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Yukon Nuggets

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Yukon Hockey Players in the Olympics

When Andy Gilpin and Ross King were transferred to the RCAF station in Whitehorse in 1947, the last thing on their minds was the roller-coaster ride upon which they were about to embark. Both were young hockey players with promise. Forward Gilpin had played Junior A in Montreal. Goalie Ross King had been a star with Portage LaPrairie when they won the Memorial Cup.

What King and Gilpin didn’t know when they arrived in Whitehorse in March, 1947, was that the small town was hockey crazy. Both the Army and Airforce teams in the Senior Men’s League were made up of players who knew as much about hockey as they did about their military assignments.

A fine forward named Len Beech was already in Whitehorse and had played for the RCAF Flyers the previous year. He impressed upon the newcomers just how competitive hockey was in this northern outpost.

In the fall of 1947, the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association invited the Canadian Airforce to form Canada’s Olympic hockey squad. Beech, King and Gilpin were invited to a tryout camp in Edmonton. Meanwhile, all three played for the local Airforce team during part of the 1947-48 season. The Town Merchants team won the trophy that year.

In January, 1948, all three airmen were selected to be members of the RCAF Flyers, the hockey team that would represent Canada at the 1948 Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

Still, things did not go very well, especially when the Flyers lost their first exhibition game to a University team, the McGill Redmen. Manager Sandy Watson and coach Frank Boucher had to make some changes - fast. They cut Len Beech from the team, but Gilpin and King remained with the improved roster. Others were added.

Still, as they left for Switzerland, the press vilified the Canadian team. There was no way this ragtag bunch could win on the world stage in 1948. Czechoslovakia was the favourite, followed by Sweden and Switzerland. Canada would do well to finish fourth, predicted the press. However when the games ended, Canada had won the Olympic gold medal.

RCAF Flyers – 1948
RCAF Flyers – 1948
Andy Gilpin 7th from left (front), goalie Ross King (right)
Click for larger view.

Canada and Czechoslovakia finish with identical 7-0-1 records, with Canada winning the gold medal on total goals scored: 64-62. Neither Gilpin nor King played in the eight-game Olympic tournament since the rules then allowed teams to dress only twelve players.

Still, they had been part of the team that won Canada’s first gold medal in hockey since 1932. Then the RCAF Flyers went on an extensive exhibition tour of Europe, playing in front of as many as twenty thousand people in Paris. King had become the regular goalie and Gilpin played in all 42 exhibition games. The Flyers won thirty-one and became the new heroes of Europe’s fledgling ice hockey craze. When they returned to Canada, there was a ticker-tape parade in Ottawa and, when they arrived home in Whitehorse with their Olympic gold medals around their necks, there was an official civic reception and military parade.

Both Andy Gilpin and Ross King played for the RCAF Flyers in the 48-49 season in the Whitehorse Senior Men’s League. Len Beech was still with the team. Nevertheless, even with these Olympians, the airmen again lost in the final round to the talented Town Merchants.

Whitehorse was, indeed, a hockey town of renown.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.



Ethel Berry

The Klondike was the realm of the male miner. But there were some resourceful women who headed to the gold-fields. One was Ethel Bush, who married Clarence Berry when he returned from his first trip to Yukon in the fall of 1895. Two years later, both would be Klondike millionaires.

Ethel and Clarence Berry celebrated their honeymoon while travelling over the Chilkoot Pass with a dog team in 1896. After they arrived, Ethel spent two months alone in a tiny cabin in Forty Mile while Clarence worked out on the creeks. Ethel spent the winter of 1896-97 housekeeping, Klondike-style, in a house which had no door, windows or floor. Having no luck at prospecting, Clarence was tending bar in Bill McPhee's saloon in Forty Mile the August night George Carmack arrived to boast of his discovery at Rabbit (Bonanza) Creek. The Berrys immediately headed for the new discovery.

When the Berrys got to the gold-fields, Clarence staked a claim on number five Eldorado. Later, it was discovered that claim was 40 feet too long. Moreover, this was the section of the claim which held all of the paydirt dug out over the winter. That meant that the Berrys didn't own that fraction of land and they couldn't stake it either, because their staking rights were used up. Berry lucked out, however, when he got a friend to stake the claim and then transfer the rights to them.

On that claim the Berrys were able to produce $140,000 in 1897 alone. The claim was so rich that whenever Ethel needed money, she would just go outside, smash some clumps of dirt, and pull out the nuggets. The couple was on the now famous, ship the 'Portland', when it docked in Seattle. When they arrived, 23-year-old Ethel was wearing men's clothing. Her bedroll was so heavy she couldn't lift it. Inside the bedroll was nearly $100,000 in gold. Ethel Bush Berry was rich! Newspaper headlines announced the arrival of the ship, with its "ton of gold". Reporters interviewing Ethel called her "The Bride of the Klondike". Her story was featured in papers all over the world.

Despite the hardships of that first year, Ethel and Clarence returned to mine again in the spring of 1898. Ethel climbed the Chilkoot Pass a second time, this time with her sister Tot, along with thousands of Stampeders whose dreams of riches were inspired by her own story. While many, if not most, of the "Klondike Kings" squandered their money, Clarence and Ethel Berry continued to work hard and invest their fortune wisely.

They developed rich claims near Fairbanks. In 1907, the Berrys began a large-scale dredging operation in the Circle Mining District. For display at the 1909 Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition in Seattle, Ethel loaned $70,000 worth of gold nuggets that she herself had picked up on their various gold claims. Ethel, who in 1897 said she would never go north again, couldn't stay away. She traveled each year up the Yukon River to visit their claims until Clarence died in 1930. The wealthy widow lived in Beverly Hills, California, where she died in 1948.

19 Eldorado with miners posing beside sluices and shaft cribbing with cabins, tents and piles of timber in the background. Date: 1898.
Yukon Archives. H.C. Barley fonds, #4842.
Click for larger view.

Ethel Berry
The larger Clarence Berry nugget.
Yukon Archives. Neil Fahy fonds, #2.
Click for larger view.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin



Jimmy Quong

If anyone knew the Alaska Highway better than Jimmy Quong, I would like to meet him. For most his adult life, this unassuming gentleman worked on and for the highway.

A Vancouver native, Jim Quong started working on the Alaska Highway in May, 1942, with the U.S. Public Roads Administration in Fort St. John. As a draftsman, Quong provided engineering drawings of everything needed to make a highway work properly. And he was meticulous about the job.

Quong’s name is associated with bridges through the entire length of the highway. He was there in 1943 when the first Peace River bridge at Taylor, half-way between Fort St. John and Dawson Creek, collapsed - and he helped design its replacement. This introduced the young draftsman to the challenges of creating a steel structure from his scale drawings.

Jimmy Quong was known to his colleagues as the man who put everything on paper. Not only drawings of bridges and culverts and road beds, but also photographic images. His professional life was engineering design, but his love was taking pictures and developing them himself.

Quong was a key engineer in designing bridges on the Dempster Highway, the Donjek River, Nisutlin Bay (the longest on the Alaska Highway) and the bridges over the Yukon River at Marsh Lake. He also helped design the complicated roadway we know as the Skagway Road. All the while, he kept a photographic record of the work.

Not surprisingly, Jimmy Quong was one of the very few engineers admitted to the profession without a university degree, choosing instead the laborious examination route while working on the job.

Quong 1948
Jimmy Quong with wife Diamond at a banquet in the Whitehorse Inn Ballroom (1948).
Click for larger view.

During his career, he worked for the American and Canadian militaries and, finally, with the Department of Public Works. All the while, Jimmy Quong packed his camera, recording construction projects as well as other aspects of life in the Yukon - church gatherings, family events, everyday Yukon scenes. Many of his photos are now important museum artifacts in the Yukon and beyond.

At his retirement they gave him a Life Membership in the Association of Professional Engineers of Yukon in recognition of his dedication to the profession.

Jimmy Quong passed away in Vancouver at the age of eighty-six.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin