New government campground boasts historic past

Long before John Conrad's million-dollar investment turned a quiet area just south of Carcross into a booming town, ancestors of the Tagish Kwan people hunted, fished and camped in the area.

Long before John Conrad’s million-dollar investment turned a quiet area just south of Carcross into a booming town, ancestors of the Tagish Kwan people hunted, fished and camped in the area.

Tagish Kwan is a Tlingit word that means people, and refers to the Tlingit group that once lived in the Tagish area.

By 1909 the area looked much different than it once did. Conrad City had reached its peak and between 300 and 3,000 people lived there, depending on who you ask.

The town boasted several restaurants, hotels, grocery stores, churches, a butcher, a hospital, a newspaper, a telegraph office and a Mountie detachment, according to local historian Les McLaughlin.

Today, more than 100 years after the mining town was dismantled and abandoned, some new visitors are set to visit the area.

The Yukon government is opening a new campground adjacent to the historic site on May 20.

According to the government’s website, Conrad campground is located on a “scenic 45-hectare park reserve” about 16 kilometres south of Carcross, on the shore of Tagish Lake’s Windy Arm.

“The campground will help meet the growing demand for recreational opportunities near Whitehorse for both Yukoners and visitors,” the site adds.

The site at Conrad was picked after the Taku River Tlingit threatened to sue the Yukon government if it continued to push forward with plans to build a campground at Atlin Lake.

That site lies in the traditional territory of both the Carcross/Tagish First Nation and the Atlin, B.C.-based Taku River Tlingit First Nation. The project is still on hold due to legal action, according to the government’s website.

Last year the territorial government invested $576,000 towards the development of the Conrad campground.

That included construction of a gravel road, 29 campsites, camping facilities and walking trails.

When John Conrad arrived in the Yukon in the early 1900s he probably didn’t expect to be gone within 15 years.

Born in 1855 to an aristocratic family in Virginia, Conrad packed up and headed to Alaska after an economic recession in 1893, according to an article that appeared in the Canadian Institute of Mining, Metallurgy and Petroleum magazine in 2014. Conrad did well in Alaska, capitalizing on gold strikes across the state, and soon got word of a silver-gold-lead find near Carcross, the article states.

Conrad arrived in 1903 and began pouring money into the site. Development of the Windy Arm claims began in 1905, according to McLaughlin.

Conrad was faced with a daunting challenge. He needed to find a way to get the ore from the mountain down to the lake.

Known for his extravagance, he spent $80,000 on an aerial tramway system – the most expensive in the world at the time – that carried ore from the mountain down to Windy Arm, where it would it could be picked up by river boat and shipped to Carcross for loading onto the White Pass rail cars.

McLaughlin writes Conrad boasted his town would soon dethrone Dawson City as the capital of the territory.

By 1907 more than 350 men worked at the mines, while 150 more scoured the hills in search of further mineral deposits, McLaughlin adds.

At peak production, the mill produced 10 tonnes of silver ore concentrate per day.

But it was soon discovered the ore was of lower grade and the cost of transporting the mineral to market on the White Pass railway was hugely expensive.

Conrad took White Pass to court, according to McLaughlin, saying the carrier’s rates were five times those of any other outfit on the continent.

The legal battle took years and Conrad eventually lost.

In April 1912, “Colonel” John Conrad called it quits and left the territory for good. Much of Conrad City’s infrastructure was shipped to Carcross.

Today, some of the remnants of Conrad’s aerial tramway can still be found in the area.

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

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