Preserving and Promoting local history for the former Rideau Township
Log Fence

Humphries shared evocative slides of what she found, including the former RCMP building. (The RCMP didn't arrive in that village until about 1894. Until then, Forty Mile had been a self-governing town, and was pretty rowdy.)

One of her slides was of the interior of a building a student had rented to write his thesis without distractions. Humphries says the former village is now a Yukon historic site with a walking tour for tourists.

A log cabin with stove and refrigerator

A cabin without distractions.

Doug Culham was transferred to the Yukon in 1987, as part of his work as a government surveyor. (Which would probably be another great talk.) Culham gave us profiles on five important and colourful characters from early gold rush days. The discovery of gold in the Klondike pretty much defined the Yukon to the outside world and was a main reason it was made a territory in 1898. Of course, aboriginal people had already been there for thousands of years. But the gold rush changed everything. To which Culham added, “I know what gold fever is, because I've had it.” (He used to pan for gold on weekends.)

Culham gave biographical details about another surveyor, William Ogilvie, P.L.S., D.L.S., who was born in Ottawa, and for whom an Ottawa road is named. For 23 years Ogilvie surveyed Canada's west, in the railway belt. His lasting claim to fame was laying out the boundary between Canada and Alaska along the 141st meridian west. He became the Yukon's 2nd commissioner from 1898- 1901. During that time frame the area's miniscule nonnative population skyrocketed to about 30,000 new arrivals. Ogilvie had to record the many (and sometimescontentious) land claims.

The other characters in a fairly complex narrative were George Carmack (an American from California), his brother- in-law Scookum Jim Mason, and Tagish Charlie (also called Dawson Charlie). Those three are generally credited with co-discovering the finds that launched the Klondike Gold Rush in August of 1896. Some say another name on that list should have been Canadian Robert Henderson. Carmack got rich. Scookum Jim got drunk and fell off a bridge. Tagish Charlie lived in Whitehorse and died in 1915.

While panning for gold by hand is the image most easily called to mind, serious mining had to be consolidated into something more efficient. Sluices were useful, which required bringing in water from other sources. The next advance in terms of extracting gold was using dredges which could really handle the gravel and bedrock. Modern dredging operations are huge, with machines big as a football field, which float around in a lake of water.

By the way, Culham does have something to show for his own bout of fever. His wife Maureen has a gold ring made from his findings.

Maureen McPhee called her talk “The Yukon: Land of Opportunity”. McPhee had been supervising historians in the Indian Affairs Department in Hull when her husband Doug Culham was transferred up north in 1987. She wondered how she would ever find a job in Whitehorse. Happily, she did find work for which she was well-suited.

The back story to that endeavor was illustrated with a map of treaties signed by the federal government with various naïve groups. No treaties had been signed for parts of B.C. or the Yukon. In 1973 Canadian courts determined there was such a thing as aboriginal title and the federal government had to develop policies that dealt with comprehensive and specific land claims.

When McPhee got to the Yukon, such negotiations had already been going for 10 years and had failed to gain agreement. She was able to join that project “...starting at the bottom”. A final umbrella agreement was concluded just before McPhee and Culham moved back to Ottawa in 1990 - a result that was somewhat forced by way of a deadline. (McPhee said that sort of arbitrary time pressure would probably not survive court challenge today.) It took 3 more years to finalize that agreement.

McPhee directed her talk to the importance of that challenging work. (Her career path eventually carried her to the position of Director General, Self Government Branch for Indian and Northern Affairs, so we really were hearing from a main participant.)

McPhee says First Nation groups in the Yukon were the first in Canada to negotiate self-government. Hopefully, those agreements will foster confidence, improvements and a more optimistic future for Yukon and Canada.

McPhee said she and Culham traveled to communities all over the region in their time there and they learned a lot. She quite enjoyed the people she got to know and greatly appreciated the Yukon's space and grandeur.

Susan McKellar presented a wealth of slides and explanatory comments from the Yukon Road trip she and her husband Jack McKellar took in July/August of 2012. She worked off a relatively-new laptop, which she complained takes off on its own pace. “It's kinda like traveling with Jack – you don't stop. You just take a picture through the windshield!”

The McKellars drove the Alaska Highway and the (unpaved) Dempster Highway. Susan especially enjoyed Whitehorse, which she said had a lot of energy. Naturally, she went to the local archives. They also stumbled by pure luck on something called the Moosehide Gathering, which is only held every other year.

Susan said she was struck by the confidence of native inhabitants, and the amazing scenery, all wellrepresented by her excellent pictures.

Eric Field wrapped the presentations up with a famous Robert Service poem from 1907: The Cremation of Sam McGee.

 Eric Field reading "The cremantion of Sam McGee"

Eric Field reading “The Cremation of Sam McGee".

A lively post-talk Q&A period followed, with more discussion from others who have been to that region too and concerns about the lasting effects of mining on the land. (Doug Culham said the tailings are staggering - nothing grows on them, “a scar on the landscape”.)

To broad chuckles from the audience, Bill Tupper spoke again about how contagious placer mining can be. To this day, he says the Yukon helps provide some portion of a miner's “grub stake”, up to a certain level.

Tupper recounts that seasonal placer gold miners still set up in the Yukon each spring and work like dogs until freeze up in October. In the middle of the wilderness, he says, “You meet them, and there's just no other way of describing them other than being grease monkeys...they are just wild, dirty-looking people.” Tupper says the ones with the right luck, skill and stamina can net $100,000 or more for 6 months of long, hard days.

Tupper said successful miners live the other half of each year “like kings and queens”, with elegant winter homes in places like Vancouver Island. They travel, enjoy theatre and fine food, nice clothes and so on. Tupper stated he would have liked to give those enormous contrasts a try himself, but his wife nixed that plan.

Truly, the evening was a marvelous way to get a good sense of place without any planning, expense, or bugs! Thanks very much to organizers and speakers for cooking up such hearty servings of good Yukon stew.

You never know what might be on tap at the RTHS monthly meetings. An expert speaker from afar, or equally interesting speakers from within our own ranks, many of whom rank as experts themselves.

 The RTHS speakers for the evening

The presenters. From left to right, Doug Culham, Maureen McPhee, Barbara Humphreys, Owen Cooke, Susan McKellar, and Bill Tupper.

Fresh from our summer break, 40 members, guests and speakers showed up at Knox Presbyterian Church in Manotick to experience a broad sampler of Yukon-related experiences as shared by fellow society members. This was one of those evenings where newsletter space will not permit full coverage of all the material presented. (“You should have been there”, basically!) It was also quite fun to get glimpses of what speakers were doing in their younger years.

Owen Cooke began with memorable travels taken as a teen: “To the Yukon and Alaska in the 1950s”. Regrettably, Cooke could not find many of his photos from that trip, though he came with substitute images. Cooke said his father, Arnold Cooke, had always wanted to see the north. Arnold decided to take the leap in 1956 by taking a job as a carpenter building the air base in Whitehorse. Owen says he remembers his dad sending him a $100 bill (twice!) and a rare, exotic appliance, acquired at the American post exchange – a blender.

By the summer of 1957, Arnold Cooke wanted his wife and son to share some of that experience. Having only flown by plane once before, the journey's many flights were quite exciting to a young aviation buff. City stops were: Toronto, Thunder Bay, Winnipeg, Regina, Calgary, Edmonton, Grande Prairie, Fort St. John (and maybe a stop in Watson Lake?) until they got to Whitehorse. Planes flown were: Vickers Viscount (Toronto-Calgary), Vickers Vanguard (Calgary-Edmonton), Convair 340 (Edmonton to Fort St. John), and a Douglas DC-6B (Fort St. John to Whitehorse).

The summer's adventures include driving from Whitehorse to Dawson City and Valdez, Alaska. Cooke does not recall major bridges on the way. He said heavy ore trucks would start to sound their horns up in the hills and would expect the crossing ferry to be on their side by the time the driver reached the river bank. Cooke said he was struck by the sight of spawning salmon and steam locomotives simply abandoned in place - relics of the gold rush's “bust” cycle.

The Cooke family blew two tires on that trip and tied them to the roof, along with caribou antlers - all of which was perfectly normal up north. Driving the truck back to Orillia, though, the sight began to draw strange looks. Those who wonder if taking children or grandchildren traveling is worthwhile could find an answer in Cooke's summation “All in all, it was a great trip!”

Before he was our previous RTHS president, before he was a MP, local mayor or university professor, Bill Tupper was a geologist who spent two summers doing geological survey work in the Yukon, in 1964 and 1969. Tupper recounted adventures from the '64 field season, as an exploration geo-chemist for the Geological Survey of Canada in the Keno Hill area. The exploratory and scientific work was intended to further development in the Yukon Territory.

Of course, mining and mineral resources are important features of the North's economic activity. Keno Hill is one of the richest silver camps in the world in terms of percentage of silver found in the ore there. Keno Hill ore goes to a smelter in Idaho for processing.

With a series of illustrative slides, Tupper gave a 2-minute summation of a full semester course in field geology. Basically, soil, water and sediment – even vegetation - sampled along different points of waterways can indicate various mineral deposits in the area. With the right clues it's easier to know what is (or is not) there - and where to dig for it.. While such detecting looks very straight-forward on an area map, it requires considerable effort on the ground to establish the relevant information.

Tupper says they worked from late-May to freeze up, covering about 2,000 square miles. They collected some 6,000 sediment samples, which were analyzed for 16 metals. The results were available by February of 1965.

Tupper shared his own slides that conveyed a small sense of the area's beauty and what must have been an exhilarating experience for all 18 expedition teammates.

(Perhaps less exhilarating for the crew member who saw most of his clothes and his whole season's earnings burn in a tent fire?) While the work required a bit of jumping about, they were able to use an abandoned mining camp as the main base camp, which happened to come with the luxury of a working generator.

 The geologist's field kit for the summer

Bill Tupper describes the geologists camp kit used by the field team that summer. Out of sight behind Bill is a pistol they carried for protection..

Tupper turned some of the samples he found into jewelry for his wife, Georgie Tupper.

Barbara Humphries spoke about her 1970s trip to do an inventory of an abandoned gold-rush town called Forty Mile, for the National Historic Sites and Monuments Board. Here's a little background on how that trip fit into a larger picture, as explained on a Parks Canada website: “Parks Canada spearheaded the first inventory of historic buildings. Unprecedented in the world,

Parks Canada initiated in 1970 a nation-wide survey of buildings constructed before 1914. To lead the new Canadian Inventory of Historic Buildings (CIHB), Parks Canada hired architect Barbara Humphries to manage the program.

Forty Mile is about 60 miles NW of Dawson City, near the border with Alaska. Established around 1886, it was the site of the first gold placer mine in the Yukon, possibly in Canada. The village grew to a permanent population of about 200 residents along with hundreds of transient miners. At its height in the mid-to-late 1890s, Humphries said the village boasted 2 grocery stores, 2 doctors, a blacksmith, a dressmaker, a shoemaker, a lending library, 6 saloons and a distillery. By the turn of the century, though, Forty Mile's population plummeted after better strikes were found in the Klondike.

Humphries' trip had some exasperating surprises. When she got to Whitehorse all the planes had been commandeered to fight a fire. Finally, one plane's crew said they could fly her toward Forty Mile if she had a sleeping bag. They didn't know if anyone could fly her out again. Arriving at Clinton Creek, Humphries' local contact had just departed to deal with a family medical situation.

The only person who could take her the rest of the way had vanished and no one knew when he'd be back. Humphries was told she should go sit in the pub and make it known she needed to get to Forty Mile. At the pub, local wisdom went along the lines of: “Oh, it's only a few miles - just follow the river. If you see a bear don't run.” (She was not interested in quite that much adventure.)

Finally, after retiring for the night, the man with the boat knocked on Humphries' door just before midnight to say he was back and could take her the next day. That turned out to be a lovely ride, through beautiful countryside.

All told, Humphries spent a day on-site, plus travel time there and back. At Forty Mile a string of log cabins along the river was all that was left to see. Structurally, they were not too bad but all were in poor repair with broken windows and such.

The September 2013 Meeting, Six Servings of Yukon 

Speakers: RTHS Members with experience of the Yukon

Article and Pictures by Lucy Martin