Whitehorse’s Babe Richards remembered

Evelyn Mae "Babe" Richards, a spirited Yukoner known for her love of children and impeccable memory, passed away on April 15. She was 91.

Evelyn Mae “Babe” Richards, a spirited Yukoner known for her love of children and impeccable memory, passed away on April 15. She was 91.

Richards spent almost her entire life in the territory, except for the years she attended boarding school in Vancouver and a short spell in northern B.C. between 1967 and 1971.

She witnessed many of the important events that helped shape the Yukon into what it is today, including the construction of the Alaska Highway and the development of Whitehorse.

One day in the early 1940s, while the American army was building the highway near Jake’s Corner, Richards drove up to one of the foremen and asked if she could borrow a bulldozer.

She wanted to build a road from the highway to the site where her family planned on building a new cabin, along the sandy shores of the Army Beach subdivision.

“Sure, have it back by Monday morning,” he joked to her.

But Richards was serious. He offered her a few lessons before she drove the vehicle straight over land to the shores of Marsh Lake.

Richards was born on May 25, 1924 in Whitehorse. Her nickname, Babe, came from her older brother Bob, who couldn’t pronounce “baby” properly.

She finished her schooling at Crofton House, a boarding school in Vancouver, according to Claire Festel, who interviewed Richards for her book Remarkable Yukon Women.

After graduating and considering a career in nursing, Richards’s brother Cecil died that summer.

She decided to head back to Whitehorse where she would help her parents, the legendary T.C. and Bernadine Richards, run the Whitehorse Inn.

When she was 22 she had her first of 10 children. Her and her husband, John Brown, moved to Watson Lake where Brown would run a sawmill.

Sawyers and their families would live in shacks behind the Richards’s house, and Babe would take care of their children, too.

“There was a lot of activity going on,” said Mike Brown, one of Richards’s children.

Richards also had a great sense of humour, Brown said. One day in the early 1960s she challenged Pete Petersen, a man who worked for her husband, to an interesting bet.

She told Petersen he couldn’t carry her in a wheelbarrow from her house all the way to the Belvedere Motor Hotel, over two kilometres away.

What they didn’t know was that John Brown had called in a favour with his friend at the RCMP and arranged to have him intercept the duo along the highway.

“There are about 20 of us packed into our station wagon and we’re following mom and Pete on the road,” Mike said.

“Then a cop car comes zooming in behind with the lights and everything. No one knew what was going on.

“The policeman eventually let him go and the story appeared in the Whitehorse Star that week.”

Gudrun “Goodie” Sparling and Richards were friends for over 80 years. They grew up together and walked to school every day, Sparling said.

Sparling told a few stories about her friend at a celebration of life that was held at Macaulay Lodge not long ago.

One of them took place when the friends were teenagers and Richards’s father had just bought a new car. The car was going to be used as a taxi at the Whitehorse Inn, according to Sparling.

As Sparling tells it, Richards picked her up in her dad’s brand new car and they drove to Miles Canyon Bridge along with two other boys.

“On our way back we rolled the car into the ditch,” Sparling said.

“The boys were wearing hobnailed boots. The car was on its side and one of them tried climbing out of it but stepped on the other’s head, so he was bleeding.

“There was blood and Babe turned around and said “Oh God, I’ve killed everybody.”

Walking back to Whitehorse, Richards knew she’d have to come up with a plan to escape her father’s punishment.

“We’re standing on the street about a block away and she said she had to turn the tears on,” Sparling said, which eventually worked.

In the 1970s Richards opened a clothing store in Whitehorse, Broies Tienda, and ran it for five years. After her lease was up, she decided to go into childcare and she operated a day care centre for a number of years, where she was known as “Grandma Babe,” according to Festel.

She kept busy by becoming a member of numerous organizations including the Whitehorse Legion, the Golden Age Society, Yukon Order of Pioneers, Whitehorse Fireweed Lions Club, the Yukon Foundation, Angel Hugs and others, according to her daughter Cecil.

Her community efforts over the years resulted in honours such as the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal in 2002 and the Yukon Heritage Award in 2008.

Even into her late 80s, Richards had the memory of an elephant, Brown said.

“She would remember numbers, names, birthdates and anniversaries without ever writing anything down,” he said.

Richards leaves behind 23 grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren, and three great-great-grandchildren.

A celebration of life in Babe’s memory will be held at the Kwanlin Dun Cultural Centre on May 2 at 2 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, a scholarship in Babe’s memory has been established at the Yukon Foundation.

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com