The Hougen Group of Companies - A Yukon Tradition
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Takhini Hotsprings

Visitors to the Yukon, any time of the year, are in for a soothing treat - the Takhini hot springs. When I was a kid, it was grand adventure to go to the hotsprings. On the long and winding road - always muddy or rutted when it wasn't snow-covered - it seemed to take forever to get there.

Are we there yet, I would constantly ask my brother Fred. But the trip was worth it. Especially in the dead cold of a winter weekend, when the steam rising from the log-encased swimming pool was a wonder to behold, as it froze our brush cuts solid. However, under the water, it was sheer paradise - no matter what the outdoor temperature.

There are about 140 hotsprings in Canada - all located in western mountain ranges. The waters of Takhini have been comforting Yukoners for over a century. So why is the water so hot? Not long ago - geologically speaking - the region south of the springs was a center of volcanic eruptions. These young volcanic rocks - just six million years old - can be seen at Miles Canyon. Some volcanoes remain active for a long time and have magma chambers high up in the cinder cone of the volcano. When underground water meets these chambers, you get heated water.

But scientists aren't sure if that is what causes the heated waters of Takhini. In fact, it might not be nearby volcanoes. Many hot springs are formed by groundwater circulating down through faults in the earth. The water is heated as it descends towards the centre of the Earth. Then - the heated water wends its way back to the surface. This may well be the reason for Takhini's heat.

What we do know for sure is that to qualify as a legitimate hot spring, the water temperature must be at least 32° Celsius. The water of the famed Liard Hotsprings on the Alaska Highway pours out at a blistering 53° C - so it's not a good idea to get too close to the source. The Takhini springs emerge from the earth at about 47° C.

Hotsprings 1940s
A 1940s view of hotsprings pool. Log lined with canvas. Click for larger view.

Hotsprings 1940s
Takhini hotspring pool in the 1950s.
Click for larger view.

The water in the swimming pool - about thirty meters from the source - is about 38° C. The hotsprings outflow is nearly ninety gallons a minute - not much compared with the main spring at Banff, which releases just over 450 gallons a minute.

The water of Takhini - unlike some hot springs - is odourless, since it contains no sulphur. Instead, the mineral makeup consists of calcium, magnesium, and iron which gives the water a red or brownish colour.

The precise source of the Takhini Hotsprings might never be known. But then, when you swim in this northern treasure, the science behind the heat is secondary to the sheer delight of mineral spring waters coursing around your head, melting the ice in your frozen brushcut.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin



The Real Sam McGee

William Samuel McGee had no idea that, just because he had an account in the Bank of Commerce in Whitehorse, his name would make him world famous. The poet Robert Service, however, thought the name had a poetic ring to it -- and the rest is history. Actually, the real McGee was not from Tennessee, but was born in Lindsay, near Peterborough, Ontario in 1867.

In 1898, McGee came to the Yukon from San Francisco - hiking over the Chilkoot Pass. In 1899, he built a cabin in Whitehorse and settled down with his wife Ruth. On July 16, 1899, he discovered and staked the War Eagle copper deposit in the hills overlooking Whitehorse. The region would eventually produce over twenty million dollars worth of copper, gold and silver.

Although Sam was a prospector, his main claim to fame was building roads. Some of the roads - which were really serviceable trails through the bush - were the Whitehorse-Carcross wagon road in 1906, the Conrad-Carcross wagon road, the road to the Whitehorse Copper Belt and the Whitehorse-Kluane road in 1904. Between 1902 and 1909, the Territorial government spent $45,000 to build 36 roads in the Copper Belt region.

Sam McGee also operated a roadhouse at Canyon Creek on the Kluane Lake Wagon Road, and owned the Racine Sawmill near Tagish when the mining town of Conrad, on Windy Arm, was booming. He also prospected the Windy Arm district for gold and silver and staked the Blue Grouse claim.

In 1907, McGee built a stately two-story log home where he, his wife Ruth, and their children lived. The house still stands on the corner of Fifth and Wood Street. By 1909, after ten years in the Yukon, Sam moved his family to Summerland, British Columbia, and became a fruit farmer. When he left the Yukon, the Board of Trade held a banquet for Sam and gave him a gold watch and chain. After three years in Summerland, Sam and Ruth moved to a farm near Edmonton. Then, in 1923, they settled in Great Falls, Montana where he worked as a contractor on road and railroad construction. He also worked on the road to Yellowstone National Park.

Though his Yukon days were over, Sam McGee did return twice. Once in 1918 when he was partners with Robert Lowe in the War Eagle mining operation, and again in 1938. On the last trip, he was amused to find tourists buying “genuine” ashes of Sam McGee as souvenirs. By then, he was living in Alberta.

Two years later, on September 11th, 1940, Sam McGee died of a stroke at his daughter’s farm at Beiseker, Alberta. He was 73. The real McGee was not cremated but rather buried in a family plot in Beiseker next to his wife Ruth.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin