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Robert Service Cabin

There's a little cabin, on Eighth Avenue in Dawson City, which was home to the world's most famous Yukoner. Though he never owned it, the cabin was his pride and joy, and inspired some of his most famous poems and a book which became a Hollywood motion picture.

The two-room cabin, set amongst the willows and the alders on the hill-side overlooking Dawson, was built in 1897. The first owner was Mrs. Matilda Day. Later, it was sold to Mrs. Edna Clarke, who rented the cabin to Robert Service in November of 1909. Service had written his most famous poems while working as a bank clerk in Whitehorse. When the Bank of Commerce transferred him to Dawson in the spring of 1908, he quickly discovered that his poems were earning more money than the bank was paying him. He quit the bank, rented the cabin and began his career as a full-time author.

Here he wrote his third volume of poetry called "Rhymes of a Rolling Stone". The collection included such gems as the Trapper's Christmas Eve, Athabaska Dick and Goodbye Little Cabin. He also wrote his one and only novel called the "Trail of '98". In 1929, Metro Goldwin Mayer released it as a movie with the same name. It starred Dolores Del Rio, Ralph Forbes and Karl Dante.

Though there had been previous movies about the Gold Rush, "The Trail of '98" was the first talking picture dealing with the Klondike as its theme. It was acclaimed at the time because the critics all agreed that the depiction of the characters and the plot were true to the Klondike story.

While living in his little cabin, Service was so inspired as a writer that he'd often run out of paper for his little Underwood typewriter. So he'd scrawl his lines on wall-paper using a lead carpenter's pencil. Then he'd pin the stuff on the walls, stand back and read it over to make sure it was right.

Service left Dawson for the last time in June of 1912, telling everyone he was going on one of his periodic trips to meet with his publishers in Toronto and New York. He knew he would never come back, and wrote his soliloquy called "Good-bye Little Cabin".

The poem includes lines such as "your roof is bewhiskered, your floor is aslant ... your walls seem to sag and to swing ... I'm trying to find just your faults, but I can't ... you poor, tired, heart-broken old thing". This clearly shows his deep attachment to the place. Today, the cabin sits in much the same condition as it was left by the bard of the Yukon, a living reminder of the inspiration the cabin on Eighth Avenue gave the Yukon's most famous poet.

Robert Service Cabin
Robert Service Cabin, Dawson City 1958 "The Bard of the Yukon"  Click for larger view.

Robert Service home Lancieux
Robert Service home in Lancieux, France 2007.
Click for larger view.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin




That's cool. Real cool. What a great word - cool - especially when it has nothing to do with the weather. While slang and pop phrases come and go as fast as a Ferrari, the word cool is more like the energizer bunny. It just goes and goes and goes.

Groovy man. Or hip. Or see ya later alligator. They are all like so yesterday man.

But cool? It's as fresh today as it was in the forties when Charlie Parker recorded Cool Blues, and started the trend to mean alright or good, or - groovy or even - hip.

A national story this week out of New York reminded me how much the word "Cool" means. The writer called the word "the gold standard of slang in the 21st century, as reliable as a blue-chip stock, surviving like few expressions ever could in our constantly evolving language".

Cool is a charter member of the slang hall of fame. It just sits back and keeps getting used generation after generation. True.

My first realization that adults were paying attention to teenage language came in 1958. WHTV, the fledgling closed-circuit television operation had just begun broadcasting to wired homes in Whitehorse. What a concept.

Old movies, announcer-operated bingo games and one daily newscast, read by announcers unskilled in the special art of reading into a self-directed camera, was the bill of fare offered to Whitehorse residents who would shell out cash to watch one channel.

Of course, before the wired one-channel world came into the local homes, residents had to buy a new-fangled gadget called a television set. They weren't cheap and they were black-and-white.

The WHTV manager was Bert Wybrew, who would later become mayor of Whitehorse. Bert was pretty much a one-man show at WHTV in the beginning. He wanted to provide his customers with variety if he could.

I was then a teenage volunteer at the military-run radio station, CFWH. We also bowled in the Whitehorse Inn basement where Bert was the manager. One night, while bowling for Whitehorse, Bert asked me if I would host a teenage dance party on Saturday mornings for WHTV. 'Just like American bandstand', said Bert.

My job would be to round up the usual suspect high-school boys and girls and make sure they showed up at the Whitehorse Inn studios on Saturday morning. Then I would be the on-camera host as Bert played records through the sound system behind the camera.

The studio had room for about eight high-school rock and rollers. I sat behind a home-built desk fancied up by Bert with some artifacts of the day. This was going to be fun - except for one thing. As a teenaged announcer, live on TV in front of my newly rounded up dancers, I was at a loss for words. Literally. I had no idea how to ad-lib. And mike fright turned to stage fright and then to camera fright.

Bert had written me something to read for the opening, which I did. Then he played a Billboard-charted Buddy Holly tune and the dancers went into action. They were - well, they were cool.

When they song ended, I sat there looking at the camera. I had no idea what to say. The ominous silence lasted much longer than live TV would permit.

Finally, gentle Bert stepped out from behind his camera and walked over to the desk where I sat in full stage fright. He put his arm around my shoulder and said:

"You kids are cool, Les. Tell me " What does that word really mean?"

The dancers giggled as I rambled on about how cool it was to be at the WHTV studios hosting the Yukon's first American bandstand - bout how cool we all felt to be on live TV - about how cool the kids at the Whitehorse Elementary High School were every day.

My stage fright disappeared. How cool is that?


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin



CBC Radio

Andrew Cowan earned country-wide acclaim during World War II, as one of the few Canadian reporters working the front lines in Europe. When he returned to Canada, he stayed on with the CBC, working his way up the ladder to a top management position. In the mid-'50s, he began the long bureaucratic process of bringing network radio to the north. It took a lot of arm twisting to convince the aloof brass in Ottawa and Toronto that the silent outposts in the North deserved the network radio service.

Cowan was firmly committed to public broadcasting and was determined to see that the North would be served by the CBC. On November 10th, 1958, Cowan's hard work paid off. CFWH became the first in a series of network-linked radio stations owned and operated by the CBC to broadcast across the North. CFWH, standing for Canadian Forces Whitehorse, went on the air in the mid-'40s as a military run, but volunteer staffed radio station. My first stint there as a volunteer was in 1956 when, as a grade nine student, I was assigned the Saturday night shift and hosted a rock-and-roll record show called Night Train. Elvis got his first big break in the Yukon on that radio show.

When the CBC took over, I lost my job. Four other Yukoners, Terry Delaney, Tom Horny, Earl Stephanson and Joe Craig became the CBC's first on-air employees in the North. Craig had been the morning man on CFWH as a volunteer and retained that role with the CBC. Terry Delaney became the voice of sports in the Yukon, and went on to cover many memorable events such as Senator Robert Kennedy's famous climb of Mt. Kennedy in the St. Elias Mountains. He was there reporting first-hand to the world the devastation caused by the Alaska earthquake of 1964.

When I got my job back at CFWH in 1962, as a summer relief announcer, the legendary Wee Willie Anderson was known throughout the Yukon for yelling 'Yahoo' at the top of his voice to open his popular daily western roundup show. Cal Waddington was producing timeless Yukon historical radio programs. Terry Delaney was calling local hockey games, and Ted North was sending news reports "outside" to the network.

The first location of CFWH, as a CBC station, was in an old air-force building across the Alaska Highway from the airport. In the early '60s, the CBC moved into a brand new building on Third Avenue, next to what was then the bus depot. As new as the building was, it was never meant to be a radio station. Sound proofing was non-existent and hallway conversations could be heard during local station breaks. The daily 6:30 departure of the bus, parked between the bus depot and the radio station, coincided with the broadcast of the local 6:30 newscast. I could always distinguish the bus drivers who liked the CBC from those who did not. Friendly drivers calmly let the engine idle. Unfriendly drivers revved the engine at maximum torque until the newscast was over.

Yukon History Hougengroup
Bill Stoddard, volunteer, reading the news 1946
Click for larger view.
Yukon History Hougengroup
Jack Hogg was one of many vlunteers at CFWH
Click for larger view.

In April of 1966, the CBC moved to its present location on the corner of Third and Elliot. The building was state of the art for its time. It was sound proof. If a bus went by, or a hallway conversation became heated, the noise couldn't be picked up by the vintage Northern Electric microphones, which predated the coming of the CBC to the Yukon in November of 1958. Perhaps they were the same microphones which Andrew Cowan, the CBC's first Northern Director used in his war-time reports from Europe.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin



The Fires of '58

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. The summer of 1958 was a hot, dry one across the Yukon. A time to bask in the pleasures of the great outdoors. The great outdoors, however, were closed.

They started in early June, those devastating forest fires of 1958. One of the first to break out was in the 10 Mile area of the Dawson road, near Lake Laberge. Here the Canadian airforce had been detonating unexploded bombs which had been dropped during military exercises the year before. The RCAF was heavily criticized for its actions, but refused to take the blame. The fire raged out of control over a wide area.

It was quickly joined by huge forest fires at Mendenhall on the Alaska Highway, at Fox Creek and Carmacks on the Dawson Road, south near Teslin, and a particulary nasty fire at Sqaunga Lake. The southern Yukon was ablaze. Commissioner F.H. Collins called for outside help and forest specialists were flown in from national parks across the country.

All travel off the main roads was banned. In early July, the Laberge fire continued to rage out of control and had joined up with the fires burning at Mendenhall and Stony Creek. It now raced through the Takhini valley and destroyed buildings at the Hot Springs. I recall, on a hot July day, watching a towering plume of smoke over Whitehorse, rising many thousands of feet. It looked like a cloud caused by a nuclear explosion.

Falling ash covered the streets, building and cars. The air was heavy, hot and dry. Work crews cut a huge fire break just north of Camp Takhini, but expressed little hope that it would curtail the raging inferno. On July 17, Whitehorse Mayor Gordon Cameron declared a state of emergency and ordered all Whitehorse residents to pack their belongings and be prepared either to drive to Carcross or to take the train.

My Dad packed up what he could into the back of our 1952 Chevy panel. We were ready to leave behind most of our worldly possessions. But later in that week a minor miracle occurred. It came in the form of cooler weather with considerable rain. The 30-mile fire front advancing on Whitehorse came within five miles of the White Pass tank farm before its advance was curtailed.

Firefighters now had there chance to contain the fire. And they did. At the end of July, Mayor Cameron called off the state of emergency. But in other parts of the Yukon, fires continued to rage out of control. Heroic efforts were used to save Rancheria. Finally in late August, the fires were out.

And once again people were allowed to travel off the main roads. But it was too late for any outdoor enjoyment in that summer of 1958. And the incredible devastation caused to forests and wildlife was visible for many many years to come.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


I remember the huge towers of smoke and ash. During the day, the wind blew from the south, so Whitehorse was clear & sunny. Then, in the evening, the wind would switch around to the north, and the smoke would come, and burned spruce needles would rain down on us.

For us kids, this switch in the wind direction had a harsh effect on the baseball schedule. We would start a game at 6:30 or 7:00, under clear skies. After a few innings, the breeze would switch, and soon the sun was blocked out by the huge cloud of blue-black smoke. Several games had to be postponed due to darkness – at 8:00 pm, in July.

1958 Fires
View of fire with the standard oil refinery area (Marwell) in foreground Click for larger view.

1958 Fires
A view of the Forest Fire from downtown Whitehorse.
Click for larger view.

1958 Fires
A view of the Forest Fire from downtown Whitehorse. Yukon tire shop to the left and the Polaris Building 4th & Wood Street in the foreground - Lloyd Ryder photo.
Click for larger view.

Another vivid memory – on a smoky Sunday, Jim Light and I went fishing at Tagish. There was a strong breeze blowing from the south, and the sun was dull orange. It looked like a cold day, with the winds blowing out of the mountains. However, the breeze was hot, and we trolled the lake shirtless. The smoke and heat must have been from the Teslin fire.

R. Lortie


Whitehorse Rapids Dam

By the mid-1950s, a growing Whitehorse apparently needed more electrical power than could be provided by the Fish Lake power plant operated by Yukon Electric. But what to do? At the time, two parallel systems were operating. The Yukon Electrical Company Limited continued to supply downtown customers, and the Department of National Defense operated a diesel plant to supply the airport, Camp Takhini, Hillcrest, Marwell and parts of downtown.

In 1955, the Northwest Territories Power Commission, which later became known as the Northern Canada Power Commission, expressed interest in providing power in the Yukon and began a series of studies that included adding to diesel generation as well as a thermal plant near Carmacks. But nothing could beat hydro power and the Whitehorse Rapids was the source of tremendous untapped electricity.

Thus, in 1955, with little in the way of environmental studies, plans were underway to do what today would be unthinkable. Dam the Yukon River and harness the power of the famed rapids.

In the fall of 1956, construction began on an earth-filled dam that would forever alter the Yukon River. The 14-meter-high dam would create what is now known as Schwatka Lake, by clearing a 250-acre site above the dam. The lake would be a kilometre wide and 10 meters deep.

In the fall of 1958, the Northern Canada Power Commission installed two powerful turbine engines and power began flowing to Whitehorse. Total cost of the project was 7.2 million dollars, paid for by the Government of Canada.

In 1959, the Whitehorse Fishway, the longest wooden fish-ladder in the world was built to aid the migration of Chinook salmon on the final leg of their long journey to their spawning ground at the headwaters of the Yukon River.

In 1966, NCPC decided that the installation of a third turbine was the best way to supply power to the new Cyprus Anvil lead-zinc mine in Faro.

Between 1968 and 1969, NCPC installed a third turbine at the Whitehorse dam and built a transmission line from Whitehorse to Faro to supply the town and mine.

When it had opened in 1958, the Whitehorse Rapids dam depended on the natural storage of water from the Yukon River and its headwaters. However, in 1969, with the third turbine in place, extra water capacity was needed. NCPC rebuilt the old Lewes dam on the Yukon River near Marsh Lake as a control structure to regulate the level of Marsh Lake and provide water storage for the Whitehorse Rapids power plant.

Rapids 1
Click for larger view.

Rapids 2
Click for larger view.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin



Fishing with Dief, the Chief

As fishing trips go, it was a whopper. Little wonder. After all, Canada’s newly electedPrime Minister was in town and 'Dief the Chief' was known as a fisherman of considerable skill.

It was September 1958. John Diefenbaker had just led the Conservative party to a smashing victory in the federal election. The long-time Saskatchewan politician was now the toast of the country.

On hand for the official welcome at the airport were Commissioner Collins, Mayor Gordon Cameron and MP Erik Nielsen. On arrival, a 12-car motorcade whisked the Prime Minister downtown in an impressive cloud of dust - no paved streets in ‘58.

Dief and his wife Olive had a grand old time in the tiny Yukon town, but on top of the Prime Minister’s “to do” list was fishing.

It was time for action. Kathleen Lake near Haines Junction was the chosen location and Dief’s simple plan for a day's fishing set so many official wheels in motion that it almost became a comedy.

Canadian press had a field day with the story. Off to Kathleen Lake, one hundred miles over the dirt road known as the Alaska Highway, went the cavalcade. But the official party was flown there and landed on an upgraded emergency airstrip near the lake.

The Mounties were there, in official scarlet tunics, shiny brown boots and spurs selling fishing licences.

The air-force flew in two transports from Vancouver and Edmonton carrying fur-trimmed parkas, fleece-lined leggings and boots, and red woolen toques.

The army moved in to set up radio communications, a large mess tent and cooking facilities.

The National Film Board and the CBC sent crews to record the event while Canadian National Telegraphs sent officials from Edmonton with additional teletype equipment to rush the news to the outside world.

How was the fishing? Well, wrote one reporter, “when finally a three-pound lake trout struck the Prime Minister’s line, it saved the Yukon’s tourist industry from the public embarrassment of having one of its most famous fishing guests go empty-handed.”


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Prime Minister John Diefenbaker at Haines Junction enroute to Kathleen Lake for a day of fishing. Far left: Brigadier Bob Jones, Diefenbaker in Cowichan sweater, Erik Nielsen. Click for larger view.

Greeting PM Diefenbaker at the airport 1958 Commissioner & Mrs Fred Collins, Olive and John Diefenbaker, Erik & P.J. Nielsen, Mayor Gordon Cameron
Click for larger view.

Marg & Rolf Hougen with Olive & John Diefenbaker greeting guests Bob & Jean Campbell in the Whitehorse Inn Ballroom.
Click for larger view.

Erik Nielsen and John Diefenbaker fishing at Kathleen Lake. Click for larger view.

Capt George Black PC KC and Isaac Taylor of Taylor & Drurys talking to the Prime Minister. Click for larger view.


SS Klondike Sold

Today, a story that could come from the pages of Ripley's "Believe It or Not", a story about how the Yukon almost lost one of its most important historical artifacts. A tale of what-ifs and might-have-beens.

It all began in the winter of 1958. Times were tough for the White Pass and Yukon Route. Among other things, they had a rail system that was difficult to operate at a profit at the best of times.

In addition, they owned a shipyard in downtown Whitehorse that was full of aging, discarded riverboats. Among them were smaller vessels like the Bonanza King, the Loon, the Yukon Rose, the Neechea and the Woodchuck. They were small paddle wheelers compared with the SS Whitehorse, the Casca, the Keno, and the Klondike . What to do with all this idle inventory was a conundrum for the company. So they decided to sell it.

The five smaller boats were all sold rather quickly and moved to various locations - mostly along the Alaska highway . All were sold to local buyers. But what is truly amazing is that a buyer was found for the SS Klondike. All fourteen hundred tons of her.

In the spring of 1958, the Vancouver Sun reported that John Lister, a Vancouver restauranteur, had bought the queen of the fleet from the White Pass for $25,000. Lister planned to move the resplendent riverboat to Vancouver and set her up as an ornate restaurant in time for B.C.'s Centennial celebrations in the summer of 1958.

The scheme was not 'mission impossible'. The Klondike was river-worthy at the time and Lister planned to sail her down the Yukon River to St. Michael on the coast of the Bering Sea, and then tow her with tugs along the Alaskan coast to Vancouver. Sounds implausible, but remember that during the Gold Rush, many riverboats had been built in Vancouver and sailed up the coast and into the Yukon River at St. Michael. The steamer Portland had sailed this route south to Seattle in 1897, with a ton of Klondike gold that started the gold rush.

The Klondike had been refitted in 1954, and the White Pass, in collaboration with Canadian Pacific Airlines, operated her on the Whitehorse - Dawson run for two seasons, making a dozen round-trips.

Still, when the news hit the streets in 1958, it seemed unreal. Only confirmation from veteran White Pass public relations director Roy Minter gave the story credence. Sad but true, said Minter. There were not enough tourists to operate the Klondike, and she had to go. A qualified riverboat captain was available, and the journey would take about six weeks.

Then, in midsummer of 1958, news flashed to Whitehorse that restauranteur Lister had backed out of the deal. He claimed to have made many extensive calculations and discovered that the cost of moving the ship from Whitehorse to Vancouver was not cost-effective.

Sternwheeler Klondike
Sternwheeler Klondike 1973.
Yukon Archives. Richard Harrington fonds, #442.
Click for larger view.

Sternwheeler Klondike 2
Whitehorse Y.T.; Girl with bicycle near dry docked sternwheeler Klondike.
Yukon Archives. Richard Harrington fonds, #558.
Click for larger view.

So for the next eight years, the SS Klondike, along with the Whitehorse and the Casca, sat in the White Pass shipyards while debate raged on what to do with the paddle wheelers.

Well, we now know what happened to all of them. At least the SS Klondike was saved to represent a slice of Yukon history that could have been gone forever.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin



The Copper Slab

Next time you visit MacBride Museum, or if you are just out for a walk along Front Street, look at a big green rock standing tall outside the old log Telegraph Office on the corner of First and Steele Street. It’s big, and it is pure, 100% copper.

The copper slab arrived at its present location from the White River area, in what could only be described as a community project without parallel. Its existence had been known since May 1905, though there were rumours going back to 1891.

In 1953, prospector Clem Emminger trekked into the area, about 30 miles off the Alaska Highway, and brought back a small sample along with news of just how big the slab was. Three tons of pure copper. No one was more excited than Bill MacBride, the Yukon ’s foremost historian and booster of his day.

In 1954, he helped form a copper nugget committee of five to find out how he could bring the slab to Whitehorse for display at the MacBride Museum. The committee consisted of prominent Yukoners such as Bill Emery, John Phelps, Dorothy Scott, Jim Whyard and Roy Minter.

Believe it or not, they could not just drag the slab out of the bush. It took four years of investigation to discover who owned the nugget. Finally, they decided it was on Crown Land and that no one had a claim to it. Then the committee had to convince the Department of Northern Affairs to let them have it. In 1958, Northern Affairs agreed to donate the slab to the Yukon Historical Society.

Then, the committee set about retrieving the copper slab. Fifteen people were involved in the recovery mission. At 7am on April 22, 1958, the group headed into the rough White River bush country to drag the copper out. They included big game guides Buck Dickson and Carl Chambers and federal game warden Joe Langevin. Alaska Highway maintenance people provided cat-skinner Dave Hume – and his cat.

It took five days to drag the slab to the highway, load it onto a flat-bed, and drive it 250 miles to its final resting place at the McBride Museum. It arrived on Sunday, April 27th, 1958.

Today, it sits proudly at the museum site, complete with a plaque dedicated to the pioneer prospectors who staked copper claims on the White River from 1900 to 1958. Among the early prospectors named is Frank Miles, the adoptive father of William MacBride.

By the way, these native copper 'nuggets' are unusual, and have no market value because they are so hard, and there are so few that setting up milling machinery would be impractical. However, as a museum piece, it is priceless.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin



1958 in review

Ian Tyson is one of my favourite singing story tellers. Always has been. He wrote a wonderful song called "50 Years Ago".

If I could roll back the years,
Back when I was young and limber,
Loose as ashes in the wind,
I had no irons in the fire.

If we could roll back the years to the Yukon of fifty years ago, what would we find? Well, in January 1958, a young Cal Waddington became President of the Young People’s Association. An elderly Yukoner, George Black, married Sadie King of Vancouver. The former Commissioner was eighty-five.

The White Pass Railway announced it had sold the SS Klondike to a Vancouver restauranteur, and the fabled river boat would sail to Vancouver in the summer, in time to mark BC’s centennial year.

On March 27, Erik Nielsen was re-elected as the Progressive Conservatives, led by John Diefenbaker, won the largest majority to date in Canadian history. The Diefenbaker government announced it would begin construction of a road to the arctic. It would be called the Dempster Highway.

On April 3, 1958 a fire destroyed the Elks Home at Second and Main Street. The historic building was one of the oldest in Whitehorse and once home to the Bank of Commerce where Robert Service wrote the Cremation of Sam McGee.

The Department of Northern Affairs approved a street-paving program for the city of Whitehorse. The first asphalt would run from the foot of Two Mile Hill along Fourth Avenue and down Main Street to the White Pass train station.

In May, a new Yukon Liquor Ordinance allowed banquets to serve liquor on Sundays and extended "drink up" time in bars from fifteen minutes to half an hour. In June, work began on construction of the bridge over the Yukon River at Carmacks. In July, forest fires burned out of control in many parts of the Yukon. On July 24, 1958, forestry officials said there would have been little hope for saving Whitehorse if the rain hadn't saved the town. The 30-mile front of fire came within five miles of the White Pass tank farm and was seen plainly from city streets.

The Yukon weather service reported that the month of June was the hottest and driest on record in Whitehorse . The mean temperature for the month was six degrees above normal. Fittingly, the new Lions Swimming Pool opened.

Famous Yukoners were passing in 1958. In July, the ashes of Klondike Kate Rockwell were scattered over the wilds of the Cascade Range of central Oregon . On September 11, 1958, Robert Service died in southern France .

On November 10th, after many years of operation on a volunteer basis, the CBC took over radio station CFWH. Not to be outdone, WHTV was now offering cable service to downtown Whitehorse, but evenings only - with one black and white channel. Coverage included live TV focused on the liquor store entrance.

And that’s the way it was in 1958.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin



Click here to listen to this story


Where would Robert Service call home?

2008 marks the 50th anniversary of the death of Robert W. Service, who passed away on September 11th , 1958. He spent just eight of his 84 years in the Yukon Territory, yet the stories he told made him one of the world’s richest writers. His time had been equally divided between Whitehorse and Dawson City, and so I got to thinking. Where in the Yukon would the famed poet call his hometown? Would it be Whitehorse or Dawson City?

Both Yukon communities have reason to claim the honour. He arrived in Whitehorse on the White Pass train in April 1904. He was transferred to Dawson and travelled on the White Pass stagecoach in 1908. He left the Yukon in the fall of 1912 by White Pass river boat and train.

While in Whitehorse, he lived on the second floor of the Bank of Commerce building at Second and Main. In Dawson, he lodged in the Bank of Commerce employees’ quarters on First Avenue until 1909, when he quit the bank and rented a small log cabin on Eighth Avenue.

He wrote his first book of poetry, Songs of a Sourdough, in Whitehorse. His second book, Ballads of a Cheechako, was published when he lived in Dawson, but contained material written in both communities. The third book of poems, Rhymes of a Rolling Stone, and his first novel, the Trail of ’98, were written in Dawson, although most of the inspiration for Rhymes of a Rolling Stone came from his 1912 journey from Edmonton to Dawson over the Mackenzie River route to the Klondike.

The background for his Yukon poems came from stories he heard people tell in both Whitehorse and Dawson. In Whitehorse, Robert enjoyed his long lonely walks along the river and into the hills beyond the tiny town.

When he was transferred to Dawson City, he wandered through the hills and along the river, searching for stories and inspiration. In 1909, he quit the bank, rented a cabin, and began work on his novel called The Trail of '98. By 1912, he realized there was little left in the Yukon that could inspire him.

In the fall of that year, on board a river boat, Robert watched Dawson City disappear from view. He saw Whitehorse fade to black from the back of the caboose on the White Pass train. He would never again see Whitehorse or Dawson or the Yukon land that made him famous.

So if we would journey back in time and ask the Bard which town he considered home, would his response be Whitehorse or Dawson City?


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin