The Hougen Group of Companies - A Yukon Tradition
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Engineer Mine

Engineer mine was located 42 kilometres west of Atlin, British Columbia, along the shores at the south end of the Taku Arm. In a region of wilderness beauty, the mine has a history of misfortune and curses.

In July 1899, two Swedish prospectors told some White Pass railway engineers about a pale yellow metal they had found on the shore of Taku Arm. The engineers formed a partnership with the Swedes and two of the engineers decided to explore the area. One, Charles Anderson, rowed past large visible quartz veins running down into the lake. He then staked a claim which he recorded in Atlin on July 20, 1899.

In all, twelve claims were staked that year, in an area that became known as the Engineer Group. Ore samples showed very promising results. The first shipment of ore was carried to Lake Bennett aboard the steamship, the Gleaner

Then John Hislop, one of the key figures in the White Pass railroad story, became president of the Engineer Mining Company of Skagway. There were a significant number of local investors, including many White Pass workers. Tunneling work took place over the next several winters. In 1902, the company built a stamp mill, but money woes shut down production for two seasons.

In 1906, some of the claims were mistakenly allowed to lapse and were quickly staked by a Mr. Brown of Atlin. Led by Captain James Alexander, a group from Atlin, known as the Northern Partnership, acquired the claims from Brown.

Evidently there were some under-handed tactics involved with the group's take-over, and Brown placed a curse of death and disaster on everyone involved with the mine.

Still, work continued and, by 1910, the company had two mills on the property, employing about 30 people. For the next few years the property was under litigation and work slowed substantially. By 1912, Captain Alexander had taken control of the mine and found a larger orebody. The mine’s potential increased and several investors, including the provincial government, funded a large-scale operation.

By 1917, work on the mine leveled off as the First World War severely depleted the pool of mine workers. In 1918, Captain Alexander seemed to have found a buyer for the mine, so in October he and his wife decided to head south. Alexander left his pet parrot “Polly” at the Caribou Hotel in Carcross, and took the White Pass train to Skagway.

From Skagway, the couple sailed to Vancouver on Princess Sophia. On October 22nd, the Sophia ran aground on Vanderbilt Reef. Two days later with all passengers still on board, the ship slipped off the reef. Three hundred and fifty-three passengers and crew drowned in the icy waters of the Lynn Canal, including Captain Alexander. The tragedy had a terrible impact on the Yukon since many key players from the Yukon’s mining and transportation industries were headed south after the summer season. Polly the Parrot lived at the Caribou Hotel in Carcross for more than 50 years after Captain Alexander left the famous bird there.

Captain Alexander’s death had an immense effect on operations at the Engineer Mine. It ceased production for five years while litigation dragged on over ownership of the property.

In 1924, investors from New York acquired the mine and built a number of structures including bunkhouses, a mess hall, and several residences. A powerhouse was built on the Wann River, 5 km south of the mine. The mine site began to resemble a small town. By 1925, upwards of 140 men worked at the mine. The S.S. Gleaner, and later the S.S.Tutshi, made regular visits, delivering mail to a wooden box nailed to a tree.

Engineer mine photo in 1965
by Rolf Hougen
Click for larger view.

Engineer 2
Mrs. Alexander with parrot in her hand; Captain Alexander sitting in chair.
Yukon Archives. Reginald Brook Sr. fonds, #18.
Click for larger view.

Engineer Mine 3
Engineer Mine Camp after buildings completed. Tutshi in mid distance. Lawsons camp above smoke stacks.
Yukon Archives. Reginald Brook Sr. fonds, #65.
Click for larger view.

The mine made a profit for a while, but never achieved its hoped-for potential. The workforce declined to about 20 men in 1930. At this time several of the gold-bearing veins were depleted, and the mine closed once again.

It seems the reported curse delivered by Mr. Brown had some merit. Certainly the mine experienced more than its fair share of trouble, and for Captain Alexander, his untimely death on board the Princess Sophia, proved the curse was real.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.



Climbing Mt. Kennedy

It was the highest unclimbed peak in the St. Elias. Standing at an impressive 13,900 feet, the unnamed mountain was a beauty to be behold. For the untrained mountaineer, however, it was a formidable foe.

When Mount Kennedy was named for the late American president John F. Kennedy, the National Geographic Society and the Boston Museum of Science decided to set up a team to conduct a joint survey which would result in a detailed map of the mountain.

When the late president's brother joined the team at the last minute, the story became world-wide news. Senator Bobby Kennedy had never climbed a mountain before. The world's press descended on Whitehorse and scrambled for transportation to the base camp at the 9000-foot level.

From here, Bobby Kennedy, led by veteran Everest climbers Jim Whitaker and Barry Prather, ascended the last ridge. When they got to within 50 yards of the peak, they unroped and let Senator Kennedy make the final ascent. Here he planted the Kennedy family crest, the National Geographic emblem and the Canadian flag.

When he descended to base camp, Kennedy was hailed by press, climbers and scientists alike. There were many pictures, but the one I remember best is that of Bobby Kennedy and my friend, the late Terry Delaney, arms wrapped around each other smiling ever so cheerfully for the camera.

When he got back to Whitehorse, Senator Kennedy dropped into the Capital Hotel to get cleaned up and have a drink. He bought a round and paid for it by cheque. Hotel owner Cal Miller said that was one cheque he'd never cash. He was keeping it, he said, as a souvenir from the future president of the United States.

It was not to be. Senator Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in California in 1968.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Kennedy 1
Robert Kennedy. Seen here with two RCMP at the Whitehorse Airport.  Click for larger view.

Kennedy 2
Robert Kennedy. Seen here in front of Sam McGee's cabin.  Click for larger view.

George Black

I could find no record of his prowess as a hunter in the Yukon, but George Black was no slouch when it came to shooting rabbits on Parliament Hill.

George Black was born in 1873, in Woodstock, New Brunswick, where he eventually graduated from University with a law degree. But in 1898, the appeal of gold in the Klondike outweighed the thought of a life in front of the bar. So the budding lawyer doffed his robes and headed, with a party of four men, for the Yukon. At Lake Bennett, Black and his men built a steam-powered river boat and made their way down the Yukon River, bound for Dawson.

Before they reached their goal, however, the party split up. George took a detour to the Livingstone Creek region where he staked a discovery claim and worked it for three years.

The claim didn't pay and in 1901, Black, now nearly broke, hitched a ride on a riverboat heading for the Klondike.

In Dawson, he set up a law practice and made a name for himself in a hurry. In 1904, he married another Klondiker, Martha Louise Munger, a naturalist by profession. The pair quickly became leading lights in the Dawson social circuit.

By 1905, the young lawyer had made such a name that he was easily elected to the Yukon Territorial Council. In 1908, he took a run at federal politics and lost. But he was now a name to be reckoned with and, in 1912, George Black was appointed the Yukon Commissioner. The appointment should have been a stepping stone to greater things, but World War I intervened and, by 1916, every able-bodied man in Dawson was itching to go overseas to fight for Great Britain.

The 43-year-old lawyer began a recruitment campaign and enlisted an astounding 275 men into his own personal Yukon Infantry Company, which later became known as the 17th Canadian Machine Gun Company.

By the time George and his small army left Dawson for England, his high-spirited wife, Martha, had talked the Canadian government into allowing her to go along on the troop ship that carried more than three thousand men.

George was severely wounded in 1918 at the Battle of Amien in France. Following the war, the Blacks settled in British Columbia. In 1919, George ran for a seat in the provincial legislature and lost. Then they returned to the Yukon. In 1921, he won his first seat in Parliament as a Conservative.

Black soon became an important part of Ottawa society. In 1930, Prime Minister R.B. Bennett nominated Black to become Speaker of the House of Commons.

George and Martha Louise Black
George and Martha Louise Black in their home of Front Street in Whitehorse next to the Regina Hotel Click for larger view.

George and Martha had reached the pinnacle of Canadian society, but George had not forgotten his Yukon roots. He kept, in the venerable speaker's chambers, a .22 caliber pistol, which he used to shoot rabbits behind the centre block on Parliament Hill.

In 1935, George Black suffered a nervous breakdown, the result of his war wound, and was committed to a psychiatric hospital in England.

He was unfit to run in the 1935 federal election, so Martha Louise Black, at age seventy, ran as an Independent Conservative. She won and became the second woman to serve in the House of Commons. Meanwhile, George slowly recovered and, in 1936, they moved to Vancouver.

By 1940, George was again ready for political combat. Martha stepped aside and allowed Black to contest the Yukon seat. He won, and he remained the Yukon Member of Parliament until the 1949 election, which he did not contest. He attempted to recapture his seat in the 1953 election, but lost to Liberal Audrey Simmons.

The couple lived on First Avenue in Whitehorse where Martha continued as the matriarch of the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire.

A treasured family photo shows the ladies of the IODE celebrating Martha's ninetieth birthday, as my mother looks on at her patriotic friend.

On October 31, 1957, Martha Louise Black died in Whitehorse. George moved to Vancouver, where he died on September 23, 1965, at the age of 94.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin



Wally Byam

Have you ever driven behind a caravan of trailers on the Alaska Highway and wondered how you were ever going to pass them all? It’s a reality. Trailers bunch up on the highway. So imagine a week back in the summer of 1965, when a caravan of more than 100 Airstream trailers pulled into Whitehorse. Imagine trying to pass that crew on the very dusty highway. Impossible.

It was called the Wally Byam Caravan and was one of the largest ever assembled to travel the Alaska Highway. I interviewed the travellers for local radio and recall that they were a fun bunch - on the trip of a lifetime in their Airstream trailers.

So who, I got to wondering, was Wally Byam? Here’s the story. Wally Byam was a pioneer, a legendary figure in the mobile home business.

He was born in Oregon in 1896, and spent his childhood tending the family's large flock of sheep in the mountains. He lived in a small, two-wheeled cloth-covered wagon which was pulled by a donkey. Wally once told his friends that the shepherd boy’s wagon had something to do with his later interest in trailers.

Wally Byam received a college law degree. However, he was interested in writing, advertizing and carpentry. He began publishing a how-to-do-it magazine for home carpenters and builders.

One day, Wally came across an article about how to build a trailer and bought it for publication. He printed the story and letters of complaint started to roll in. So he decided to follow the instructions himself. He quickly found them impossible. So he tried to design a trailer himself. Soon, in his backyard, he was building made-to-order trailers for sale.

In 1934, he came up with the name "Airstream". That’s what he would call his trailers. He continued to build trailers until 1942, when the war stopped production.

In 1946, he rented a small building near Van Nuys, California , and was back in the trailer business. Thus was formed Airstream Trailers Incorporated. During the next ten years, his company grew to become a major American business enterprise.

He would often leave the factory to take personal charge of caravan tours. They were, he said, the best way to show what could be done in a travel trailer. Airstream owners became a loyal bunch. In 1955 a group of his followers founded a club that is now one of the largest trailering clubs in the world. It's called the Wally Byam Caravan Club.

I can’t recall if Wally Byam was with the big group who slowed traffic to a crawl in the summer of 1965, but they still travel the Alaska Highway. With pavement, however, it’s easier nowadays to pass them.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin



Dick North

Dick North has always quietly gone about his business of research and writing. And now, quietly, he has joined elite company, including Wayne Gretzky’s dad and a former Supreme Court judge, as the newest members of the Order of Canada.

Dick made the exclusive list "for his ongoing commitment to the preservation and promotion of the history of the Yukon Territory as an author, journalist and historian," reads the citation.

Through the years, the 78-year-old Dawson resident has written four books on important historical subjects. They are "Arctic Exodus", "The Mad Trapper of Rat River", "Trackdown" and "The Lost Patrol".

During his work, Dick became an expert on Jack London, the author who spent a winter in the Yukon during the Gold Rush, and who gathered enough information to become one of North America ’s most treasured writers.

In the early sixties, Dick re-discovered the cabin where London spent the winter. London had arrived in the Yukon in September of 1897 as a 21-year-old prospector. The discovery of the cabin is quite a saga. It was built just before the Gold Rush, on the North Fork of Henderson Creek, in the Stewart River area.

The cabin was abandoned after the Gold Rush and discovered by trappers in 1936 who noted Jack London’s signature on the back wall. That was conclusive proof that London had lived in the cabin, but little attention was paid back then.

In 1965, North organized a new search for the cabin. Since the dwelling was of historical interest to both Canada and the United States, two identical cabins were reconstructed. One is now in Dawson City, while the other was assembled at Jack London Square in Oakland, California, London’s hometown.

Each cabin has half the original logs. Dick also worked hard to establish the Jack London interpretive centre in Dawson. The site contains photos, documents, newspaper articles and other artifacts.

Today, life is a little less adventurous for North, who is cataloguing his life’s work which, Dick says, is enough to keep him very busy.

Dick North is the 27th Yukoner to be awarded the Order of Canada.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin




Babe Southwick Trophy

The Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous celebrations of the Sixties had a magical feel about them. The Yukon hadn’t seen winter carnival celebrations since the late forties, so it was like a breath of fresh spring air when Rendezvous rolled around.

In a time before the Yukon Quest and other world-famous dog races that are now held in the Yukon, the Sourdough Rendezvous dog races were home spun affairs that saw the arrival in Whitehorse of old friends from the communities that we had not seen for a year.

In 1965, 40-year-old Babe Southwick of Destruction Bay brought her team to the Sourdough Rendezvous dog races. Babe was a member of the pioneer Dickson family from Kluane Lake. She added spark and color to an already lively event. Her father, Tom, came to the Yukon as a Mountie during the Klondike Gold Rush, married her mother Louise, then left the force to go trapping and raise a family. He was one of the Yukon 's first big-game outfitters. At the first musher’s meeting in 1965, Babe drew the #8 starting position. Then on Friday morning, the first of three days of racing, her well trained team disappeared down the Yukon River in a cloud of whirling snow, and made good time around the fifteen-mile trail.

After finishing the first day's race in the top five, she took care of her dogs and then retired to her hotel for a night of rest before day two of racing. Two hours later she was rushed to the Whitehorse General Hospital where she was pronounced dead of a heart attack. It was Friday, February 26, 1965. The news spread rapidly through Whitehorse and a pall hung over the Rendezvous festivities. The mushers met and decided to carry on with the races.

On day two, ten mushers lined up at the starting gate, each wearing a black arm band. Babe's racing number, eight, was withdrawn. Then her brother–in–law, Alex Van Bibber, took her Destruction Bay team around the course for the final two days of racing.

It would make a Hollywood ending to say that Alex led Babe's team to victory that year, but that honor went to a then-unknown musher from Carmacks, Wilfred Charlie. In the crowd watching the races that year was Andrew Snaddon, the editor of The Edmonton Journal.

Profoundly moved by Babe's death, Snaddon convinced the Journal to donate the BABE SOUTHWICK MEMORIAL TROPHY which is awarded to the team with the fastest lap of the three heats. And the number "8" remains retired from Sourdough Rendezvous dog sled races.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin



Hank Karr

When I first met Hank Karr back in 1965, he was the hottest property to hit the Yukon since sourdough pancakes and fresh oranges. He was a ball of musical energy. This Saskatchewan-born son of the soil could deliver any song with ease. Ballads, pop, country, story songs – Hank handled them all.

He had a stage presence so natural, it belied his shyness underneath. Hank Karr did not blow his own horn. He didn’t have to. Whenever he performed, fans and friends would be there to sing along and dance.

Our friendship began when we were recording this first pan-Northern CBC Radio series called Northern Jamboree in the sixties — first in the ballroom of the old Whitehorse Inn, and later in the CBC studios on Third Avenue. From then, and during Canada’s centennial year (1967) when he represented the Yukon at Expo in Montreal, until today, Hank Karr has been a great ambassador for the Territory.

And through the years, he has never forgotten those fans who gave him undying loyalty. To this day, Hank Karr represents a good song well sung. Hank’s voice remains true to the country music sound he enjoys. He is an ambassador of Yukon and its music world-wide.

His CDs and DVD are testaments to the fact that a performer doesn’t have to leave the Yukon to succeed in the music world. He was once asked why he didn’t go to Nashville to make it. His reply was true to his philosophy.

"The Yukon," said Hank "is my Nashville."

And so, as the famous Yukon balladeer celebrates his 70th birthday, his friends know there will be many more songs and stories to come before, during and “After Yukon”.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin