon. He has contributed to heritage preservation and tourism in the territory through his involvement in the rail industry, the development of Klondike International Park, the recovery of archival material and the recording of pioneer stories."

Roy Minter died in 1996 at the age of 79.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

The Epp Letter

The long and winding road toward greater political control for elected politicians in the Yukon was often battered by storm clouds. Since the first wholly elected council back in 1909, Yukoner politicians had been demanding more political clout. But the demands always fell on deaf ears in Ottawa and the Yukon’s federally appointed Commissioner continued to run the day-to-day affairs of the Territory. The commish was the boss, the elected councillors mere window dressing.

But that changed in May of 1979 when the federal election brought in the short-lived government of Joe Clark. Jake Epp, a Mennonite from Manitoba, was appointed Minister of Indian and Northern Affairs and became the defacto political boss of the Yukon. But there was no doubt that the real power now lay in the hands of the Yukon’s member of Parliament Erik Nielsen, who was also appointed to the Clark cabinet. Nielsen had long advocated provincial status for the Yukon.

Things began to happen in a hurry and the role of Nielsen was not well hidden. In June of 1979, Yukon Government Leader Chris Pearson wrote to Epp outlining his government's position on responsible government for the territory. He demanded that the commissioner be removed from the executive committee, which ran the day–to-day political affairs of the Yukon. Epp agreed and the die was cast.

Yukon Commissioner Ione Christensen said that, while she did not oppose the changes, she did feel that they would be implemented far too fast. She hinted broadly that she might have to resign. On October 9th, 1979 Epp wrote the now famous Epp letter to Commissioner Christensen.

Epp told Christensen to remove herself from the policy-making process and not participate in day-to-day affairs of the Executive Council. Epp said as commissioner, she must to accept the advice of the Territorial Council in all matters of the Yukon Act which are delegated to the Commissioner.

Epp had fired the Commissioner and on that day, the commissioner became the Lieutenant Governor for the Yukon. But it would not be Christensen. She resigned. The Epp letter also authorized the Yukon government leader to refer to himself as "Premier" and to his cabinet members as "Ministers" if they so wished.

The changes brought the Yukon into line with provincial governments. Elected polticians were now responsible for the policies and expenditures of the Yukon government. The Yukon was fast becoming a province in all but name.

Joe Clarke

There was always a lot of action at Clarke Stadium in Edmonton when the Eskimos faced their opponents in the CFL. Not surprisingly, the action on the field reflected that of the stadium's namesake, Joe Clarke.

Joe Clarke was born and educated in Ontario. He was not the Joe who at one time was Canada's Prime Minister. No, the Joe Clarke I speak of was a much wilder guy, but no less a politician. Clarke left Ontario in 1892 to join the Northwest Mounted Police in Regina.

He didn't last long as a Mountie, deserting the force and high-tailing it back to Ontario a few months after his initation. The force charged him with desertion and only the fact that his uncle was the magistrate hearing his desertion case prevented jail time. He was fined 100 dollars.

From that episode, it seems Clarke got a quick lesson in law and enrolled at the Osgood Hall law school in Toronto. On graduation, he joined the Klondike Gold Rush. In June 1898, the Yukon was created as a district separate from the Northwest Territories, and politics immediately became a favourite sport of locals - after boxing and hockey, of course.

In 1902, the first election for the Yukon's member of parliament took place. Joe Clarke ran as a Conservative against the Liberal, James Ross, who had been the Yukon's Commissioner.

In his first election attempt, Clarke was supported by a local lawyer, George Black, who would go on in later years to glory in the House of Commons as the Yukon MP, for 22 years. He was not supported, however, by the Whitehorse Star. The paper vilified Clarke for announcing in Whitehorse that he supported a smelter near the town, only to say back in Dawson City that a smelter near Whitehorse was impractical and more likely to succeed "on the moon". In a headline, the Star claimed there were three kinds of liars, and Joe Clarke is the greatest.

Clarke lost the federal election but he was far from finished on the Yukon's political scene. The following year - 1903 - he ran for and won a seat on the first elected Territorial council, and was also admitted to the Yukon bar as a practicing lawyer.

By 1908, Clarke was finished in the Yukon. The Star even hinted that he had been run out of the Territory. His running stopped in Edmonton, where his colourful Yukon past had not changed his political outlook very much.

In 1912, Clarke became an Edmonton City Alderman and quickly earned the title "Fightin' Joe Clarke" because of his quick temper. Always one to fight for the underdog, he was not above using his fists to make a point. On August 6, 1914, he and the Mayor Billy McNamara, rolled down the city hall steps and out onto the street, and eventually battled to a draw.

Fighting didn't seem to deter Joe's electoral chances. He was elected alderman eight times and mayor five. In 1930, Joe was instrumental in getting his long-time friend Prime Minister MacKenzie King to lease the city an old federal penitentiary site for ninety-nine years at a dollar a year, to be used as an athletic park.

In 1937, when a 3000-seat stadium was built on the site, the city called it Clarke Stadium.

The stadium eventually gained Canada-wide renown as home of the Edmonton Eskimos, and when the original Clarke Stadium was torn down and replaced with the ultra-modern Commonwealth Stadium in 1978, the entire area was called Clarke Park.

A fitting memorial to a politician who survived Yukon political woes, at the turn of the century, to enter the history books as one of Edmonton's most popular mayors.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

Chris Pearson

Christopher William Pearson arrived in the Yukon in 1957. He worked for the Territorial government until 1973, and then went into private business. In 1978, Chris became a politician and was elected to the Yukon Legislature. For the first time, the election was run along party lines, fielding candidates from the three major political parties. The Yukon Conservative party won the general election with eleven of 16 seats.

Party leader Hilda Watson, however, lost her seat, and Chris Pearson was then chosen to lead the party. Thus, in his first attempt in Territorial politics, he became Yukon government leader and took the reigns on the road to Yukon self-government.

On October 9, 1979, Jake Epp, Minister of Indian Affairs, answered Chris Pearson's letter of June 18th by issuing new instructions to Commissioner Ione Christensen. The famous Epp letter effectively removed the office of Commissioner from day to day governing of the Yukon, and allowed the government leader to call him- or herself, Premier.

The long and winding road to full Yukon autonomy got a little smoother that day. Under Chris Pearson, the Yukon government successfully obtained the transfer of many powers from the federally appointed commissioner to the Territorial government.

The Pearson government also battled for more responsible government and more control over resources. They also argued for the Yukon’s place as a full participant in federal-provincial conferences rather than just an observer.

In 1982, Pearson’s government was re-elected with a majority. But it now had to deal with an economic recession, which was worsened by the collapse of the mining industry and the closure of the Faro Mine.

Pearson left politics in 1985, but his successor, Willard Phelps, was not able to turn the government's fortunes around, and the New Democratic Party won that year's election.

During his years in the Yukon, Chris Pearson served as the President of the Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce and was actively involved in the Rotary Club, as well as in many sports organizations.

After elective politics, he entered the Canadian diplomatic service and served in the Canadian Consulate in Dallas, Texas, for a number of years. Chris Pearson is now retired and lives in Radford, Virginia.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

Clinton Creek

The Clinton Creek asbestos mine, near the junction of the Yukon and Fortymile Rivers, was operated by the Cassiar Asbestos Corporation from 1967 until 1978. Asbestos was hauled from the mine site down the top of the world highway, across the Yukon River at Dawson City by ferry in summer, ice road in winter, and by a tram system in the spring and fall. At its peak, 500 people called Clinton Creek home.

During the life of the mine, Art Anderson was renowned as the #1 employee on the payroll. For good reason. Art's father, Pete, a Dane, had boated down the Pelly River to the Klondike in July 1898. Too late to stake good gold-bearing ground in the Klondike, he prospected around the Fortymile district. Pete Anderson married Mary Charles, who died giving birth to Art, on March 27, 1912.

Growing up in the remote corner of the Yukon, young Art Anderson intimately knew the Clinton Creek terrain. He made regular dog team trips from Fortymile to Dawson City to sell furs and buy supplies.

Art was twenty-one when he and his father left Fortymile in 1933 to farm the fertile Clinton Creek Valley soil. It provided a bounty of vegetables.

He and his father also found piles of fluffy fibres. Twenty years later, this fibrous matter, known as asbestos, was a coveted product. About 1955, Conwest Exploration, which owned the Cassiar Asbestos Corporation in northern British Columbia, was attracted to the Yukon asbestos find.

It is sometimes called the Caley deposit because Dawson City resident, Fred Caley, had funded Art Anderson in his search to locate the asbestos deposit.

In 1965, Conwest decided to go into production at Clinton Creek. During the mine's lifetime, an annual 100,000 tons of industrial-grade asbestos fibres were produced in the round-the-clock operation.

Transportation was a complicated affair. The skyline at Dawson required a lot of loading and unloading time, along with the maintenance of two-truck fleets on either side of the river. Six weeks were required to build an ice bridge. In the spring, when warm temperatures threatened to decay the bridge, drivers crossed with truck doors open - always ready to jump if the ice collapsed.

The mine's limited lifespan prevented the Yukon government from building a permanent bridge. However, now that the mine no longer exists, there is talk again about building a bridge across the Yukon River at Dawson.

Art Anderson, discoverer of the Clinton Creek asbestos find, died at age eighty-four, on October 4, 1996.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Flashback: Mayor Gorden Armstrong with daughter Pat and wife Peggy, 1950.

Mayor Gordon Armstrong – 1950

When Whitehorse was incorporated as a city in 1950, the first Mayor was a jovial character with an infectious smile and impeccable work ethic. Gordon Armstrong needed those qualities and more. The tiny town was a disorganized hodgepodge of many temporary residential shacks, and businesses that counted on the largess of an elected, but largely impotent Territorial Council, for the few funds it could muster.

Gordon was born in Whitehead, the district of Saskatchewan, in 1905. He arrived in Whitehorse in 1929 to work as a butcher for the Burns Meat Packing store, operated by the venerable T.C. Richards, owner of the Whitehorse Inn.

By 1950, with four newly elected Aldermen, Mayor Armstrong had much civic work to do. There was no city hall, so the five men met at various locations to conduct business for a town that was about to grow from a place filled with ramshackle shacks and, broken wooden sidewalks, and no sewer and water system. For the first two years, they held council meetings on the second floor of the Northern Commercial Building next to Taylor and Drury’s on First Avenue.

Then they moved to Humme’s Insurance offices on the corner of 3rd and Main. When the Canadian Army Signal Corps vacated its premises in a two-story building located on the site of the present-day city hall, the Mayor and Councilors moved in.

Whitehorse was maturing both in size and importance. It was the busy centre of navigation on the Yukon River where the White Pass still ran river boats, while the newly opened Alaska Highway was bringing both businesses and tourists.

The city’s economic base had diversified to include mining, prospecting, transportation, government and tourism.

At their first meeting, Mayor Armstrong and the aldermen wondered how they would manage. The city had no tax base. Instead, it relied on meager Territorial Council grants. The legislative body met in far off Dawson City, still the Yukon’s capital. In 1950, the Territorial Council handed over many functions carried out by the Territorial Government to the city, but federal funds dedicated to Whitehorse were limited, to say the least. That would soon change.

The first order of business for the first city council was to plan for a sewer and water system. Private wells and the honey bucket brigade required urgent attention, but where would the money come from?

In 1951, news flashed from Ottawa, from the Yukon’s Member of Parliament, Aubrey Simmons, that the federal government had decided to move the capital to Whitehorse. As black as that day was for Dawsonites, it was the start of a new era in Whitehorse. The federal government amended the Yukon Act, increasing members on the Yukon Council, two of them to represent Whitehorse.

The federal government would immediately move the National Employment Service to Whitehorse. The federal government was now paying attention to the growing city under Mayor Armstrong. On August 15, 1952, the new Whitehorse Elementary High School was officially opened with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the main entrance of the school on Fourth Avenue.

On April 1, 1953, Whitehorse officially became the Capital of the Yukon Territory, the most westerly capital city in Canada. On April 2, 1954, the Mayor told residents that the cost of the proposed sewer and water installations in Whitehorse, to the individual homeowner, would be about $10.00 a month. After a city-wide plebiscite voting in favour, they would start work that summer with completion targeted for 1955.

In 1954, Gordon left the Burns Company and, with his nephew Bob Armstrong, started Yukon Sales, a wholesale distribution outfit. The company was a Walmart on wheels. With a converted panel truck, they delivered orders from Dawson City to Cassiar, and all points between. They sold anything that would sell. Gordon always claimed that he was the first to introduce Peak Frean biscuits, Blue Ribbon Tea and Willard’s Chocolates to the Yukon.

The pair carried out much of the work from Gordon’s historic home on Wood Street. The Armstrongs, with their only daughter Pat, lived in a three-room log house that was first owned by Dr. Frederick Cane, the Whitehorse postmaster in 1906. The house was originally a small three room log cabin, to which they attached a frame addition.

In the 1920s, the house was occupied by Captain Campbell, a pilot on the river boats, for whom it is now named. It is a wonder the Armstrong family ever got any rest, since the house is believed to be haunted by the ghost of a young boy who drowned in the 1940s. The ghost only appeared in one room, one of the early additions to the three room log house. There was a constant feeling of being watched, while the ghost often played “peek-a-boo”.


At home, Gordon never forgot his first craft as a butcher, and was often called upon by friends to prepare the results of a successful moose hunt. He did this work in a garage in the back of his yard at 406 Wood.


In June 1954, the Federal Government announced plans to build a 120-bed hospital in Whitehorse. The old hospital, on Second and Hanson, no longer provided adequate health services for the developing city.

That summer, Mayor Armstrong entertained royalty. In August, the Duke of Edinburgh became the first “Royal” to visit the land of the Midnight Sun. They treated him to fine wine and a fun time on board the SS Klondike. It’s a good thing Gordie was up on his local history because the Duke had many questions for the Mayor, especially about the portrait of the Can Can dancers that graced the walls of the Klondike’s dining room.

On November 5, 1954, the modern Federal Building at the corner of Fourth and Main opened its doors to the public. Local athletes were none too happy because the building occupied their former ball diamond, but a new arena, curling rink and ball diamond, near the south end of Fourth Avenue, more that made up for the loss.

The Federal Building contained 60,000 square feet of office space, and housed the growing number of government departments. The Whitehorse Post Office moved out of its turn-of-the-century building at First Avenue & Lambert, and into the new streamlined quarters in the Federal Building.

1955 was a busy year for the Mayor and his four-member council. By September, the downtown core was piled with dirt. Deep, muddy trenches left gaping holes in the streets and the roar of heavy equipment filled the air. Sewer and water construction was underway. Nevertheless, residents were not duty-bound to install the system into their homes. In fact, residents had to apply if they wanted to reap the benefits of the multimillion-dollar project.

Also, in September, work on the Yukon River’s first real bridge was underway. A 300-foot, three-span structure was going to reach the area that would become the city’s new subdivision.

The following spring, Governor-General Vincent Massey officially opened the span and revealed its name. The Robert Campbell Bridge connected old Whitehorse to the new subdivision called Riverdale. It was an important day for us school kids too. The Governor-General, on his first visit to the Yukon, proclaimed a school holiday. Mr. Massey, like the Mayor, was a popular fellow.

Many improvements during the '50s, including a few paved streetsand concrete sidewalks, were carried out under the Mayor’s tenure.

However, it wasn’t all business for Mayor Gordon Armstrong, although he and his small council were obviously busy making their mark on the future of Whitehorse. He loved to fish and, according to his son-in-law, Graham George, there was scarcely a river in the Yukon that avoided his rod and reel. Frequent fishing trips were always, said Graham, accompanied by a bottle of good Scotch whiskey.

In 1958, after eight hectic years, Gordon Cameron succeeded Gordon Armstrong as Mayor. But he had left his mark in the city’s history. He had helped the town rise from a frontier northern village to a modern city, with amenities of which the early pioneers could only dream.

In 1962, the Armstrongs moved to Vancouver, but Gordon frequently returned to the Territory while still operating his Yukon Sales Company. Gordon Armstrong, the first Mayor of Whitehorse, passed away in Vancouver in 1993, and was laid to rest in Kelowna, British Columbia.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.

Al Kulan

Canada's centennial year, 1967, was an exciting time in the Yukon. There were all kinds of celebrations and projects. Unnamed mountains were being climbed. The Yukon River flotilla saw boats of every description heading from Whitehorse to Dawson. Most of the events were huge successes. However, I recall, that one expensive project didn't seem to take hold.

Al Kulan, who had arrived in the Yukon as a broke prospector in the late forties, finally struck it rich in the lead-zinc region of Ross River.

In 1967, he was trying to give someting back to the community. He donated $25,000, a lot of money then, to plant trees on Lewis Boulevard.

Try as they might, the organizers could never get the trees to grow. Today, maybe, but back then, nope!

If he had trouble with trees, the legendary mining man had better luck with hardrock mines.

Al was born in Toronto in 1921 and joined the Canadian Army Tank Corps in 1939. After the war, he vowed he'd never work for anyone again. So he began the sometimes lonely life of a prospector.

In July 1953, Kulan found a heavy concentration of rust close to Vangorda Creek, near Ross River, which led to major lead-zinc discoveries.

In 1964, Kulan helped form Dynasty Explorations to search for marketable ore bodies in the Vangorda area. The word Dynasty was on everyone's lips. A Klondike-like bonanza, everyone agreed.

But a project of this size required money, so Dynasty joined with Cyprus Mines Corp. to form Anvil Mining, which developed the Faro deposit. The Faro mine became Canada's leading lead-zinc producer and started the biggest mining action since the gold rush. It operated for more than 20 years and established Yukon as a major supplier of base metals.

However, Kulan was not content to rest on his success or his wealth. In the seventies, while looking for iron ore deposits, Kulan rediscovered a deposit of the gemstone, lazulite, which turned out to contain the world's best specimens. He also discovered a group of new phosphate minerals found nowhere else in the world.

Well-formed crystals of lazulite occur in only a few places, including the Yukon where the colour and crystalline qualities are among the finest in the world.

In February 1976, the azure-blue rock was proclaimed the Yukon's official gemstone. The discovery of Yukon gemstones led to the formation of the Alan Kulan Memorial lectures sponsored by the University of Toronto, the Yukon Chamber of Mines and the Yukon Geoscience Foundation.

September 12th, 1977. On that fateful day, Al Kulan was holding a business meeting in the Ross River lounge. A local resident, John Rolls, walked over to the table and, without warning, fired a shot from a .357 Magnum revolver. Al Kulan, the Yukon's most famous prospector, was dead. Shock waves reverberated through the mining community and beyond.

The Yukon's Prospectors' Association inducted Kulan into the Yukon Hall of Fame in 1988. His name is engraved in the bronze three-metre-tall prospectors' statue on Main Street and Third Avenue.

In January 2005, Alan Kulan was inducted into the Canadian Mining hall of fame in Toronto.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

Lionel Stokes

Here at home, I have a beat-up old curling broom. A real broom. Not the kind of shot-enhancing devices that curlers use these days to control the speed and curl of the rocks. Nope, this one is a real corn broom. The kind that used to make such a racket in the hands of good sweepers that even Russ Howard had a hard time being heard over the smack of corn broom on ice.

The broom I have is well used. Well worn. Almost worn out, in fact. But you can still read the name written, by felt marker, on the cloth covering. One word. Stokes. He's the guy who gave me the broom, back in 1977, at the Macdonald's Brier in Montreal. Lionel was shooting second stones for skip Don Twa's Yukon foresome that year.

At the end of round-robin play, the Yukon finished with a respectable record of five wins and six loses, much better than northern teams usually fare in men's national competition these days. But not nearly as good as this team did the first time the north was directly entered in the Brier. That came two years earlier, in 1975, when skip Don Twa, third Chuck Haines, second Kip Boyd and lead Lionel Stokes nearly won the Brier.

Staged in Fredericton, New Brunswick, the north, for the first time, had a direct entry into the Brier and Don Twa's team from Whitehorse was it. How well did they do? you ask. Well, the winner, Northern Ontario, had to make an almost impossible last rock shot in their last game to finish with a record of 9 wins and 2 losses - there were no playoffs then - while the boys from the Yukon finished with 8 wins and 3 losses. Never again has the Territories team come that close, and maybe they never will.

Lionel Stokes had a lot to do with that fantastic result. Two years later, in 1977, the Twa rink was back in Brier final. Lionel was now throwing second stones and, even though the final placing was not like the 1975 showing, Lionel was named the All-Star Second. The best second in Canada. He was that good.

Through it all, he became a renowned team player and dedicated curling organizer. In 1973 and 1974, Lionel and his team toured Europe on a goodwill curling marathon that gained the Yukon and Canada recognition worldwide.

In addition to his athletic ability, Lionel spent many years serving on Yukon curling committees, organizing curling events, and initiated the Bert Boyd Memorial Trophy.

So while you are in Whitehorse, take a moment and visit the Edgewater Hotel and dining room. The food is great, but more important - especially for curlers - is the chance to meet Lionel Stokes, a member of the Yukon Sports hall of fame, and oh so close to being Brier champ. Oh yes, please tell him Les McLaughlin still has his 1977 Brier broom.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


In 1968 Marg and Rolf Hougen commissioned Jim Robb to do a painting of the Anglican Old Log Church (above).

Jim Robb

I met Jim Robb when he came to Whitehorse in the late fifties. Our first encounter was at the end of a shovel. We were both labourers with the Canadian army, moving dirt piles from point A to point B in Camp Takhini.

Neither of us knew why. It was a summertime job for me while I was going to school, and an introduction for Jim to a Yukon make-work project.

He was a quiet guy. At least I can’t remember any lasting conversations. Our focus was on moving dirt. He showed no hint of his later brilliance for capturing Yukon scenes and characters. Our paths rarely crossed after that. To me, he became this strange guy who carried art supplies and a camera under his arm as he strolled the back alleys of Yukon communities. Who knew why!

Years later, we all knew why. He had captured the Yukon as it had never been seen before. His work took time to catch on. Great art and artistic interpretations usually do. Picasso’s strange faces and lopsided caricatures were not an instant hit around the world.

Neither were Jim’s scenes of Wigwam’s table dance, or shacks at Moccasin Flats, that seemed to tilt far more than science would allow. Mining camps no one had seen for years became grist for the ceaseless pen and ink sketches of Jim Robb. Faces of characters long since gone took on new life and meaning.

For whatever reason, and no one knows the reason for the acceptance of artistic endeavour, Jim’s work came into vogue. Pretty soon everyone wanted a Jim Robb. Everyone ! Today, the entire Yukon looks like a Jim Robb sketch.

Our conversations today are more focused than they were in the fifties. The last time I saw him, he greeted me with the observation that I must now be older than all the rocks on Grey Mountain.

My comeback was that he had been in the Yukon longer than the Tintina Trench. He drew a sketch of me. I looked like Mr. Magoo. He said it was an accurate portrait. I drew a sketch of him. He looked like a hobo. An accurate portrait, I said.

He showed me his collection of Yukon artifacts - things that long since would have ended up in some dirt pile had he not picked them up. Jim’s persistence in sketching and collecting and picture-taking finally paid off when Canada recognized his immense contributions by awarding him the nation’s highest honour, the Order of Canada.

I’ll bet that when the Governor General fastened the pin on his suit, he must have recalled those days with a shovel on a Takhini dirt pile and recognized that the Yukon really does hold out the promise that with persistence and dedication, a person can be what they want to be.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.


A portrait of Percy DeWolfe, taken at Fortymile, in fur parka and moccasins. DeWolfe was the mail-carrier between Dawson and Eagle, Alaska, for 35 years. Date: 1938. Yukon Archives. Claude & Mary Tidd fonds, #7098.


Percy DeWolfe handing a sack of mail to RCMP Constable Joe Kessler at Fortymile. Date: ca. 1930. Yukon Archives. Claude & Mary Tidd fonds, #8370.


Portrait of Percy DeWolfe. Date: 1932. Yukon Archives. Claude & Mary Tidd fonds, #7124.

Percy De Wolfe

It's hard to imagine a life filled with more adventure than that of Percy De Wolfe. Like many young men from eastern Canada, when he heard about the Klondike Gold Rush he and his partner, Peter Anderson, headed for the Klondike.

They arrived in Dawson City in June, 1898, but, as it was for other late comers, the pair could not find any ground worth staking.

Both had done some fishing on the east coast, and decided to try their luck with a fishing business on the Yukon River. With a net bought on credit, they set up camp ten miles down the river from Dawson and brought back the first fresh salmon to the booming town.

The fishing business in the summer time was good. In the winter, the pair did freighting to the Fortymile mining camp. During this time, they built the 16-mile Road House and Halfway House on the Yukon river.

In 1920, De Wolfe and Anderson ended their partnership and Percy got a contract to carry the mail from Dawson to Eagle, Alaska. It was the beginnning of a remarkable career, at times risking his life to get the mail through.

On one trip, his horses broke through the river ice. Percy was able to throw the twenty bags of mail off the sleigh before the three horses and sleigh went under the ice.

In 1935, Percy De Wolfe received a silver medal from King George, in recognition of his public service.

Percy De Wolfe carried the mail between Dawson-Fortymile and Eagle, Alaska, from 1910 to 1949, when they finally ended the mail contract to Eagle. His last contract was to Fortymile.

The post office at Fortymile was closed in 1951. Percy De Wolfe died in St. Mary's hospital in February, 1951, after several months of illness. He had carried the mail for forty years in all kinds of weather and conditions, travelling more than 100,000 miles by dog team.

In 1976, to commemorate the contributions of Percy De Wolfe, the KVA sponsored the Percy De Wolfe Memorial Mail Dog Sled Race.

Still going strong, the route follows the Yukon River trail, from Dawson City to Eagle, Alaska, and returns on the same trail to finish.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

Bonanza Creek

A Yukon video by Les McLaughlin

Territories at Brier

As the country prepares for the Tim Hortons Brier, emblematic of men’s curling supremacy in Canada, we are all applauding the NWT-Yukon Representative, from the Yellowknife curling club. The hope is this team can proudly carry the territories banner to victory, but it’s a longshot, just as it was when the territories first entered the national men’s championship in 1975. Back then it was the MacDonald Brier, but today tobacco is out of favour. Thus, the coffee giant Tim Horton’s is the main sponsor.

For years prior to 1975, curling enthusiasts in the North had been clamouring for a direct entry into the national play-downs, but to no avail. The competition was not good enough in the North, said the masters who ran the show. Finally, in 1975 they relented, and for the first time the Northern Territories had their own entry to be decided in a pan-northern play-down. Don Twa and his rink from Whitehorse emerged as the first direct northern entry. Not to worry said the powers that be, the northerners will fail, and then maybe we’ll just go back to our original plan of provincial representation only at the Brier. Don Twa and his rink made up of third Chuck Haines, second Kip Boyd, and lead Lionel Stokes had other ideas. That year the briar was held in Fredericton New Brunswick, and I was lucky enough to be sent to cover this historic event for radio, along with my pal Terry Delaney.

No one gave the Yukon rink a chance against the best in Canada, but on the day of the final draw the nation had taken notice. Don Twa had curled with grace and skill as never before. His rink, not only the oldest foursome at the event but also the most gracious, needed to win their final game to make their overall record 8 wins and 3 losses, and then hope that Bob Cole and his rink from Newfoundland would defeat Alberta. Cole did just that with a spectacular shot for a deuce in the 12th end. I recall more excitement on that shot than when Cole was calling the Stanley Cup Playoffs. With Alberta and the Yukon now tied at 8 and 3, Northern Ontario still led the pack with an 8 and 2 record. They had to lose their final game in the round robin to force a three way tie. Alas Bill Tetley and his Northern Ontario rink won their last game on an almost impossible draw through a post of the button to win the Macdonald Brier Tankard. In those days there were no playoffs, so the team with the best winning record over the entire week was declared the winner. However the Yukon entry led by Don Twa came ever so close to winning the Briar that year, but more importantly they showed that the north belonged in the national final. As icing on the cake, Don Twa was elected by sports reporters, including Terry Delaney and me, as the all-star skip. It was indeed a memorable week for sports in the Yukon.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Burning riverboats, 1974.

The Riverboats Burn

The Yukon lost a little bit of its soul. That's the way a noted Yukon historian described the reaction on that Friday back in 1974, when the Whitehorse and the Casca were reduced to ashes.

Two grand old veterans of the riverboat days stood side by side where they were built in the shipyards overlooking the Yukon River. They had stood their since the early '50s, when their days as the workhorses of the Yukon came to an end. The Whitehorse was built here in 1901.

For years, local historians had called for action to ensure the safety of the wooden boats. A committee headed by Rolf Hougen was able to get government support to repaint the boats, put new decking in place and install a fence to keep out intruders. But trespassers were still able to dig under the fence and use the cabins on the boats as a temporary shelter.

At 10pm on Friday, June 21, 1974, smoke was seen billowing from one of the boats. The fire department raced the three blocks to the scene. But the dry wooden ships were now engulfed in flames. Smoke rose 100 feet into the air within minutes. The heat in the area was intense.

The fire-fighters sprayed thousands of gallons onto the burning pyre, but they knew it was far to late to save these priceless relics of a glorious past. Within hours, the Whitehorse and the Casca were reduced to a pile of crumpled steel. Barely a trace of the wooden slats and beams were left.

Hundreds of city residents stood by watching the devastation. Many held back tears. Many more could not.

What caused the tragedy? Well, shortly after the fire call went out, the police helped three young men from Ontario off the Casca where they had been living for a week. They were taken into custody and questioned before being released. No charges were laid.

The deaths of the Whitehorse and Casca meant that only three of those wonderful sternwheelers were still standing in decent shape in the Yukon. The Klondike in Whitehorse, the Keno in Dawson and the Tutshi in Carcross. In 1991, the Tutshi, which had been partially restored but had no sprinkler system on board, was set ablaze in Carcross. Its fate mirrored that of the Whitehorse and the Casca. Now only two boats from the remarkable fleet of 25 remain. Their value cannot be calculated in dollars.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


It’s more than 110 miles across some of the toughest country in the world. It zigs and zags past snow clad mountains, frozen rivers, tundra, and wind swept coast from Anchorage to Nome. It is the Iditarod dog race. The Iditarod trail began as a mail and supply route from the Alaskan coast to the interior mining camps. Mail and supplies went in, and eventually, gold came out. On a Christmas Day in 1908, prospectors discovered gold on a tributary of the Iditarod River. The news spread, and in the summer of 1909, miners arrived in the goldfields. Iditarod boomed with hotels, cafes, three newspapers, banks, telephones, and even automobiles. In 1925, the trail became a life-saving highway for the people of Nome when a diphtheria epidemic threatened the community. Serum had to be delivered by dog team. By the 1930s, the gold was gone. Iditarod became a ghost town.

Then, renewal when the Iditarod trail sled dog race first ran to Nome in 1973. Over the years there have been many memories. Twenty-two mushers finished in 1973, and since then there have been more than four hundred finishers from Canada, the United States, and around the rest of the world. Rick Swenson of Two Rivers Alaska, the only five-time winner, and the only musher to have entered twenty Iditarod races. He has never finished out of the top ten. The most improbable winner was Dick Mackey from Nenana, who in 1978 beat Rick Swenson by one second after two weeks on the trail. Then there was Norman Vaughan, who at the age of eighty-eight has finished the race four times. And there is Libby Riddles, the first woman to win the Iditarod in 1985. The Iditarod, which became known as The Last Great Race, fittingly features competitors from around the world.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Mrs. Lucille Hunter in her home, Whitehorse 1960. Yukon Archives. Richard Harrington fonds, #277.

Lucille Hunter

When I was a school kid growing up on Strickland Street, colourful characters were the norm. It was not unusual to find my Dad and Wigwam Harry sharing a story or two at our kitchen table.

Andy Hooper could be seen hauling another old building to some new lot with this American army lift truck. BuzzSaw Jimmy was always around cutting trees with his homemade wood sawing contraption.

Tuffy Cyr roamed the back alleys collecting the contents of the ubiquitous honey buckets and dumping them into a home-built container made of 45-gallon drums. Characters were...well, to me they were normal. Nothing out of the ordinary.

And at the end of Strickland, near the hill leading to the airport, in a tiny shack, lived an old lady I seldom saw.

Her name was Lucille Hunter. Born in Michigan, she married Charles Hunter when she was just 16. In 1897, when she was 19, the couple joined the Klondike Gold Rush, travelling to the Yukon via the Stikine Trail.

The journey was remarkable for two reasons: she and her husband were among a handful of African-American stampeders who came to the Klondike, and Lucille was nine months pregnant at the time. In Teslin, Mrs. Hunter gave birth to a baby girl whom she named...Teslin.

For the local Native people, the hoard of white prospectors in their midst was an unusual sight, but never before had they seen a black person. Not quite sure what to call the Hunters, they simply described them as "just another kind of white person".

Charles and Lucille travelled by dog team to the Klondike. To undertake this journey in winter, Charles may have had experience as a trapper or miner.

Without survival skills, the young couple would have perished in the -60° temperatures over hundreds of miles of wilderness. They arrived in Bonanza Creek in February 1898, well before the main throng of stampeders arrived. Here they staked three claims. Lucille worked alongside her husband digging for gold, while raising daughter Teslin in extremely primitive conditions.

A few years later, the Hunters moved to Mayo where Charles staked and worked some silver claims. In June 1939, Charles died at age 65, leaving Lucille alone with her grandson, Buster, to carry on mining. Her daughter Teslin had died earlier, leaving Lucille to raiseBuster.

In 1942, when Alaska Highway construction began, Lucille and Buster moved to Whitehorse. Lucille set up a laundry business while Buster made the deliveries around town.


A few years later, Lucille moved to the tiny clapboard house on 8th Avenue, where she lived alone. As kids, we used to ride our toboggans down the nearby hill and we could hear the sound of the radio coming from inside as we slid silently past her home.


Mrs. Hunter had gone blind, but kept up with the world and local affairs through the constant playing of her radio.

The small home, her many visitors said, was filled with stacks of newspapers, magazines, and other flammable stuff stored dangerously close to her wood stove, and friends worried about the danger of fire.

One fateful night the house caught fire. Firefighters had a difficult job breaking through the security locks to rescue Lucille whose clothes were ablaze when she was rescued.

She recovered from minor burns, but her little house on Strickland Street was gone so she moved to a small basement apartment downtown, where she continued to entertain guests with her fascinating stories and, of course, listened to the radio until her death in 1972 at the age of 93.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


This 1972 photo by Bob Erlam is of Joanne Schrioch - on the job.

Parking meters

The year was 1967. Everyone in the country was celebrating a big birthday. Canada was 100 years old. It seemed a fine time for giving, and sharing the bounties of the big land. In Whitehorse, City council was not so much in the mood for sharing as for taking. It seems that parking was becoming a problem in the growing frontier town of about ten thousand. Taking a page from really big cities, the city council decided to install parking meters on Main Street. What would they think of next? Traffic lights, no doubt.

By the spring of 1968, the meters were ready to accept a nickel for a half-hour stay. The meters did not produce much revenue until 1972, when Whitehorse hired an energetic local woman, Valerie Matechuk, to patrol the meters and hand out two-dollar tickets to overtime parkers.

Hot-footing it around her circuit at least twice an hour, Valerie issued thousands of dollar's worth of citations. Soon downtown merchants were crying foul - that the meters would drive business to the boondocks, wherever they were. The dreaded meters were here to stay, and the complaints rolled in.

The meter controversy seemed as endless as ice fog at fifty below. So in 1972, Bob Erlam, publisher of the Whitehorse Star, whose storefront was on Main Street, decided to take matters into his own hands.

He said the city's meter maid was being over-zealous. Erlam claimed that the meters had already paid for themselves, were driving away business and were no longer needed to solve over-parking and traffic problems. Maybe he was right. City income from the meters during the first nine months of 1972 was more than $ 40,000.

Bob took an ad out in his paper. It was for a job. Twelve people applied for the position of "anti-meter maid", who would make the same circuit as Valerie, the meter maid, and feed the "almost expired meters" with nickels, instead of issuing tickets. The salary of $ 90 per week, plus expenses, would be paid by Erlam, and Hougen's Ltd., along with contributions from grateful non-ticketed motorists.


Twenty-year-old Joanne Schrioch got the job and soon became the town's newest heroine. She started work on November 8, 1972, armed with a supply of nickels and leaflets explaining her job to vehicle owners, and suggesting donations. At one point in her career, she had put coins in 900 nearly-expired meters. To avoid any conflict with the law, she didn't touch the fully expired ones, leaving those to Valerie's mercy.


Joanne's anti-meter activity got a warm reception in frosty Whitehorse. She even got along well with Meter Maid Matechuk. Often the meter and anti-meter maids were seen having lunch together.

How much was accomplished in this meter stage may never be known, but Whitehorse did get a lot of outside publicity, including a lengthy story in Time Magazine in the summer of 1973.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

Polly Parrot

No one is quite sure when he arrived in the Yukon, or how he got here for that matter. Some say he came over the Chilkoot Pass at the beginning of the Klondike rush. What is certain is that he got no further than Carcross, and there he lived out his days. He also spent some time at Conrad City on Tagish Lake with Captain James Alexander, who owned the Engineer Mine. But poor Captain Alexander was a victim of bad timing when he chose to leave the Yukon on the last boat of the year in October 1918. That boat out of Skagway was the S.S. Sophia, the CPR liner that hit a rock and sank in the Lynn Canal, carrying all 353 people to their deaths.

Luckily, Captain Alexander had left Polly at the Caribou Hotel in Carcross before embarking on his fateful final voyage. Alexander called him Polly, no one know why, or how old Polly was when he arrived at the Caribou hotel, but some guessed as old as fifty years. Now Polly isn’t much of a name for a male, kind of like a boy named Sue. But like the song, Alexander had prepared a boy named Polly for the rough life to come. From 1918 to 1972, Polly lived at the Caribou, the most famous hotel in the Yukon. There he survived blizzards, fires, drunks and insults for almost fifty-five years. In the hotel, Polly sang opera, spewed profanity, and bummed drinks for half a century. That wasn’t hard to do since he usually stayed in the restaurant, which was just outside the tavern door. He liked Scotch, but would take a beer if that was going around. Lord knows he never paid for a drink, and would spout some pretty foul language if a tavern patron passed him by.

When I knew Polly in the 1960s he showed no signs of his age, nor of his unhealthy habits. By then he had come to dislike alcohol, and even the smell of beer coming from the nearby tavern would sometimes result in a flow of foul language. That’s why Polly was a major attraction at the old Caribou. He was even featured in major national Canadian Press news story, which resulted in hoards of journalists arriving at the Caribou to see if Polly really existed. They found, to their delight, that he did. And so when Polly died at the hotel in November of 1972 it became a story of international significance. A funeral train from Whitehorse to Carcross carried many Yukon dignitaries, while carloads of Polly fans arrived from all over the territory. Johnnie Johns, the famous hunting guide from Carcross performed the eulogy, and sang ‘I love you truly’. Then, with special dispensation from the territorial government, Polly was laid to rest in the Pioneer Carcross Cemetery where Skookum Jim, Dawson Charlie, and others are buried. You see, Polly needed special permission because it’s not usual for a parrot to be considered a Yukon Pioneer.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


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.


A sign on one building., 1971.


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.


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


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.


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.


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


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


Cal Miller, right, with Bert Wybrew at the Arctic Winter Games in Whitehorse 1986.

Cal Miller

Though I never saw him catch a softball or deliver a curling stone, the Yukon sports scene would not be what it is today had it not been for Cal Miller. While athletes get most of the attention, and rightly so, but without builders like Cal, the sports scene would be a lesser place.

Cal arrived in Whitehorse in 1951. Maybe he was an athlete back then. But in later years, when I got to know him, he was the gregarious owner of the Capital Hotel. Cal held court behind the bar of the famed watering hole, where he'd delight customers with his home-spun philosophy on subjects ranging from the latest mining strike to political shenanigans of the Territorial Government.

His eyes would really light up when the topic turned to sports. In those early days, Yukon recreation teams could count on Cal for support. The Old Crow dog mushers needed financial assistance. Cal could and did help.

When the newly formed Yukon soccer league needed a trophy in the 1960s, Cal and his connections with Carling Brewery made sure the new five-team league played for a classy soccer trophy.

Midget and juvenile hockey teams needed a sponsor? Enter Cal Miller. It seems the first place any sporting association went looking for help was to the Capital Hotel bar.

And so it is no surprise that Cal has a connection with the Canada Winter Games that goes far beyond support of Yukon athletes and their participation in the early years of the games.

He was there as an executive with the Yukon team at the first Canada Winter Games in Quebec city in 1967. What he witnessed dismayed him. The Yukon team was trounced at every turn. Because of the small population base and the general lack of facilities and training, the Yukoners were outnumbered and out-classed. Needless to say, there were no medals that year.

As Cal watched the debacle, he had an idea. The time had come, he said to have northerners compete against each other. From Quebec City, Cal got on the phone to Yukon Commissioner, Jimmy Smith, and asked for his support.. We need our own games where our athletes have a fighting chance to win something, said Cal. Smith agreed. The Commissioner of the NWT, Stuart Hodgson was also representing his Territories at the Games in Quebec City . Hodgson agreed with the assessment of the problems faced by Northern athletes and phoned Alaskan Governor, Walter Hickel with an idea which would see Northerners develop their own set of Games.


The Arctic Winter Games were born. In 1970, the first northern winter games were held in Yellowknife . Since then, the Arctic games have grown in stature and support. They have created a base from which northern athletic associations can draw players to take part in national events like the Canada Winter Games. The games gave northern athletes a pride of place. Cal Miller once said that the Arctic Winter Games were the best idea since the invention of 7-up - high praise from a man who holds a rightful place in the Yukon Sports Hall of Fame and who would be proud of the Yukon contingent taking part in the 2007 Canada Winter Games in Whitehorse.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Morel Mushrooms

Forest fires are nature's way of clearing old growth, which allows organic matter to decompose rapidly into minerals which - in turn - supply fuel for speedy plant growth.

Some trees cannot survive without forest fires. Lodgepole and jack pines, seeds germinate after they have been exposed to fire. Both have resin-sealed cones that stay on the trees for many years.

The heat of a fire melts the resin and the cones pop open. Thousands of seeds scatter onto the ground and some grow into sturdy stands of pine. Aspen vigorously sprouts from underground roots after a fire - good news for moose and elk that feed on the new growth.

In the blackened woods, the Yukon's beautiful official flower, the fireweed appears in a splurge of abundant colour.

Many plants and animals are adapted to fires and the conditions they create. After a fire, birds such as the woodpecker may actually increase their population many times over as they feast on bark beetles and other insects that colonize the newly burned trees.

Predators like the lynx benefit from fires that maintain the forest mosaic. They use mature conifers for cover and hunt in recently burned areas that support large populations of its favourite prey - the snowshoe hare.

Parks Canada says that forest fires seldom trap large mammals, although they do kill some small animals and birds. However, over the long term, most species benefit from the habitats created by fire.

The type of fire and how quickly the vegetation comes back determines how fast the animals come back.

Many areas regenerate quickly as grasses sprout within two or three weeks after a fire, to the delight of Yukon gophers.

Then, there is a rapid re-colonization by small mammals like snowshoe hares and birds such as the sharp-tailed grouse. These are quickly followed by predators like foxes, marten, and owls.

Yukon forest fires also trigger a type of fungus to burst into full bloom, thus producing a bumper crop of highly-prized mushrooms. Precious, expensive morel mushrooms make their mysterious debut.


Dried morels can sell for more than $100 dollars per pound, and mushroom pickers can be seen at the road sides searching for these treasured fungi.


Mycologists, scientists who spend their careers studying mushrooms, are not sure why morels are produced in such abundance after forest fires. It could be that the rich nutrients released by forest fires somehow trigger the crops.

Still, at the peak of the season, high quality morel mushrooms are flown out of the Yukon. Thus forest fires help ensure that a tasty bit of the Yukon ends up on dinner plates in expensive restaurants around the world.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


40 years ago, if you wanted to hear private radio in the Yukon you had to tune in radio stations from big cities in Southern Canada or the U.S. That usually took an expensive receiver, a copper wire antenna and some luck on a crisp cold night. But all that changed on November 17, 1969 when radio station CKRW hit the Yukon airwaves. Imagine that:40 years ago.

In December of 1968, Klondike Broadcasting was awarded a broadcast license beating out a bid by another local group headed by Vic Wylie. That spring in 1969, Rolf Hougen, president of Klondike Broadcasting, announced that “Comfall” the most northerly private radio station would be serving the public. He also described plans for a new building on Main Street to accommodate the state-of-the-art radio operation. Al Jensen would be the station’s first manager. For forty years, CKRW radio has reported on, participated in and added to Yukon culture. By keeping favourite features since the station’s beginning and adding hits of yesterday, today and tomorrow, online contests and cutting edge features, CKRW has always combined a modern flare with small-town charme. Through both the on-air programming and the website, CKRW continues to sponsor many local events, from music festivals to the longest sled-dog in the world, in keeping with the slogan “Your community radio station”.

Through the years there have been changes. On May 10, 2004, Klondike Broadcasting added an FM transmitter at Whitehorse to provide an FM stereo service to the city and surrounding area while continuing to provide service on the AM band to residents who weren’t able to receive the new FM signal. CKRW officially launched “The Rush 96.1 FM” on September 14, 2004. Today CKRW transmits to listeners in Watson Lake, Teslin, Haines Junction, Faro, Mayo, Carmacks and Dawson City and reaches outside the Yukon boundaries with transmitters in Atlin, British Columbia and Inuvik, Northwest Territories.

So, a big happy birthday RW and may you celebrate many more in the years to come.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Eskimo schooners from Banks Island and Mackenzie Delta at Pauline Cove, Herschel Island, Yukon. One of early whalers' warehouses in distance. 1930. Yukon Archives. Finnie Family fonds, #390.


Old buildings at Herschel Island, Arctic Coast, Y.T., 1930. Yukon Archives. Finnie Family fonds, #392. (Photo cropped).


Mission House - Herschel Island - 1925 - [Rev. Arthur Creighton McCullum's] first mission. Yukon Archives. Rev. Arthur Creighton McCullum fonds, #3.

Herschel Island

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


The Yukon flag adopted, 1967.

The Yukon Flag

It flies proudly throughout this land - a symbol of the rich heritage of the Yukon. Yet what do its parts mean? The Yukon’s flag came into being as the result of a contest sponsored by the Royal Canadian Legion back in the '60s. Yukon students were asked to submit designs for what would become the official Yukon flag.

When the contest ended, a design by Lynn Lambert of Destruction Bay was chosen. Some modifications were made for heraldic purposes, since things as official as a flag must follow certain rigid specifications. There are, for example, very specific colour code numbers for the green and blue panels on either side of the flag. But the basic elements remain. So the next time you see the Yukon flag flying in a stiff summer breeze, consider the following:

The green panel adjacent to the mast stands for the forests, the white centre panel for the snow and the blue outer panel for water. The centre white panel has the Yukon crest above a symbolic representation of fireweed, the Yukon’s flower.

The shield symbolizes the history of the territory. The wavy white and blue stripe represents all the rivers of the Yukon. The red triangles are for the mountains, while the gold-coloured discs inside the triangles depict mineral resources.

The red cross on the shield is the Cross of St. George and refers to early explorers. On the top of the shield, stands a proud-looking malamute husky, the animal whose stamina and loyalty was vital to all Yukoners in the early days.

The Yukon flag was officially adopted by the Council of the Yukon Territory on December 1st, 1967.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

The Centennial Range

The Yukon has always been a special place for mountain climbers. The vast landscape of the St. Elias has provided challenges for mountaineers around the world. In 1967, Canada was involved in all manner of special projects to celebrate 100 years of confederation.

David Fisher of the Alpine Club of Canada, Monty Alford with the Yukon Water Resource board and David Judd of the Yukon Territorial government administration presented a plan to climb peaks in the St. Elias Range. The Yukon Alpine Centennial Expedition was born.

The idea was to have 13 teams, of four climbers each, scale 13 unnamed peaks and name them after each of the 10 provinces and two territories. 1967 also marked 100 years since the American purchase of Alaska from Russia. It was decided to have a team of four Canadians and four Americans climb the highest unnamed mountain, and call it Good Neighbour Peak.

The Canadian climbers were led by Monty Alford while the American leader was Vin Hoeman. Good Neighbour Peak, rising 15,700 feet, was conquered on June 25. The second part of the project, the climb of provincial and territorial mountains was scheduled to begin on July 8th. None of the mountains had been climbed before. A support staff of more than 250 people assisted in this massive operation.

The actual ascents took place between July 13 and July 25. Nine of the peaks were conquered. Climbers attempting the other four were unable to reach the summits. The event captured the imagination of Canadians during that special year back in 1967.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin