The Hougen Group of Companies - A Yukon Tradition
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Klondike Gold Dredges

It was the summer of 1966. It was the year they shutdown the Yukon Consolidated Gold Corporation – YCGC. This conglomerate had dredged the Klondike creeks near Dawson City since the turn of the century. Now those great squealing hotel-like hulks would dig for gold no more.

In 1966, just one gold dredge worked the creeks of the Klondike. They had been an incredibly efficient means of getting gold out of the ground. Consider that, in 1904, YCGC operated seven dredges and took more than 24 million dollars worth of gold from the creeks. That’s when gold was 16 dollars an ounce and the entire Canadian federal budget was 64 million dollars.

I spent part of that summer of ’66 in Dawson, talking with people who had been with the company all of their working lives. YCGC was Dawson City. There wasn’t much else. With the company going, the economy of this once booming town would no doubt suffer badly.

It was quite a sight to see one of those dredges – like great grey monsters, floating in a small lake created by the dredge itself. They looked like rustic old floating hotels. Huge buckets dug down to bedrock at the front of the dredge, then dumped the ground into the bowels of the dredge where the sand and rock were sifted through a mesh screen system.

The gold stayed on the shakers and was cleaned up by hand. The dredges literally turned the ground upside down digging to bedrock, sometimes as deep as 60 feet, then depositing the excess gravel out the back of the dredge. Thus, the creeks and riverbeds around Dawson City were turned upside down.

The dredges picked up more than sand, gravel and gold. Walter Troberg told me about the amount of mastodon ivory they used to collect. It was considered a nuisance and often disposed of by throwing it back into the pond or carting the stuff away to the bush. These great mastodons, which looked like huge hairy elephants, had roamed the region thousands of years before.

The tusks were pure ivory and worth a fortune today. Who knows how much ivory ended up in the dredge ponds or the bushes? Walter said they often picked up old whiskey bottles, sometimes intact, with whiskey still in them. He also found many old coins from the mid-19th century, lost in this gold-bearing country long before the Klondike rush of 1898.

Dredgemaster Johnny Hoggan told me how the dredge worked as we watched old No. 7 doing her final clean up that summer of 1966. I can still hear the screeching, grinding sound of the buckets on their huge chained pulleys, being pulled through the dredge and depositing this treasure inside the contraption.

The dredge which was the last to operate on the Klondike creeks that summer of ’66 now stands as a museum… a monument to ingenuity of an early time when gold in the Klondike made Yukon history.

An aerial view of the Gold Fields of the Klondike, 1980
An aerial view of the Gold Fields of the Klondike, 1980. Click for larger view.

1958 photo of a dredge in operation
A 1958 photo of a dredge in operation.
Click for larger view.

Dredge 1
Dredge Canadian No. 2 at work near Dawson.
Date: ca. 1920-1930.
Yukon Archives. Claude & Mary Tidd fonds, #8394.
Click for larger view.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.



Carnegie Library

In 1898, Dawson was fast becoming the largest city west of Winnipeg. It was an upstart place with hotels and fancy bars featuring gambling rooms, dancing ladies and boxing matches for money.

A boomtown if there ever was one. But as the prospectors left for golder pastures, the town settled down and a sense of permanency developed.

By 1902, Dawson was a modern city. It had running water, three hospitals, three churches, daily newspapers, electric lights, and a telegraph system. The town with a colourful past now looked to a secure future. Schools and libraries would be part of that.

Dawson had what was called a "Free Library", supported by public funds and by the Standard Library Restaurant and Hotel. Books could be taken out for 3¢ a day. However, residents wanted a more formal library.

Enter Andrew Carnegie. He was born in Scotland in 1835. His parents emigrated to America when he was a boy. Young Andrew developed a good business sense and built the Carnegie Steel Corporation.

When he sold out in 1901, he was worth half a billion dollars. Carnegie then became a philanthropist with libraries as the basis of his good work, contributing money for the construction of library buildings around the world.

One hundred and twenty-five libraries were built in Canada alone with donations from the Carnegie fund. His endowment was well known in Dawson and the Free Library was not about to miss out on the money. In 1902, they made a funding request to the Carnegie Foundation.

Carnegie replied with an offer of $25,000, provided the town would spend $2500 dollars a year on upkeep. The town council sent a letter of acceptance on January 1, 1903.

In March, Council agreed to buy a lot at Fourth and Queen Street from Joe Ladue, Dawson's founder, for $2600 and accepted a design from architect, Robert Montcrieff, who had designed the Bank of Commerce building. Work began at breakup, but the finishing materials didn't arrive in Whitehorse from the "outside" until the fall of that year, so the building was not finished until June of 1904.

The Carnegie Library was officially opened on August 16th, 1904, with gleaming gold letters on the front, making no mistake as to who financed the project. It was yet another architectural wonder in an isolated town that was becoming famous for fine buildings such as the post office, the Commissioner's residence and the Bank of Commerce building.

Dawsonites could choose from almost seven thousand books and magazines and relax on ornate chairs and sofas inside the beautiful building. But, alas, it did not last.

Carnegie Library
A 1980 Photo of the Carnegie Library
Click for larger view.

A front view of the Masonic Lodge/ Carnegie Library on the south side of Queen Street in Dawson.
Date: ca. 1920s-1930s.
Yukon Archives. Claude & Mary Tidd fonds, #8363.
Click for larger view.

As the population dwindled, it became impossible for taxpayers to continue funding the upkeep on such an elaborate building. By 1920, with a population of less than a thousand people, the Carnegie library was sold to the Masonic Lodge.

Today, the Carnegie Libray and the Bank of Commerce designed by architect Robert Montcrieff stand as a fitting reminder of the days of Dawson's glorious past.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin



Thomas Fuller, Klondike Architect

His dad has been the architect who designed the Parliament buildings in Ottawa, among other great Canadian buildings. So there was good lineage for the man who designed the Yukon's first official post office. The first post office in Dawson City was operated by the Northwest Mounted Police from a tent on Front Street. When the newly built NWMP compound called Fort Herchmer opened, the Mounties moved the post office into a small log building beside the guard room.

With the first delivery in the spring of 1898, lineups were so long they filled the soggy streets for endless blocks. Miners on the creeks did not dare leave their precious mining claims and, instead, hired men to stand in line for them to get their much cherished mail.

During the summer, the Dawson post office was moved into a building owned by big Alec McDonald, one of the few wealthy Klondike Kings. However, on October 14th, 1898 a huge fire engulfed McDonald's building and the post office disappeared in a puff of smoke.

Twenty-six buildings were destroyed, but by now, saloons were everywhere, so the Mounties leased a place called the Brewery and set up semipermanent postal headquarters. They were not permanent for long.

Politicians and the public in the Klondike complained bitterly, but the federal government remained unmoved, refusing to set up a real postal service. Soon, a growing city emerged with churches, schools, hospitals, a fire hall and an elected municipal government.

While residents could buy just about anything in the shops, they were still forced to line up for hours, if not days, outside the makeshift post office to get their mail. People complained that men with money could jump the queue, slip the sorters some gold and get their mail quickly. It was known as the "five dollar window", a side door where a bribe would hasten the process. Frustration continued to grow and threatend to become the key issue in the local elections.

In the late fall of 1898, the Canadian Post Office finally agreed to take over the mail service from the Mounties and, in January 1899, the federal Post Master General urged that money be included in the budget to establish a real postal service in Dawson. The Department of Public Works wasted no time in appointing Ottawa architect Thomas W. Fuller to design the building.

He was a good choice. His father, Thomas Fuller Senior had been Canada's chief architect from 1881 to 1896. Walking in his father's fairly large shoes, Thomas Fuller Jr. took seriously his task of building the Yukon's first post office. The land presented its peculiar problems, as architect Fuller quickly observed the delights of building on permafrost.

When the top layer of earth was scraped away, Fuller discovered to his dismay that the ground melted into an oozing mass of mud. One novel idea he had was to dig holes in the muck and position two large metal boxes in the holes to provide a foundation for the heavy wood-fired furnaces in the building's basement.

Except for lumber from the local sawmill, most of the building materials had to be imported from "the outside" at outrageous prices, and carpenters skilled in fabricating anything more than a clapboard saloon were rare in Dawson. Specialized workers were hired from as far away as Montreal and young Fuller himself was often seen swinging a hammer while keeping a close eye on his unique design.

Post Office 1980
The Reconstructed Post Office - 1980
Click for larger view.

Post Office old
Outside view of new Post Office Dawson.
[original photo caption]
Yukon Archives. Walter R. Hamilton fonds, #106.
Click for larger view.

When the post office opened in November 1900, the Dawson Daily News heralded it as "...a thing of beauty and a monument to the architectural skill of the man who designed it,"high praise, indeed, from a generally cantankerous northern press. However, the official opening did not mean that Fuller's Yukon work was finished. He designed other important buildings including the Territorial court house and Administration Building, the Comissioner's residence, and the Telegraph office. Today, all are National Historic Sites.

While the post office was not in the architectural league with his father's Parliament Buildings, Thomas Jr. no doubt made a good impression with his Klondike construction efforts since he, like his father before him, was appointed the Chief Architect of Canada.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin



Yukon Gold Potato

This nugget is about Yukon gold – the Yukon gold that sells for about fifty cents a pound. It’s the kind you can eat. And it is good for you too! Yep, the Yukon Gold potato. It took years of research to come up with a variety of potato that would eventually feature this famous name. Today, Yukon Gold is one of the most well known potato varieties in North America. How did it happen?

Yukon Gold is the work of the late Dr. Gary Johnston, a scientist at the University of Guelph, Ontario. During the 1960s, he headed a research team that was trying to develop a hardy potato with yellow flesh that would grow almost anywhere in Canada and be relatively disease free. It took thirteen years of work by Johnston and his team of scientists but it was worth it since the Yukon Gold is prized by chefs and homemakers around the world.

Why was the research done? Well, yellow-fleshed potatoes are common in Europe and South America and immigrants to North America preferred them. This untapped market required an enhanced, disease-resistant golden variety that could be easily grown in North America. The result was the Yukon Gold, the first Canadian-bred potato to be marketed and promoted by name. It received a Canadian license in 1980 and was soon being exported to the United States. Yep, potato varieties are licensed.

The job of a scientific potato researcher like Gary Johnston is complex. How does the potato taste? Is it resistant to diseases? Where will it grow? What is the yield? These are only a few of the many questions that must be answered. When the research is done and the potato is ready for market, the scientist who developed the new variety, gets the right to name it. Gary Johnston chose the name – Yukon Gold.

There are other gold-fleshed potatoes on the market, including Yellow Finn, Michigold, Banana, and Saginaw Gold, but none have the name recognition of Yukon Gold. Ever wonder how much this name recognition appeals to potential visitors to the land of gold?


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin




The Yukon Foundation

After a conversation with Howard Firth in the late 1970's, Rolf Hougen realized there was no organization that existed in the Yukon that could accept the proceeds of an estate for the benefit of the people of the Yukon. Rolf Hougen invited several long time Yukoners to participate in creating a body that could accept donations from wills or in honour of relatives or friends. In December 1980, seventeen Yukon men and women agreed to contribute their names and $100.00 to establish the Yukon Foundation, using the Vancouver Foundation (established in 1950) as a model.

The founding members of the Yukon Foundation are:
Ione Christensen, Laurent Cyr, Belle Desrosier, William L Drury, Robert Erlam, Thomas Firth, Charles Halliday, Rolf Hougen, Lorraine Joe, Roy Minter, Hon. Erik Nielsen, Willard Phelps, Gordon Ryder, James Smith, Aubrey Tanner, Charlie Taylor, Flo Whyard The Yukon Foundation is registered under the Societies Ordinance of the Yukon Territory and it's objectives are based on time honoured standards:

"The objects of the Foundation are to promote educational advancement and scientific or medical research for the enhancement of human knowledge; to support, which may be in the discretion of the Board, contribute to the mental, cultural and physical well-being of the residents of the Yukon Territory. In order to attain these objectives, the Yukon Foundation is empowered: to receive bequests, devices and donations of every kind and description whatsoever, and hold, control, administer and deal with property of every kind and description, whether real or personal, and whatsoever situate."

Yukon History Hougen Group Yukon Foundation, 1980
Left to right : Marg Hougen, Rolf Hougen, chairman, Ione Christiansen, vice-chair, Chuck Halliday, treasurer, Marylin Halliday, and (missing) James Smith, secretary, 1980, Click for larger view.

Governor General Ray Hnatyshyn presented the Order of Canada medal to Annie Ned
Roy Minter presenting a cheque to Rolf Hougen, Chairman, to establish the "Minter Fund" Click for larger view.