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How Ethel Anderson Becker saved the Klondike's History

One day in 1921, young Ethel Anderson visited Eric Hegg's photography studio in Bellingham, Washington. She wanted his permission to try and gather together his photos of the Klondike that he had taken back in 1898-99.

"It can't be done", said the photographer. "They are scattered far and wide."

Twenty-five years went by. Ethel married a Mr. Becker and raised a family. But she always had in the back of her mind those Klondike photos. Hegg had taken so many on a journey to the Klondike, with her father P.B. Anderson, during the height of the gold rush. Ethel was born in Bellingham, but spent her first six years in a cabin on Eldorado Creek with her parents - one of the few children of the gold rush.

The photos must still exist somewhere, thought Ethel Anderson Becker. Then, like some sort of miracle, she discovered two thousand of Hegg's negatives at Webster and Stevens Photographers in Seattle. The firm had come into possession of the photos from Mrs. Hegg when she and her husband split up a long time ago. Ethel Anderson Becker bought them all.

When she showed them to Eric Hegg in 1946, he was astounded. The old man had not seen them for more than forty years. Hegg told Ethel that there could be many more. He said that when he left Dawson City for Nome in 1899, he left his glass-plate negatives with a photography studio operated by Larrs and Duclos, because he could not carry them.

When Larrs and Duclos closed up shop in Dawson, they decided to hide the large glass negatives behind veneer sheets covering the inside of their log cabin home. There they lay, safely hidden from curious eyes, for many years.

Then, in the Fifties, a young woman, working as a clerk in a Dawson store, bought the Larrs Duclos cabin. One day she reached up to see what made the sawdust drip out of the top over the veneer. To her amazement she pulled out a glass negative showing boats going down Lake Bennett. There were many, many more glass negatives behind the veneer.

Now she could have what she wanted - a greenhouse. However, her employer offered to give her real glass for a greenhouse in exchange for the glass negatives. She agreed.

In 1961, Ethel Becker travelled to Dawson City to refresh her memory for background on a novel she was working on. There she met the person who owned those two thousand glass negatives of Hegg's photos.

Two years later, in 1963, Ethel Becker bought the negatives. She now had about four thousand Hegg photos of the gold rush. The collection was complete. Many of the photos feature the signature of Eric Hegg on the bottom, though some are marked Larrs and Duclos and others, Webster and Stevens. But so far as Mrs. Becker knew, they were almost all taken by Eric Hegg.

Ethel A. Becker
Click for larger view.

Becker 1
View looking south down Broadway from 4th Avenue in Skagway. Visible are D.C. Brownell's Hardware store, the People's Store, the Rainier Hotel, and Hegg's studio. Date: June 23, 1899.
Yukon Archives. H.C. Barley fonds, #5016.
Click for larger view.

Because of her work in tracking down this long-lost photographic treasure, the epic story of the Klondike Gold Rush - from the line of stampeders on the Chilkoot pass to the home-built boats on the lakes, to men mucking for gold in the creeks - remains an unforgettable panorama of the Yukon's colourful history.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin



Flores - Klaben Rescue

When a small single-engine plane, with two people on board, stopped in Whitehorse to refuel on a cold mid-winter day in 1963, no-one could have forseen the incredible saga which was about to unfold.

Pilot Ralph Flores and his passenger Helen Klaben were returning to the south-western United States from Fairbanks in a single-engine Howard aircraft. They picked up fuel in Whitehorse and took off, bound for their next stop - Fort St. John.

Somewhere near Watson Lake, however, the plane went missing. A massive air search turned up no sign of the plane or its occupants. When the search was called off in mid-February, the temperature was -40 to -50°F. They were given up for dead.

In the bush south of Watson Lake, the little plane lay crumpled. It had clipped some trees as Flores flew low in a heavy snowstorm, looking for the Alaska Highway. Klabens left arm was broken and she had severe cuts and bruises. Flores had a broken jaw, cracked ribs and many cuts.

On the plane they had four cans of sardines, two cans of tuna, some fruit cocktail and some crackers. They had no axe, no rifle and no sleeping bags. Flores built a lean-to out of a small tarpaulin and used seat cushions from the plane as bedding. The outlook was bleak.

About two weeks after crash, Flores constructed some home-made snowshoes, and painfully trekked for four days to a frozen beaver pond where he stamped out a huge SOS in the snow.

Near the end of March, 49 days after the crash, Frank George, on board a small plane piloted by Chuck Hamilton, looked out the window and spotted the SOS in the clearing. Amazingly, Flores had had the presence of mind to stamp an arrow in the snow pointing in the direction of their make-shift camp.

The next day, Hamilton and Jack McCallum flew a rescue team to the site. They landed on the beaver pond and followed the arrow through the bush a few miles, where they discovered a miracle. Klaben and Flores were alive. Both had serious frostbite and injuries. Both had lost a great deal of weight. Yet they were alive. Forty-nine days of numbing cold, lack of food and life-threatening injuries had not broken their spirit or will to live.

They were taken to hospital in Whitehorse where they recovered nicely from their injuries and their ordeal. It was truly one of the most incredible survival stories in the annals of Canadian history.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin



Edith Josie

When I first read her stuff in the Whitehorse Star, I though it was kinda cute. Not very deep or insightful...just...well...just cute. But more than 30 years later, Edith Josie's columns have become an important record of lives of the people of Old Crow.

Her columns began appearing in the Whitehorse Star under the banner "Here are the News". Generally, the news consisted of when the plane came and what it brought...who was out on the trapline...where the caribou were running...and what the berry season was like. Pretty mundane stuff until you realize that for a people with only an oral tradition, this material is really as complete a record of their times as possible.

Edith Josie joined the Star as a community correspondent in 1963. She wrote the way she straightforward Gwichin-influenced English. Soon, the Edmonton Journal began running the News from Old Crow and, soon after that, the Fairbanks Daily News Miner took up her columns, all hand-written.

Edith Josie was born in Eagle, Alaska. In 1940, her parents moved to Old Crow. She was 16. Edith is devotedly religious and her columns reflect her attachment to the Anglican Church. Details of baptisms, funerals, marriages, church socials, and especially the Christmas season, have all formed part of "Here Are the News" for more than 30 years.

Over the years, Edith became a bit of a traveller, joining Old Crow politicians as they travelled to Ottawa and Washington lobbying against oil exploration in the Old Crow Flats. Her greatest fear is that exploration would harm the caribou and thus alter forever the way of life of the Gwichin. In 1995, she travelled to Ottawa to meet with the Governor General, Romeo Leblanc.

This was not a political meeting. She was there to receive the Order of Canada for her lifelong dedication to her own special kind of journalism. When asked when she might retire, Edith Josie said, "I wouldn't retire. Just when I pass away, that's the time my news will cut off."


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Old Crow 1
A partial panorama of Old Crow looking along the river. Some of the cabin roofs have been covered with flattened gas cans. Date: 1946.
Yukon Archives. Claude & Mary Tidd fonds, #8197.
Click for larger view.

Old Crow 2
Peter Moses, the chief at Old Crow, stretching muskrat furs over wire frames. Date: June 1946.
Yukon Archives. Claude & Mary Tidd fonds, #8242.
Click for larger view.

Old Crow 3
A large group of First Nations people sitting at a table and on the ground having a meal at Old Crow. Date: 1946.
Yukon Archives. Claude & Mary Tidd fonds, #8249.
Click for larger view.


RCMP Air Crash

Sunday July 13, 1963, was one of those delightfully warm Yukon summer evenings. That would all change at 8.10 p.m.

The RCMP Beaver aircraft CF-MPO with four Mounties on board had left Whitehorse bound for Mayo to pick up a prisoner. Fifty-six-year-old Phillip Desormeaux was being brought back to Whitehorse after appearing as a witness in a court case in Mayo.

The Beaver was a reliable workhorse, and Sergeant Morley Laughland a skilled pilot. On board that fateful day, with the pilot and prisoner, were Corporal Robert Asbil, Constable William Annand and Constable Laurence Malcolm.

Bob Asbil, who joined the force in 1956, was making a name for himself in the Yukon as a top-notch criminal investigator. He cracked the puzzling case of the missing French student, Henri Meriguet, though the suspect was never brought to trial and eventfully hanged himself.

In '63, he was to travel to Ottawa to compete against other RCMP sharpshooters in the annual revolver competition for the Connaught Trophy.

William Annand had joined the Mounties in 1955 and, over the years, had made a name for himself as an outstanding athlete. Arriving in Whitehorse in March, he was looking forward to the coming hockey season, having heard that the Whitehorse Senior league featured a pretty fast-paced game. Proctor Malcolm joined the Mounties in 1954 and had only been in the Yukon since April, so this trip to Mayo was part of the familization for newcomers to the detachment.

On the return flight from Mayo, the weather was clear and the wind calm as the Beaver made its approach for a landing in Carmacks. According to witnesses, the aircraft was making a second circle of the river near the Carmacks bridge.

Then, Fred Stretch, a forest ranger, saw the plane strike the riverbank just below the Mayo road. A territorial government employee, Norm Woodcock, said he too heard the aircraft as it made a second approach, and then heard a loud crash.

He ran outside his house and saw smoke coming from behind the territorial garage. By the time he reached the scene, the demolished aircraft was engulfed in flames.

Four Mounties and the prisoner had died on impact.

The inquest that followed the tragic event found no evidence of an aircraft malfunction that would cause the crash.

Residents at Carmacks told the inquest that unusual wind patterns often occur in the Carmacks basin near the Yukon River, even when it appears to be calm.

In bringing back its findings, a jury of six men from Whitehorse, including well known local pilot Lloyd Romfo, recommended that the Department of Transport install a windsock in Carmacks, giving credence to the theory that a sudden unexpected gust of wind threw the Beaver aircraft into the riverbank only a short distance from a final touchdown.

At the time, the loss of four members in a single incident was the biggest tragedy to occur in the Mounted Police in the century.

A funeral service for Sergeant Laughland was held in Whitehorse, while the bodies of Sergeant Asbil and Corporal's Annand and Malcolm were flown to their home towns outside the territory.

In November of 1963, more than 150 Whitehorse residents joined with members of the Mounted Police and the armed forces in -25°F weather to dedicate a plaque to the four members, a memorial which stands at the base of the flag pole in front of the main detachment.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin