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The Bonnet Plume River

The Bonnet Plume is a beautiful Yukon river named for a Gwitchin Indian Chief, who all of his life, helped white trappers, traders and gold seekers, teaching them the ways of the land and, in some cases, saving their lives.

The Loucheaux or Gwitchin people called this river the Black Sands River because of the extensive deposits of magnetite-rich sand found on its bed. Andrew Flett, whose native name translated by French explorers as Bonnet Plume, was a chief of the band which used this region as traditional hunting and trapping grounds. He worked for the Hudson Bay Company when they began setting up posts in this remote region, the streams of which feed into the mighty Peel River.

Bonnet Plume also assisted Klondike gold-seekers who made their way over the so-called easy interior route to the Klondike. It was anything but easy, and many would-be prospectors had the good fortune to stumble upon his hunting camps. Otherwise, death was assured in this unforgiving land.

The Bonnet Plume is home to large, healthy populations of grizzly bears, wolves, moose, gyrfalcons and woodland caribou. It was also the site of the largest Peregrine Falcon study undertaken in the Territory. The falcon is the fastest bird in the world, reaching diving speeds of nearly 300 kilometers an hour. A stable population lives in the region.

The entire Bonnet Plume watershed was nominated as a Canadian Heritage River in 1992. It covers 12,000 square kilometers and extends almost 350 kilometers, from the river's headwaters along the Yukon - Northwest Territories border, to a point where it enters the Peel River.

Bonnet 1
Bonnet Plume and Pinquit Lake.
Yukon Archives. Ernie Barz fonds, #6.
Click for larger view.

The Canadian Heritage River System was established in 1984, as a cooperative program between federal, provincial and territorial governments. The objectives are to give national recognition to Canada's outstanding rivers and to ensure long-term management and conservation of their natural, cultural, historical, and recreational values. Three of the 28 designated rivers are in the Yukon - the Bonnet Plume, the Alsek, and the "Thirty Mile" section of the Yukon River.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin



The Prospector Statue

Welcome to the Yukon - Canada games participants. Hope you enjoy your stay and take in the sights when you are not swept up in the search for ulus.

There's a lot to see in my hometown, so maybe you'll need to come back in the spring or summer. Ah summer, when the prospectors head for the hills, hoping against hope that another Vangorda Creek or even an Eldorado might magically appear and help put their names in the prospectors honour role of lucky hunches.

But right now, if you want to see a larger-than-life prospector who represents all the men and women who have trudged the trails in search of a motherlode, you have only to walk down Main Street, where there stands a bronze figure at the corner of Third Avenue.

He is decently dressed, this marvellous facsimile of the McCoy. With high-top boots, a feather in his hat, a poke of gold hanging at the hip, he looks ready to take the mineral world by storm. His faithful malemute looks quite convincing, too.

The project to bring the prospector sculpture to life took four years from concept to construction, beginning in 1988, and would not have happened had it not been for Chuck Buchanan and Bruce Patnode.

In 1986, Patnode was president of the Yukon Prospectors' Association and served seven years as a director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines. He and Buchanan, founder of the Yukon Museum of Natural History and Frontierland Theme Park near Carcross, had ideas. The larger-than-life bronze goldseeker statue was the most ambitious.

As project co-ordinator, Patnode called the project "a good idea", but at one point, the project was destined to die on the drafting table. Patnode pressed on. Only he knows how he managed to pull the money together and find such a prominent place for the landmark in record time.

First, with a miniature clay prospector-dog model, known as maquette, Patnode promoted the "good idea" while circulating among the delegates attending the Geoscience Forum at the Westmark Hotel in November, 1991.

Once they accepted the plan and a cost-sharing agreement was set up with federal and territorial governments, Buchanan started the clay work in June 1992. They then sent the casting to a Montana foundry for bronzing, and shipping back to Whitehorse in record time and on schedule.

It was just then months from the day Buchanan cast the miniature image until the three-metre-tall prospector and his malamute companion magically appeared for the unveiling as part of the Mines Ministers' Conference in Whitehorse in September 1992.

When the conference delegates began their morning meetings, there was no sign of a statue. By lunch time, it was bolted down and covered with plastic. The area was clean and the heavy equipment gone. The prospector and his dog were unveiled to thunderous applause.

Prospector Statue
A monument to the many prospectors who have tramped the hills and valleys of the Yukon.
Click for larger view.

Prospector 1
View of two men standing next to their three dogs carrying packs.
Yukon Archives. H.C. Barley fonds, #5133.
Click for larger view.

Attached to the base of the sculpture is an Honour Roll that pays tribute to individuals, companies and organizations who have walked the prospector's rocky road to fame.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin




Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay is aptly named because it is home to many northern glaciers. Icebergs, that calve off the glaciers, float elegantly but dangerously in the frigid crystal blue water.

Many Yukon boat owners have used the ports of Skagway and Haines to sail into and around Glacier Bay. They marvel at the breathtaking mountain backdrop where the snows, that are older than history, add to the glacier’s ice cover before being dumped into the sea.

Here, along the 60-mile stretch of narrow fjords at the northern end of the Inside Passage, there are six tidewater glaciers.

Glacier Bay was first surveyed in detail in 1794 by a team from the H.M.S. Discovery, captained by George Vancouver. At the time, the survey showed a mere indentation in the shoreline. The largest glacier, the Grand Pacific, was more than 4,000 feet thick in places, up to 20 miles wide, and extended more than 100 miles to the St. Elias mountain range.

By 1879, American naturalist John Muir discovered that the ice had retreated more than 30 miles, forming an actual bay. By 1916, the Grand Pacific Glacier – the main glacier credited with carving the bay – had melted back 60 miles to the head of what is now Tarr Inlet. The most rapid glacial retreat ever recorded had occurred by 1916, when it was discovered that the ice had retreated 65 miles.

And that’s where the Yukon comes into play. In the mid-'60s, prospector and developer Leo Proctor, on behalf of the Yukon Research and Development Institute, flew over the area taking pictures of Tarr Inlet. He then boldly declared that the glacier had receded so far that Tarr inlet was now in Canadian territory and that a Canadian port could and should be built there.

He showed that building a road, from the port along the Tatshenshini valley to the Haines Road, would be easy. The economic implications for Canada, and the Yukon having its own seaport, were enormous, said Proctor. Well, nothing much came of the idea, and while the head of Tarr Inlet is sometimes in Canadian territory depending on what the glaciers are doing, it is unlikely a port will be built anytime soon.

Glacier Bay 1
View of 'City of Seattle' in Glacier Bay with Muir Glacier in the background. Date: 1899.
Yukon Archives. H.C. Barley fonds, #5138.
Click for larger view.

In 1992 Glacier Bay became part of an international World Heritage Site, along with Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Kluane National Park. The park features snow-capped mountain ranges rising more than 15,000 feet, coastal beaches with protected coves, deep fjords, twelve tidewater glaciers, fresh-water lakes, and many plant species.

But for now, it does not feature a Canadian deep water coastal port.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin




The future of a mining town is usually guaranteed. It will become a ghost town. So it was with Cassiar, a company-owned asbestos mining town in Northern British Columbia. After 40 years of operation the mine closed in 1992.

Early prospectors had seen asbestos in McDane Mountain in the Cassiars as far back as the early 1870s. Native people told goldseekers about the wooly hill to the north. They talked of birds that built their nests of white fluff that could withstand the heat of fire.

Famed Yukon prospector Anton Money visited the remote region in 1923 and saw veins of asbestos. He wrote that although transportation seemed far away from this isolated corner of the wilderness, this could be an important discovery. He was right.

In 1950, two prospectors, Victor Sitler and Hyrum Nelson and two equipment operators from Lower Post, BC staked the first claims on McDane Mountain. Then the renowned Alec Berry a Conwest Mining man in Whitehorse heard about it. Pretty soon his company Conwest Exploration sent a geologist from Toronto to Watson Lake with instructions to “get up there and buy it”. This event led to the formation of Cassiar Asbestos Corporation.

In 1952 Conwest decided that a mine was feasible. A tent town was built to accommodate Cassiar’s first 250 pioneer miners and construction workers. In 1953 the company’s first production mill was in operation, eventually producing more than 4000 tons of ore a day. It was shipped by truck over the grueling Cassiar highway to Watson Lake, then to Whitehorse for loading on to the White Pass railway. A Cassiar transport division with headquarters in Whitehorse was established and a fleet of trucks carried 24 tons of bagged fiber the 350 miles to the railway.

It was a heady time, but it came to an end in 1992. The shutdown was driven by diminished demand for asbestos and huge costs after converting from an open-pit mine to an underground mine. Cassiar which once had a population of 1500 is gone. A few houses were sold off and trucked away, but many were bulldozed and burned to the ground. Today the ghosts walk the land were once a thriving mining town existed.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin