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Norman Lee and the Klondike Cattle Drive

Norman Lee was born in England, the eldest son of an English vicar. Not the kind of background you'd expect for a man who would attempt to drive cattle to the Klondike !

In 1882, Lee left a comfortable apprenticeship in an architectural office in London, England for the lure of the Cariboo gold fields of British Columbia, where he became a rancher and a trader.

Lee easily adjusted to the life of a cattle rancher, but the remote Chilcotin made the economics of cattle ranching difficult. So when the rush to the Klondike began, he jumped at what he thought was an opportunity for real money by driving two hundred head of cattle through 1,500 miles of wilderness to Dawson City.

He wasn't alone. By the spring of 1898 there was a flurry of activity as cattle ranchers assembled herds for the long trek north over the all-Canadian route from central B.C., via Telegraph Creek, to Teslin. Ranchers knew that the first to arrive would have the best opportunity to sell their cattle.

The distinction of being the first to attempt a cattle drive from the Chilcotin to the Klondike was Jim Cornell. He headed north with a hundred head in early May of 1898.

Cornell was followed by Jerry Gravelle with another hundred head of cattle, then Norman Lee with two hundred head and, finally, Johnny Harris with another two hundred head.

Lee headed out from his Chilcotin ranch on May 17 with five cowboys, nine packhorses, and a cook. There was a keen sense of competition because the first herds over the trail depleted the grazing lands along the way, leaving little forage. The lack of food was made worse by the mud churned up by the hundreds of gold seekers, with horses and mules, who were also on the trail.

Lee and his herd finally arrived at Telegraph Creek on September 2nd, 1898. After more than three daunting months on the trail, he wasn't even close to the Klondike.

Here he discovered that Jim Cornell, who had made better time with a smaller herd, decided not to go any further. Cornell had taken over a butcher shop previously owned by Dominic Burns, brother of Pat Burns, who would later become owner of the famous Burns Meat Packing Plants. Norman Lee pressed on to Teslin Lake, where the cattle were slaughtered. The plan was to raft the beef products down Teslin lake on hastily built scows, and then on the Yukon river to Dawson.

After two days of good sailing, a gale blew in. The scows were wrecked leaving the beef lying in the shallow water. Lee's Klondike Cattle Drive was over.

Lee 1
King's Mill employees posing on a cattle scow that is ready to be launched. Date: 1901.
Yukon Archives. H.C. Barley fonds, #4677.
Click for larger view.

Lee 1
Cattle Crossing Kluhini River - 1898.
Yukon Archives. Joseph B. Tyrell Fonds, #6.
Click for larger view.

The fate of Johnny Harris, who had preceded Lee, was not much better. Although he had escaped the storm on Teslin lake, his scows became frozen-in on the river about two hundred miles above Dawson, and the beef, like Lee's, was a complete loss.

When he returned from his Yukon trek, Norman Lee rewrote the notes from his daily journal, illustrating the story with cartoons and sketches. He completed the manuscript in 1900, but it sat untouched until 1960, when it was published in the fascinating story of the 'Klondike Cattle Drive'.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin



Al Raine

When Al Raine arrived in the Whitehorse in December of 1960, he had no idea that his stay in the Yukon would be the beginning of a lifelong career in skiing. The Vancouver-raised youngster was still wearing his west-coast rain-coat and summer shoes when he got off the DC 3 at the Whitehorse airport. It was minus 40 and the white land was locked "tight as drum", just like another banker of an earlier time, Robert Service, described. Al had been posted to Mayo by the Royal Bank, and later sent to Calumet.

Here he met many Europeans who took skiing seriously. So did Al, since he had skied on Grouse and Seymour Mountains as a ten-year-old paperboy who received free skiing lessons through the Vancouver Sun.

August and Olive Pociwauschek, who later ran the Igloo sporting good store in Whitehorse, were mentors to Al. They'd spend weekends skiing together at Calumet, on a hill with a ski tow. Here, Al made up his mind that he would try and build a career in skiing, so he quit the bank and went to work for United Keno Hill Mines to earn enough money to follow his dream.

He says that the Pociwauscheks helped him realize many of his dreams with their confidence and encouragment. In these early days, there were not too many believers, not even his parents who couldn't understand how anyone could make a living skiing. Lifelong friends, the Pociwauscheks taught Al about hard work and about the big, wide world out there that was calling to be discovered. He even returned to Whitehorse in the summer of 1967 to help run the Igloo sporting goods store.

Another influence in the Yukon was from the Europeans who were working for United Keno Hill mines. One of his skiing buddies was Otto Lind. Al had planned to go ski racing in Colorado, but Lind convinced him to join him in Austria were they would ski race. In 1962, at the tender age of 21, he was off to Europe. His goal - to become an excellent skier and competitor.

Once there, he met so many ex-Yukoners, he began to think that almost everybody in Austria had been to the Yukon. Otto returned to the Yukon, but Al stayed on for another three years, learning the Austrian dialect of the German language, which helped later when he took over the National Ski Team.

When he returned to Canada in 1965, he worked at the Red Mountain Ski area in Rossland, British Columbia, for a winter before moving to Montreal where he coached the Ski Hawks in 1966 and 1967.

In 1968, he joined the Canadian Alpine Ski Team as Head Coach and Program Director, a position he held until 1973. This was the start of Canadian skiers emerging as a real threat to the dominance of the ski-mad Europeans.

With the National Ski Team, Al helped to establish innovative programs. It was the first team to use a wind tunnel to study the aerodynamics of downhill skiers. To raise the standards of competitive skiing throughout North America, the Can-Am ski series was introduced.

As a result of his enthusiasm, innovation and development, the most famous Alpine downhill team in Canadian skiing history emerged. They were called the "Crazy Canucks".

After leaving active coaching in 1973, he remained in the skiing world as a private consultant, advising on ski area development projects throughout Canada and the western United States.

Al Raine 1
Nancy Greene and Al Raine
Click for larger view.

Al Raine 2
Calumet ski lift near Elsa-Mayo Click for larger view.

Al Raine 3
Al Raine skiing on the Calumet Ski Hill
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Looking back, Al says the Austrian group at Calumet, Yukon, changed his horizons and helped him enter the world of skiing. Without this broader outlook, he says, he would never have skiied Europe or become motivated to help put Canada on the map as a top alpine skiing nation.

Al married Canada's Olympic gold medal skier, the famed Nancy Greene, who in 1999 was voted Canada's female athlete of the century, beating out the legendary figure skater, Barbara Anne Scott, for the honour. Greene and Raine now operate the Sun Peaks Resort just north of Kamloops. Nancy is Director of Skiing at Sun Peaks and skis almost every day. Nancy and Al built and operate Nancy Greene's Cahilty Lodge where they make their home.

But like that other banker, Robert Service, Al Raine looks to the Yukon for the inspiration and support he received during his formative years in the land of the midnight sun.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin



Nielsen fights for Indian rights to make them equal citizens

Yukon MP Erik Nielsen received a letter June 2 from John Melling, executive director of Indian-Eskimo Association of Canada, commending Nielsen's speech delivered to give Indians the right to vote in federal elections. He described the speech as the best speech of the decade on Indian Affairs. A portion of MP Nielsen's speech appears below.

I would draw a very definite line, as many hon. members have done in debates on the subject in the past, between the integration of the Indian people. This is why it is so important that the amendment now before the house should be couched in its present terms, giving a choice to the Indian people so that if they do not wish to vote they need not vote, and whether they vote or do not vote they lose none of their rights.

The federal government alone cannot fully discharge the whole of the responsibility. Each level of government, each voluntary association, each individual citizen must play a part if success is to be expected. The aim of the government would, in my view, fail regrettably if the Indian people of Canada were not brought to the point at which they could, if they whished, take their place in the community as citizens in all respects, to the same extent as any hon. member of this house, having the same rights and assuming the same responsibilities as all other citizens without discrimination or distinction of any kind.

Here I disagree with the hon. member for Bonavista-Twillingate as to the acceptance of the Indian people by other Canadians as fully fledged citizen: I do not think there is that acceptance, or that there has been such acceptance for many years. We may pay lip service to the idea of accepting Indians as fellow citizens equal in all respects to their white counterparts.

Under the treaties themselves the Indians obtaines a legal status inferior to our own. Under the Indian Act as it existed in the past the legal status of Indians was in my view reduced even further. The Indian Act which was passed in 1868 has not been improved to any great extent. While I do not propose to review the terms of the act, even if it were in order to do so, I wish to consider some aspects of the present act in so far as they relate to the bill under discussion.

Nielsen 1960
Erik Nielsen - Member of Parliament Click for larger view.

Undoubtedly, in the past some special legislation was required in order to protect the Indian. Nowadays, however, thousands of Indians are able to take advantage of the experience gained while they were in Europe during the last world war. They can read, they can write, and the have radios. In short, they now know that they live in a democracy, and they would like some of the benefits of that democracy themselves.

I am speaking now of the Indian people I know best, those people who live in the Yukon and in the north.


The Whitehorse Star, August 25, 1960



Emil Forrest and the SS Keno

Emil Forrest, like all Yukoners of his day, was a jack-of-all-trades, and a master of some. He came to the Yukon from Alberta with his family in 1901, at the age of twelve, and went to school at Dawson City .

In 1910, at age twenty-one, he began his career on the Yukon River as an assistant pilot on a motor launch charting the tricky river channels between Circle and Fort Yukon . He prospected in the Carmacks area and had mining interests around Mayo. Then he worked as an airplane mechanic from 1929 to 1937 at Mayo.

By 1941, he was back on the river as an engineer on the Neecheah, and later skipper of the Loon, a BYN motor launch used to make soundings on the river to make it safe for the paddle-wheelers to follow without ending up on a sandbar. When the Loon was put into drydock in Whitehorse in 1947, Emil stayed on with White Pass as a night watchman.

It was a sad day for riverboat men like Emil Forrest when the SS Klondike made her last river run in 1955. But it wasn’t quite over. In August, 1960, he was hired as the pilot when the Keno was being prepared for its historic voyage to Dawson City. It was to be Emil’s first time piloting a boat as large as the Keno, and the last voyage a paddlewheeler would make on the Yukon River. Seventy-one-year-old Frank Blakely of British Columbia had been hired as the ship’s captain.

(The Keno was built in 1922. At 160 feet long and 30 feet at the beam, she was one of the smaller of the big river boats. To sail under the new Carmacks bridge, the old wheelhouse had to be temporarily removed.)

August 20th was the big day - the day they would launch the Keno at the shipyards in Whitehorse. As the boat slid into the water, Emil Forrest suffered a heart attack and died later in the Whitehorse General Hospital.

With the death of Emil Forrest, Frank Slim of Whitehorse went aboard as pilot. Henry Breaden was signed on as first mate. As the SS Keno began her historic voyage, funeral services were being held at the Old Log Church for longtime Yukon riverboat man, Emil Forrest.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin


Emil Forrest
Emil Forrest.
Courtesy Henry Breaden.
Click for larger view.

Emil Forrest
Last voyage of Keno with people on ship.
Yukon Archives. Bea McLeod fonds #13.
Click for larger view.


Last voyage of the Keno

On August 23rd, 1960, hundreds of Whitehorse residents stood on the banks of the Yukon River at the shipyards and watched history in the making. The SS Keno was heading on her last voyage to Dawson City after sitting idle at the shipyards for six years. In charge were veteran BC river boat captain Frank Blakeley at the controls, pilot Frank Slim navigating the ship, and the first mate, young Henry Breaden. The crew compliment totaled twelve. Tom Fenton, an engineer from the Parks department in Ottawa, was the leader of the expedition.

The Keno had been built in 1922 to carry ore between Mayo and the mouth of the Stewart River. She could carry nearly four hundred tons by pushing a barge in front. Above the freight deck, was the passenger deck which could carry 32 people. The hull was rebuilt in 1936 to make it 140 feet long. The Keno had been an important component of transportation on the Yukon’s river systems.

But before the boat left Whitehorse, there was a strange turn of events. Long time river boat man, seventy-one year old Emil Forrest was supposed to pilot the ship but suffered a massive heart attack while helping launch the Keno on August 20th. Hurriedly the Parks Department contracted pilot Frank Slim to take his place.

The trip was uneventful until it reached Carmacks where a bridge across the Yukon had been opened the previous year. The Keno with her smokestack and wheelhouse were too high to sail underneath.

The crew had to the remove the smoke stack and Frank Slim piloted the Keno under the bridge -- backwards. That’s so he would have greater control of paddlewheel and the steering mechanism. The wheel house above the main deck had already been removed in Whitehorse and was carried along on the main upper deck.

The boat made it with a few feet to spare and then easily navigated through the right channel of hazardous Five Finger rapids. But downstream, an unexpected event. She ran aground on an uncharted sand bar near Minto and was high and dry. Enter CBC radio reporter Terry Delaney who was covering the voyage for national radio broadcast. Terry was also a part time scuba diver and had brought his diving suit along just in case.

Now, Terry’s diving talents would come in handy. He had to don his wet suit and dive under the Keno to attach winch cables. Then he braved the fast current to pull the heavy metal cables to shore and wind them around what he hoped were sturdy willow trees. They were and the Keno was winched off the sand bar --backwards.

The trip continued with everyone thinking how this important national story might have turned out had radio reporter Terry Delaney not be along with his scuba-diving gear. The Keno might still be sitting high and dry on a remote sand bar just like the first SS Klondike which foundered in 1936 and is now resting on a bar in the Thirty Mile section of the river.

After three nights, the Keno arrived at her final home – Dawson City. Despite the driving wind rain, hundreds of Dawson residents were on the shore to cheer the arrival.

Through the years, the Keno has been restored to her original state. How well was the boat restored? Well, the engineers at Parks knew what they were doing because in 1979, during a massive spring flood in Dawson, she nearly filled with water but stayed in her resting place.

If she had been made watertight, the Keno may have floated down the river and now be lying somewhere high and dry on a sandbar instead of resting as a jewel in Dawson historic crown.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin