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Christie Pass

There's a beautiful pass which connects the Keele River in the Northwest Territories to the Ross River in the Yukon. It was named by dominion surveyor Joseph Keele in 1907 for a brave Yukon bushman who had more than one incredible adventure in his colourful life.

James Christie was born in 1874, in Perth, Scotland. He emigrated to the Canadian Prairies and, in 1898, became one of the few to make it to the Klondike via the almost impossible inland route from Edmonton.

Part of his travels took him through the pass which now bears his name. He prospected in the Yukon for many years - mostly in the Ross River district. It was near Christie Pass, in 1909, that he was attacked by a huge grizzly bear. His skull and jaw were fractured, his right arm broken and his thigh terribly mangled. Yet he managed to walk seven miles in sub-zero temperatures to a temporary camp.

Here, his partner poured the only medicine they had, Scotch Whiskey, into Christie - and with the help of local native people rushed him by dog sled on a four-day trip to the small community of Lansing.

Here the local trader and his wife nursed Christie's wounds for two months. On New Year's day he was taken on 17-day dog sled trip to Dawson City and later moved to Victoria where he finally, after six months, received proper medical help.

Christie was back in the Yukon that same summer prospecting. When World War I broke out in 1914, Christie was one of the first Canadians to enlist in the PPCLI's. He fought valiantly in France and was awarded the Military Cross, one of the few Canadians to win this highest of military honours.

Ross River
A winter scene showing a group of buildings at Ross River.
Date: ca. 1930.
Yukon Archives. Claude & Mary Tidd fonds, #7285.
Click for larger view.

James Christie returned to the Yukon after the war and continued prospecting until his old wounds got the better of him. He retired to Salt Spring Island in BC.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin



Klondike Twelve Mile Ditch

It was called the Twelve Mile Ditch. But it was much more than a ditch, and a good deal longer than 12 miles.

Water was the key ingredient. Without water, none of the gold mining in the Klondike could be carried out. When the gold dredges began going over the old ground which had been worked by small-time prospectors with pick and pan, they needed lots of water.

Thus in 1907 the Yukon Gold company began to built a massive system to deliver water to the Bonanza and Bear creek mining districts. It was a marvel as an engineering feat of its day.

The plan was to build a water delivery system from the Twelve Mile River near the Tombstone Mountain range north east of Dawson. Total length of the project was 70 miles.

Water was carried through a huge ditch for 40 of these miles, and a huge pipe and flume system carried on for 30 miles. The pipe was of heavy metal two feet in diameter. The flumme was build with logs cut from local timber and fashioned into boards at a sawmill near the Twelve Mile River. It was seven feet wide. The ditch itself was 10 feet wide.

A dam was also built to generate power to operate the electric dredges on or near the Klondike river. This involved construction of a 70-mile long transmission line. It took three seasons to complete the Twelve Mile Ditch. More than fourteen hundred men and over three hundred horses were involved in the construction project. Four steam shovels were also used. In 1907 the cost of construction was $6000 per month. Each labourer earned $28 per week plus room and board.

A government report on the project said the facilities were first class and that none of the workers complained about living or working conditions. When completed, the Twelve Mile Ditch carried huge volumes of water which enabled the dredges to work the Klondike creeks for many years to follow.

Twelve Mile Ditch 1
A dredge in operation on Bonanza Creek.
Date: 1903.
Yukon Archives. H.C. Barley fonds, #4841.
Click for larger view.

Twelve Mile Ditch 2
12 Mile Ditch Y.G. Co.
Yukon Archives. Emil Forrest fonds, #72.
Click for larger view.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin



McClintock Bay

The pleasant bay and river that flows into it, on Marsh Lake is named for a member of Britain's Royal Navy, Francis McClintock, who solved the mystery of the missing Franklin expedition.

The greatest Arctic expedition of all time was missing. Sir John Franklin, in command of 135 men, had set out from England in two wooden sailing ships in 1845. They were searching for the Northwest Passage. When nothing was heard of them for three years, the first of many search expeditions set out to find them. That was back in 1848, when Sir James Ross was in command of two ships, the Enterprise and the Investigator. Lt Francis McClintock was second in command.

When they returned to England a year later, they reported no trace of the missing Franklin expedition. The news gripped a British public then, the way a missing space expedition would today. Lady Franklin and the British government offered a stunning reward ... 20 thousand pounds to anyone who could find or provide information about the famous explorer, John Franklin. Expedition after expedition sailed into the Arctic. All came up empty handed. They were all searching too far to the east.

In 1854, Dr. John Rae led an expedition further west...toward King William Island. In this region, he learned from local Inuit that, years earlier, they had seen a party of white men pulling sledges and heading south. In 1857, in order to explore the region believed to hold the key to the missing Franklin expedition, Captain Francis McClintock set out in a small steamer named the Fox.

McClintock spent two winters in the Arctic. On one overland sledge journey, he met with a group of Inuit who told him that a three-masted ship had been crushed in the ice on the west coast of King William Island. They said the crew had reached land, but died of starvation. The Inuit produced buttons and medals belonging to British naval officers. McClintock was close to solving the mystery.

In April of 1859, McClintock, now two years into his Arctic search, travelled by sledge south along the King William Island coast. His second in command, Lt. Hobson, travelled north. McClintock found skeletons of the missing British sailors. Hobson found a document in a cairn dated May 28th, 1847. It stated that the ships were crushed in the ice off King William Island.

John Franklin had died on the 11th of June 1847, along with 25 members of the crew to this date.

The survivors were walking south pulling their meagre supplies in small row boats. Further explorations by McClintock turned up more skeletons and rotting bits of lumber from those boats. McClintock's search ended in September of 1859 with conclusive proof that the entire Franklin expedition had perished in the greatest Arctic tragedy in history.

McClintock became admiral of the British navy. He died in 1907. The river and the bay at Marsh Lake are named for this famous Arctic explorer.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin