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Murder in the Yukon part four

In the fall of 1907, a would-be prospector named Ned Elfors met Yukoners David Bergman and Emil Anderson in Seattle. The three men decided to travel together to Whitehorse. When they arrived in the spring of 1908, they bought a boat and headed down the Yukon River bound for Dawson.

They intended on living off the land so, on June 8, Ned Elfors and Dave Bergman went hunting. Elfors returned to the make-shift camp - alone.

There he convinced Emil Anderson that he needed help and, while walking behind him in the woods, Elfors shot Anderson in the neck.

Wounded but still alive, Anderson escaped and made his way to Fort Selkirk, a distance of twelve miles and told the story to the Mounties.

There, NWMP Constable Franklin Thompson began a hunt for Elfors and on June 10, about 100 kilometres downriver from Selkirk, he captured Elfors while sleeping in his tent. He had four hundred dollars and two loaded rifles by his side. The body of David Bergman was uncovered on June 17. He had taken five bullets in his head.

Elfor's trial was held in Dawson on July 6, 1908. In just ten minutes, the jury found him guilty of first degree murder. Elfors was hung in Dawson City October 6, 1908.

The last of eleven executions in the Yukon was that of Barney West. He was described by friends as a kind but simple-minded person, who worked as a delivery man for a local Dawson City store.

West was convicted of murdering prospector Mike Essansa, in a botched robbery attempt. The last Yukon hanging took place in Dawson City on September 27, 1932.

On July 14, 1976, the House of Commons passed Bill C-84 on a free vote, abolishing capital punishment from the Canadian Criminal Code.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin



Whitehorse City Band

It was quite the show back in May of 1908 in Whitehorse. The town’s movers and shakers had been practicing in private for a good part of the winter. And now they were gonna strut their stuff on the long weekend. The first big band was about to be unveiled.

For the first time in the history of Whitehorse, music for the annual celebration would be furnished entirely by homegrown talent. The Whitehorse Star called the group “our own silver cornet band of 18 pieces”. Bandsmen included everyone who was anyone in town, including G.B. Edwards, agent for the White Pass, Fred Langholtz, wood dealer and freighter, Ransome Alguire a hotel man, William Robinson, a painter, Matthew Watson who later owned a general store in Carcross, Frank Harbottle, a mountie, and E.J. Hamacher, a photographer. J.P. Whitney was the band leader and instructor and he was also the owner of Whitney and Pedler which later became the Taylor and Drury department store. Mr. Unsworth was called the father of the band having raised the money to buy the first instruments in 1907, but it was not until J.P. Whitney stepped forward and was persuaded to take the leadership, that the band was ever, in reality, an organization.

The local newspaper was eloquent in its praise of the band leader. "Never did a greater success crow the interest of a band leader than have attended those of Mr. Whitney. Latent talent has been discovered and developed, a burning interest has been instilled into the individual members. If leader Whitney would call a practice for five o’clock in the morning, every member of the band would be there. The result of this active interest has been that the boys have all mastered their various instruments and are now able to play anything in the music line that is put in front of them." High praise from the Whitehorse Star.

The May 24th weekend was the initial appearance of the band in public and the newspaper predicted that "the town will be justly proud of its band". A band from Skagway was in Whitehorse for the long weekend of musical celebration. The Skagway newspaper noted that “it was a pretty spectacle - those two youthful bands vying with each other over at Whitehorse the other day. The Whitehorse band with its great number of instruments and heavy basses played like veterans reflecting great credit upon themselves as well as their competent and painstaking leader and instructor”.

So what would the bands have played? Well, popular songs in 1908 included “You splash me, and I’ll splash you”, “All she gets from the iceman is ice” and “I’d rather be a lobster than a wise guy”. All in all a worthy cause for a visit between neighbours back in Whitehorse in 1908.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin




Bowling in Whitehorse

The North Star Athletic Club building was the hub of Whitehorse recreational activity from 1900 until it burned down in 1943. This was the club in Robert Service’s poem about Bob Smart’s dream. It was the place where people met for social and athletic gatherings. So it was in July of 1908 when the newfangled sport of bowling came to Whitehorse. The alleys were located in a new annex of the North Star clubhouse that was located on Main Street between Third and Fourth Avenues, where the prospector statue now stands.

The first bowling match was held on July 1st 1908, and it must have been a doozey. It featured territorial councilor Robert Lowe against Whitehorse Star Editor E.J. “Stroller” White. Lowe was to become the first speaker of the first wholly elected territorial council, while White had already made a name for himself in the newspaper world with his colourful stories about the Yukon. Lowe won that first bowling match, and was then challenged by the Yukon Commissioner Henderson. Lowe again was the winner, and according to “Stroller” White’s front page story in the Whitehorse Star, Lowell was “very much inflated over his two victories”.

Women were offered free use of the club Wednesdays, and this proved so popular that they extended the offer to Friday afternoons. “Stroller” White did not miss an opportunity to have a little fun in his paper, complaining that the women didn’t keep score of their games, but “played by the half-day, during which time the pin-setters had plenty of time for leisure discussion”.

Bowling was big in the Yukon, and featured tournaments against Skagway teams every second week. The participants travelled by train between what the Whitehorse Star called the “windswept burg of the Skagwayans and the Rapid City”. After the matches dancing to a full orchestra then continued into the wee small hours of the night. The North Star Athletic Club, a hub of the Whitehorse Social Scene in the early days of the busy little town, a raging blaze consumed the building in the spring of 1943.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin