The Hougen Group of Companies - A Yukon Tradition
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Stewart River

Many places in the Yukon are named for people who worked for the Hudson Bay Company. And most of it is due to the explorations of Robert Campbell, who named one of the most important rivers in the Yukon after "a dear and gallant friend".

In terms of gold production, it didn't equal the riches of the Klondike, but the Stewart River many times saved a miner from bankruptcy. Early prospectors called it "the grub stake" river. It was named for James Stewart, who was an assistant with Robert Campbell when the two men established a Hudson Bay post at Fort Selkirk.

Fine gold was first found on the river bars in 1884. By the summer of that year, Slim Jim Wynn struck a rich bar about 100 miles upstream. It paid about six thousand dollars a man for a summer's work. By 1886, more than 100 miners were working gravel bars the full length of the Stewart.

That year, Fred Harper set up a trading post on the mouth of the river where it enters the Yukon. The post was called by some Fort Nelson, after Private Edward Nelson of the US army who was in the region collecting and cataloguing wild plants and flowers. In 1887, coarse gold was found in the Forty Mile district north of Dawson. Harper moved his post as the miners working the Stewart left for the new gold fields.

When the Klondike rush began, the land around the mouth of the Stewart River again became a booming spot. There was a wood camp providing fuel for the steamboats, a Northwest Mounted Police post, a trading post and hotel used by miners who couldn't make it all the way to Dawson in the fall.

In 1897, Robert Henderson, the man who lost out on the big find on Bonanza creek, staked a townsite on the banks of the Yukon River across from the mouth of the Stewart. But in their race to the Klondike, miners weren't interested in buying lots at the Stewart.

David and Mary Shand ran a roadhouse here from 1900 to 1930. In later years, Rudy Burian ran an operation which included overnight cabins, a store, and a museum. The Stewart River was also the main supply route to Mayo when the riverboat Keno delivered goods to the bustling town and hauled silver ore back down the river, into the Yukon and on to Whitehorse for shipment to the smelters of the world.

Stewart River 1
Panorama of the Stewart River community from the snow-covered Yukon River. Date: 1900
Yukon Archives. H.C. Barley fonds, #5209.
Click for larger view.

Stewart River 2
Several men and a boy standing on the steps of the C.D. Co.'s log post / roadhouse, called the Royal Mail Hotel, at Stewart River. Date: 1900
Yukon Archives. H.C. Barley fonds, #4915.
Click for larger view.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin