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The First Whitehorse City Council

The first city council to serve Whitehorse had its work cut out. There was no city hall, hardly any money in the budget….

On August 4th, 1950, Whitehorse elected its first mayor and four aldermen. Mayor Gordon Armstrong presided over the first meeting in a makeshift office on the second floor of the Northern Commercial Building on the corner of First and Steele Street. The aldermen included James Norrington, William Hamilton, George Ryder and Sam McClimon.

A new sewer and water system was desperately needed in the growing town. The age of the 'honey bucket' was coming to an end. The town’s dirt streets were rough, pot-holed trails. The age of paved roads, however, was a long way off. Wooden sidewalks were falling apart, but concrete sidewalks would have to wait while more-pressing matters were addressed.

The school population was growing, but school buildings, apart from the Lambert Street School, were rundown, old, clap board military buildings. Plans were underway to build a new elementary - high school at Fourth and Alexander.

As for the city council itself, there were no plans to build a city hall. Instead, the councilors met in various places over the years. First, at the Northern Commercial Building, then in a building owned by Jack Humme at Second and Main, then in small, cramped office quarters behind the old liquor store at Second and Steele.

First Whitehorse City Council, 1950
The swearing in of the first Whitehorse City Council.
L to R: Bill Hamilton (who worked for White Pass); George Ryder (who owned wood, water and sanitation company); Mayor Gordon Armstrong (manager, Burns Meat Market), Judge Gibben (former commissioner); Sam McLimon (owner of the Movie Theatre); and RCMP officer, Hank Neufeld, 1950, Click for larger view.

In the mid-'60s, as Canada’s centennial year approached, a proposal was made to create city hall complex which would include City Hall, a fire hall and a museum. The plan was passed by a city plebiscite. City councilors and staff finally moved into the present city hall building in May of 1967.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.



Operation Sweetbriar, 1950

The skies over Whitehorse were filled with planes and parachutes.The streets were swarming with combat-ready soldiers.The Alaska Highway was a battle-ground.

The frigid winter showed no sign of abating, but the heat was on around the world. Thousands of Canadian troops were fighting the communists in Korea. And everyone truly believed that the Russian army would soon appear from the north and change North American life forever. The Cold War was hot in 1950. So much so, that one of the largest military exercises in the Canadian north descended on Whitehorse. It was called Operation Sweetbriar.

The objective was to develop techniques for the employment of combined Canadian and U.S. forces operating in the sub-Arctic, and to test the latest developments in clothing, food, aircraft, vehicles, weapons, and other equipment and material.

The exercise began on February 13th with more than 5,000 personnel of the U.S. and Canadian Armies and Air Forces. The assumption was that the Soviet military had captured the airfield at Northway in Alaska, and moved, blitzkrieg style, down the Alaska Highway to the outskirts of Whitehorse. The task of the Allied Force was to drive the cursed Russkies back, and recapture Northway.

The exercise lasted for eleven days, and was huge by any standards. 1000 motorized vehicles and 100 aircraft took part. The troops of the PPCLI (Princess Pats) had driven 1500 miles from Wainwright to Whitehorse, followed by ten days of stiff fighting up the 350 miles of highway from Whitehorse to Northway. They had slept and eaten in tents, or in the open. The twin Mustangs of the Aggressor Air Force, based in Fairbanks, made low-level attacks on the infantry.

The airfield at Snag was used as a major staging area for the final assault by Canadian troops on the Russian aggressor, played by the American military who had taken over the airfield at Northway. This airborne attack was combined with artillery fire and infantry attacks in the final assault on the airfield at Northway.

U.S. Army, 1950
U.S. Army, 1950, Click for larger view.

One observer wrote: “It was a thrilling sight to see the Dakota transports of the RCAF approach in perfect formation and to watch the troops pile out in neat, close-packed sticks. Soon after landing, the paratroops assembled and began their advance toward the hangar and the Aggressor camp on the edge of the airfield. Quite a few of the less experienced observers commented very unfavourably on the slackness of some of the men who just lay about on the ice and made no effort to join the attack. It was a little embarrassing, but reassuring, to discover that these unfortunates had been declared dead by the umpires, and were merely awaiting “burial”.

The troops of the joint U.S. Combat Team and of the PPCLI attacked the outer defenses of the Northway airfield and at noon, on February 23rd, 1950, the Exercise was over.

Many of the Canadian infantry personnel who took part were then sent to Korea where the only exercise was the real life challenge of staying alive while driving communist forces out of the south, using the lessons they had learned in 1950 under the clear cold Yukon skies.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin




At the beginning of World War Two, the importance of Whitehorse as a transportation hub grew when a fully operational airport was built as part of the Northwest Staging Route. The Canadian and American military made their headquarters in Whitehorse, and built hundreds of buildings to house personnel and equipment.

Originally operated by the Department of Transport, the Whitehorse airfield was transferred to the Royal Canadian Air Force in 1942. After the war, the RCAF Station continued to function primarily for refueling on the Alaska air route. In 1948, the RCAF station at Prince Rupert closed and the "listening post" positions were moved to Whitehorse. By then, RCAF duties were to monitor Russian signals during the height of the cold war.

At one time, the RCAF personnel and dependents numbered about 1000. As with the army in Whitehorse, they needed housing and thus they created the community of Hillcrest.

The first Hillcrest houses were built in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The original Hillcrest is composed of six house designs common to Canadian military bases at the time. Unique to Hillcrest though is the seventh style of house, the "Steelox" brand of prefabricated housing. Steelox buildings were purchased for several RCAF bases until at least the 1960s. Those at Hillcrest were delivered on the White Pass train in 1951.

Another megaproject was the Canol Pipeline between Norman Wells and Whitehorse. A refinery was built to process the crude oil on the flats by the river on the northern outskirts of Whitehorse. The former tank farm north of Hillcrest was part of this massive project.

On either side of the Alaska Highway, there was already an extensive complex of barracks, mess halls and storage buildings. Other structures built over the next decade included a store and a bowling alley. In 1958, the firebreak, still to be seen, was constructed when huge forest fires threatened Whitehorse.

In the 1960s, a column called "the Hillcrest News" appeared in the Whitehorse Star. In it were nuggets such as news about the local bowling and badminton championships, dances at the Airmen’s club with music supplied by the Downbeats and the Honkey Tonks, a Safe Driving contest, and activities at the Protestant chapel.

In 1968-1969, the RCAF base in Whitehorse was closed and the housing in Hillcrest was considered surplus and was sold. The neighbourhood was expanded in the early 1970s to include thirty-six single homes. Today, approximately 400 people live in Hillcrest.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin




Anton Vogee Klondike Sign painters

Photographs of early Bennett City, Whitehorse and Dawson show street scenes of gaudy store fronts with hand-painted advertising at its very best. The signs, extolling the virtues of diverse business establishments, weren’t like the neon sixties or the plastic electric creations of the present day. Instead, they were hand-lettered and illustrated beauties created by artists who specialized in the art of advertising sign-painting.

Even a kid’s lemonade stand in Dawson had a sign worth a good price if auctioned today on Ebay. So, who were these artists who ended up in the goldfields carrying not pick and pan, but brushes and paint.

One Klondike sign-painter was Anton Vogee. He was born in Norway in 1867 and emigrated to the United States in 1888. His artistic endeavours led him to paint studio landscapes for sale. He later became a travelling sign painter for a tobacco firm. Vogee was also a photographer and made good use of his camera to take photographs of his hand-painted signs as proof for payment from the tobacco firm.

Vogee opened his first sign shop in Portland, Oregon in 1896. When news of the Klondike Gold Rush reached Portland, he joined the rush and opened a shop in Dyea in 1897. The following year he opened a paint store and shop in Skagway.

In 1899, he moved to Atlin where he started a tent gallery with a branch operation in the nearby mining town of Pine City. In Atlin, he took many photos which today are contained in the Yukon Archives and form a priceless legacy of the early Atlin gold rush days. Anton Vogee moved again in 1900, this time to Dawson City where he prospected for gold with little success.

He then resumed his old trade and opened Vogee's Sign and Paper Hanging Shop which was later called Vogee's Sign and Wall Paper Shop. He seems to have had quite a business painting signs and decorating homes. In 1901, Anton Vogee married Inga Brevik in Dawson City. They had a son, Arthur, and lived in Dawson City until 1908. Anton Vogee, the gold rush sign painter, died in Vancouver in October 1950, at the age of 83.

Anton’s son, Arthur Vogee, inherited the glass-plate negatives and donated them to the Yukon Archives in 1972. The images include buildings and street scenes in Atlin, Dawson City, Dyea, Skagway, Bennett, Pine City, and Whitehorse, mining activity in Atlin and at Pine and Spruce Creeks, scenes of the Dyea Trail and Chilkoot Pass including the avalanche of 1898 on the Chilkoot Pass.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin