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Atlin, B.C.

When gold was discovered in the Atlin region, everyone naturally assumed that it was part of the Yukon.  It wasn’t.  But even today, Atlin is more closely associated with the Yukon than its real home, British Columbia.

In 1898, prospectors Fritz Miller and Kenny McLaren struck pay dirt on Spruce Creek, and Discovery City, a town six miles east of Atlin, sprang up.  In the next few years, a four-mile stretch of Spruce Creek yielded more than $25 million in gold including one incredible 83-ounce nugget discovered in 1899.  Big as a loaf of bread, they said.

Fortune hunters, many of whom had originally come in over the Chilkoot Pass, poured into the district in 1899, hauling tons of supplies over mountains, and across Atlin Lake by boat.

At first, gold inspectors thought the Atlin strike was in the Yukon and recorded the first Atlin gold claims according to Yukon law.  The miners were furious because they felt shortchanged when it later became clear that, because the strike was in B.C., it was subject to B.C.’s laws.

Still, the town of Atlin emerged with neat streets, hotels, stores, offices, and saloons. Discovery bloomed and died as Atlin became the hub of local and government business.

Apparently, the miners removed most of Discovery’s buildings to dig through every bit of dirt and gravel once the original gold claims were exhausted.

Gold mining continues to this day, but by 1915, promoters were looking for something else.  That year the White Pass started Atlin’s tourist industry when they brought 125 tourists to the region.  But accommodations were not very good for people intent on spending big bucks traveling to one of North America’s most remote locations.

White Pass decided they needed some luxury.  In June 1916, construction began on what would be a magnificent hotel on the shores of Atlin Lake.

Getting material to the site was not easy since it had to be carried to Skagway by ship, then by the train to Carcross, on a boat to the short rail portage at the end of Taku Arm, then by boat again across Atlin Lake to the construction site.

By the summer of 1916, the hotel hosted 422 guests.  The company was so impressed that, in the fall, seven more rooms were added and a steam heating plant was installed.  In 1917, the lake steamer Tarahne was built - the first gasoline-powered propeller-driven vessel in the White Pass fleet.

By 1921, 700 guests were entertained.  Business was brisk.

In the spring of 1928, the vessel’s length was increased to 36.4 meters.  Larger engines and new propellers increased her speed to 12 knots.  Now guests could tour and see the extraordinary scenery of Atlin Lake in high style.

Gold mining and tourism remained the cornerstones of Atlin’s economy, but both were prone to ups and downs.  In the midst of the depression, the White Pass abandoned the Atlin tours in the mid-1930s, closed the hotel and beached the sternwheeler.

Jobs disappeared and the population dwindled. In early years, Atlin may have been home to ten thousand inhabitants.

Atlin Main Street, 1949
Atlin Main Street, 1949 , Click for larger view.
A view of Atlin Lake – Winter, 1949
A view of Atlin Lake – Winter , 1949,
Click for larger view.

Atlin 1
Exteriors of the Atlin Commission and Mattress Factory and the Central Hotel on First Street.
Date: 1899.
Yukon Archives. Anton Vogee fonds, #19.
Click for larger view.

In the 1960s, the population fell to about 100. Today, it is about 500. Traces of Atlin’s original 10,000 inhabitants have been reclaimed by nature as most buildings were crude wooden structures. But observant visitors can find many remnants in and around the village, on mountain slopes and in remote valleys of this northern Shangri-la.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

Photos by Rolf Hougen's Ltd



Yukon Hockey Players in the Olympics

As the quest for Olympic gold and glory get underway in Turin, Italy, Les McLaughlin takes us on a look back when two hockey players from Whitehorse were part of the most improbable hockey gold medal Canada ever won.

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 they were about to embark upon. 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 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 47, 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 trophy that year, however, was won by the town Merchants team.

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

Things didn’t 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. Len Beech was cut from the team, but Gilpin and King remained with the improved roster. Others were added.

Still, as they left for Switzerland, the Canadian team was vilified by the press. 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. But when the Games ended, Canada had won the Olympic gold medal.

The Whitehorse Merchants Hockey Club, 1949
The Whitehorse Merchants Hockey Club, 1949, Click for larger view.

Canada and Czechoslovakia finished 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 then the rules then allowed teams to dress only 12 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 20,000 people in Paris. King had become the regular goalie and Gilpin played in all 42 exhibition games. The Flyers won 31 and had become 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 seasons in the Whitehorse Men’s League. Len Beech, a fine forward, was still with the team. But even with these Olympians, the airmen once again lost in the final round to the talented town Merchants.

Whitehorse was indeed a hockey town of some renown.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin



Émilie Tremblay

Few women who took part in the Klondike Gold Rush stayed in the territory very long. Even fewer climbed the rugged Chilkoot Pass. The celebrated Martha Black climbed and stayed. So did Émilie Tremblay, and she was the first.

She was born Émilie Fortin on January 4th, 1872 at Saint-Joseph-d'Alma in Québec. In December 1893, she married Nolasque Tremblay, an American from Cohoes, New York.

Long before the world even knew the word Klondike, the Tremblays were off on life's great adventures. On June 16, 1894, after an eventful five-thousand mile journey, the couple arrived at the Fortymile mining camp in the Yukon. They spent the winter on nearby Miller Creek, living in a little log cabin while searching for nuggets.

It was probably a rousing good time for the local miners that Christmas because Émilie put forward her best French Canadian cuisine, but with a local outback flavour of roast caribou, boiled brown beans, dried potatoes, sourdough bread and prune pudding.

In the spring, Émilie and her husband planted a garden on the roof of their cabin, growing radishes and lettuce. In the fall of 1895, the Tremblays visited their families in the US and Québec. They returned to the Yukon in 1898 in the midst of the mad rush to the Klondike gold fields.

Ever the travellers, in 1906 they holidayed in Europe for four months. Until 1913, they worked on a variety of claims in the Dawson region. Then, because of financial difficulties, they moved into Dawson.

Émilie opened a women's clothing store called Madame Tremblays. Today, the shop at the corner of King Street and 3rd Avenue is a Parks Canada historical site. In Dawson, Émilie was noted for her social activities and her work for travellers, missionairies and widows. She was a life member of the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire, a founding member of the Ladies of the Golden North, and a president of the Yukon Women Pioneers. She also received many awards for her works. Some of her medals are in the museum of the Saguenay in Québec.

Tremblay's store
A 1980 photo of Mme Tremblay's Store in Dawson City. Click for larger view.

In 1935, her husband Nolasque died, and Émilie returned to Québec - but not for long. In 1940, at age sixty-eight, she returned to Dawson and married Louis Lagrois. She left her store and moved with Lagrois to the town of Grand Forks, at the confluence of Bonanza and Eldorado creeks. In August 1946, she travelled to San Francisco to participate in the annual reunion of Yukoner Sourdoughs. She spent her last years in a retirement home in Victoria.

Émilie Tremblay died on April 22, 1949, at the age of seventy-seven. In 1985, to commemorate her exceptional devotion to others, the first francophone school in the Yukon was named École Émilie Tremblay.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin




Claude and Mary Tidd

Claude Tidd was a man on a mission, as are most Mounties! His mission, however, seemed more to do with preserving the things he encountered - with a camera. Claude Britiff Tidd was born in England in 1886. He received a teacher’s degree in 1908 and in 1910, he sailed for Canada.

Tidd joined the NWMP in 1914, and served twenty-one years in the Yukon and Northern British Columbia. He met and married Mary, a nurse, in Dawson City, in 1925. The Tidds lived and served in many Yukon communities including Dawson, Ross River , Mayo Landing, Old Crow and Forty Mile.

Tidd’s job was to keep the peace. But his life was photography. He was meticulous and spent hours in the cold -- setting up the perfect shot. He carried a 16-millimeter film camera and captured the substance of the long distance treks the Mounties took in the days of the dog-team patrol. All in gorgeous black and white images.

Claude had made a name for himself in Dawson City society, and contributed his skills as a musician to the night life and to the church. His photography brought him recognition as well, and he kept up a steady side business supplying pictures to his Dawson customers.

The Tidds lived in many Yukon communities both before and after his years with the Mounties. After the Second World War, they moved back to England where, ironically – for a couple who had often endured hard times in the north, they now found themselves challenged by post-war poverty in England. Furthermore, Claude was seriously ill. He died in 1949.

Of all the Mountie photographers, Claude Tidd was the most prolific, and the most conscious of himself as a photographer. While he followed the convention of photographing Mountie outposts, his cabins have the look of a quaint home rather than a northern outpost. The cabins he shared with Mary are filled with charm, and you can see them online.

The Yukon Archives has a splendid web story called "A Yukon Romance". It includes outstanding detail of the life, times, and many of the thousands of Yukon photographs taken by Claude and Mary Tidd.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin



Milepost Magazine

In today’s throw-away-world not much is permanent. Any publication that does survive needs a lot of useful information between the pages. Such is the Milepost Magazine, the bible for travellers in the great Pacific Northwest. The magazine is a must read and a companion along the various highways including, of course, the Alaska Highway which has quite a history. So does the Milepost Magazine, named for those black and white posts that used to be seen every mile along the 1534 miles of dusty road between Dawson Creek and Fairbanks.

In 1948 when the highway opened to commercial travel, gas stations and lodges were few and far between. It sometimes took days, not hours, to drive from place to place. So a travel guide was a useful instrument. Thus, the Milepost was first published in 1949 by Bill Wallace as a 72-page booklet filled with facts and figures about the rugged Alaska Highway. And the Milepost meant something. Anyone who travelled in the years before metric in Canada will remember the fun of knowing exactly where you were, all the time. As tourism grew, so did the Milepost.

In 1962, Wallace sold the book to the owner of Alaska Magazine. The Milepost, like the highway, grew and modernized. By 1975 the book featured 498 pages. Morris Communications bought the magazine in 1997 and the following year moved its headquarters to Anchorage to share offices with Alaska Magazine. Today, the Milepost Magazine is a travel guide and general interest trip planner for Alaska, the Yukon and Northern British Columbia. And early editions are collectors’ items since they are like a diary of people, places and events - year by year - along the world-famous Alaska Highway.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin