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1930 1931 1932 1933 1935 1936 1937 1938

Sourdough Reunions

Sourdough Reunions have been going on for a long time. I remember attending one in Reno, Nevada in the seventies and meeting Alan Fraser, who had worked on the river boats in the twenties and thirties. He was a great story teller.

Today, there are pockets of Sourdough clubs all over the place. From Vancouver Island, to Oregon and California, to the BC interior and, of course, Vancouver where my school chums Don Murray and Helen Munro, with others, keep the memories of Yukon days alive.

I doubt that Robert Service ever attended a reunion, though I can't be sure, but he did send a poem to one back in 1957. Asked to comment on his two most famous poems, the Yukon bard wrote:

"For Dan McGrew and Sam McGee
Saved me from sordid strife;
And I am grateful to these two
For sunshine in my life.
My turning point in luck I see
Refulgently began
The night I roasted Sam McGee
And perforated Dan."

Yes, sourdough reunions can be a lot of fun, but seldom do they merit a story in Time Magazine. But that is just what happened in September of 1938. The occasion was the tenth annual International Sourdough Reunion in Portland, Oregon:

Time wrote:
"Swapping tall stories, but doing little whooping in the Multnomah bar which, like other Oregon taprooms, serves no hard liquor, were such diverse sourdoughs as Henry Macaulay, the first mayor of Dawson, and scores of old Yukon prospectors, storekeepers, mails clerks".

The Magazine went on to say:
"Biggest sourdough storyteller was the Reunion's retiring president, Michael Ambrose Mahoney of Ottawa, Ont., who flew to Portland in a checkered jacket. Big Mike Mahoney, who is supposed to have retired with $250,000 in his poke, spends most of his time at luncheons and banquets reciting Poet Robert Service's doleful ballads Dangerous Dan McGrew and The Cremation of Sam McGee. According to Mr. Mahoney, he was present, along with Poet Service, when a crazed engineer named Madden burst into the Dominion saloon at Dawson and shot Gambler McGrew for running away with his wife".

When Portland papers printed this Mahoney story last week, a local reporter ungraciously produced a letter which he said Mr. Service had written to him in 1928. In answer to a question, Service wrote:

"I have no doubt that the Malamute Saloon was entirely imaginary. At the distant date, however, I have little recollection of the circumstances in which my notorious ballad was perpetrated, and my only regret is that I have been unable to live it down."

An old Bonanza operator named "Skiff" Mitchell had the last word. Time Magazine reported that he sniffed and said:

Sourdough 1
A group of sourdough miners pose on No. 5, Last Chance Creek. Date: ca. 1901.
Yukon Archives. Adams & Larkin fonds, #9175.
Click for larger view.

Sourdough 2
Group of sourdough miners. Date: ca. 1901.
Yukon Archives. Adams & Larkin fonds, #9191.
Click for larger view.

Sourdough 3
International Sourdough Reunion. King Edward Hotel. Toronto. August 1937. Photo by Fred S. Rickard.
Yukon Archives. Gus Karpes fonds, #1.
Click for larger view.

"I knew Sam McGee, the fellow who was cremated in that other poem, before he was cremated, Mahoney knew him afterward."


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Sourdough 4
10th Annual Convention of the Alaska-Yukon International Sourdough Reunion in Portland.
September 1-3, 1938. Yukon Archives. Gus Karpes fonds, #3. Click for larger view.