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The territory’s pioneers were Patnode’s muse

Bruce Patnode, late of Parksville, British Columbia, died suddenly of a brain aneurysm on September 14. He was 60 years old.

Bruce Patnode, late of Parksville, British Columbia, died suddenly of a brain aneurysm on September 14. He was 60 years old.

Patnode, a former Whitehorse resident of nearly 40 years and long-term executive member of the Yukon Prospectors’ Association and Yukon Chamber of Mines, was born in Dawson Creek, BC, on March 21, 1947.

He was six years old when he came to Whitehorse in 1953. His father, Larry Patnode, had come ahead from Alberta to take an army job.

Then his mother, school teacher and artist Alice Patnode, followed with the two children, Bruce and his sister Sharon.

Patnode grew up in Whitehorse and graduated from FH Collins Secondary in 1965.

From a very young age he became fascinated with rocks and began studying geology on his own and taking the chamber of mines’ prospecting courses.

In that sense, he was following in the footsteps of his father, who possessed an enthusiasm for finding mineral prospects and promoting properties.

Father and son often went out on field trips together.

While still a high school student, Patnode spent summers doing field jobs that turned into an eclectic collection of experiences associated with some of the Yukon’s most notable mining projects of the 1960s and 1970s.

He was a radio operator in a remote three-person camp for Southwest Potash Corporation (Amax) when the tungsten deposit was discovered in 1962.

The MacTung property, accessible from the north Canol Road, is located at MacMillan Pass on the Yukon-Northwest Territories border.

He was on crews doing legal surveys of mining claims throughout the Yukon, such as in the Keno Hill district and the Whitehorse copperbelt.

An employee of White, Hosford and Impey of Whitehorse, he was one of the first surveyors working at the early Faro mining camp in 1965, and later surveyed for the New York-based Parsons Construction, which built the mill for Anvil Mining Corporation in 1968.

As a White Pass truck driver, he later was hauling lead-zinc-silver concentrates from that Faro mill to railhead at Whitehorse as well as hauling asbestos from the Clinton Creek Mine near Dawson City and silver concentrates from United Keno Hill Mines at Elsa.

In 1974, he was on the Cassiar run hauling asbestos fibres from the mine in northern British Columbia to Whitehorse.

At one point, he did a stint driving for Ray Russell Transport. The Whitehorse-based trucking company had the contract to haul Hudson Bay Mining’s nickel concentrates from the Wellgreen Nickel Mines near Burwash to a port facility in Haines, Alaska, between May 1972 to July 1973.

Over the years, Patnode’s mining-related jobs expanded into crewing on diamond-drill rigs, operating heavy equipment and supervising geochemical and geophysical field programs in Canada and abroad.

Meanwhile, he was still studying geology as an avocation and eventually set up his own mineral exploration company.

He then returned to a British Columbia and college to finish a business administration degree with majors in finance and marketing and went to work in the mid-1980s with the Yukon government’s Economic Development department.

By 1986, the energetic Patnode had taken on the role of president of the Yukon Prospectors’ Association and assumed management duties of the association’s satellite remote sensing facility, initially housed in a building on Industrial Road.

The purpose of the then-cutting-edge satellite imagery technology was to discern geological features on Earth to assist mineral explorers in their quest for finding mineral deposits.

Simultaneously, Patnode served seven years as a director of the Yukon Chamber of Mines.

As the senior industry spokesman, he was working with government, First Nations, private industry and environmental groups to help foster mining activities.

Amid all these other activities, he seriously began pursuing art with a great zeal around 1989.

His work is still visible.

He helped produce the RCMP commemorative mural displayed beside the Whitehorse detachment building.

Some of his landscape dioramas, or backgrounds, that highlight wildlife displays can be viewed in the Kluane Museum at Burwash Landing, Yukon Museum of Natural History near Carcross and the Teslin museum.

He and Chuck Buchanan, founder of the Yukon Museum of Natural History and Frontierland Theme Park, produced the Skagway to Dawson diorama inside the Yukon Transportation Museum.

In the summer of 1992, he joined several local artists who created the colourful historic mural mounted on the transportation museum’s exterior wall.

It was the Yukon Art Society’s big anniversary project to mark the Alaska Highway’s 50th birthday.

Mother Alice Patnode, widely known for her depiction of the northern nights, and her protégé son competed against each other in the 1992 Northwestel phone directory cover contest that had to represent some aspect of Alaska Highway construction.

Bruce’s More Mud entry illustrated what men endured when punching through 2,576 kilometres of permafrost and muskeg to build a highway from Dawson Creek, BC, to Fairbanks, Alaska.

But, of all his artisan projects, the larger-than-life bronze Goldseeker statue, watching over downtown Whitehorse from Main Street and Third Avenue, was his most ambitious and the one of which he was proudest.

As designer and project co-ordinator, Patnode modestly described the project as “a good idea,” which is why all the pieces came together in a short time, he said in a 2005 interview.

The initial idea for a Prospectors’ Hall of Fame was conceived in 1988; the money for the heroic-size statue took a little longer, he added.

The exercise was a way to pay tribute to Yukon prospectors who have struggled against seemingly impossible odds, suffered undue hardships and incurred incredible risks in their search for minerals in the territory.

Only he knows how he managed to pull the money together in record time and obtain Ottawa’s blessing to erect the sculpture at the corner of Main Street and Third Avenue.

Only 10 months lapsed from the time sculptor Chuck Buchanan cast the miniature prototype until the 2.74-metre prospector, accompanied by his malamute companion, suddenly appeared, seemingly out of nowhere.

The September 21, 1992, statue dedication ceremony was a surprise addition to the agenda of the two-day Canadian Mines Ministers’ Conference.

But the signal to definitely go ahead had not sounded until June, 1992. Once the money was committed for the project, Buchanan started the clay work, then took the art casting to the Kalispell, Montana, foundry for bronzing.

Patnode went down the last day to assist with last-minute details. There was no time to admire their creation or make any changes. The crunch was on. The statue had to be out the door and on the Consolidated Freightways truck to rendezvous with a Whitehorse-bound Canadian Freightways truck.

Due to Patnode’s organizational skills, everything clicked into place on schedule.

“Elmer Mackay, the (federal) Public Works minister, liked the idea,” Patnode said. “He was instrumental in making the project a success as well as providing an excellent location for this landmark.”

But the most important thing about the fruition of the project was to have the unwavering support from the prospectors’ association’s board, Patnode added.

The statue has become one of the most popular backdrops for photographs in downtown Whitehorse.

Tourists love it. So do kids who crawl up to sit at the toe of the size 24 boot to survey their kingdom while holding secret meetings and eating lunch.

“It was nip and tuck to get the statue out on time,” Patnode confirmed about the high-pressure, nerve-wracking deadlines.

“Everybody worked as fast as they could. But it wouldn’t have come together without Chuck Buchanan and his knowledge and contacts for bronzing.”

Government and private enterprise shared its $80,000 cost.

The $35,000 contributions were equally split among seven private companies. Their names are engraved on the statue alongside the names of 183 men and women inducted into the Hall of Fame for their work between 1860 to 1992.

The honour roll pays tribute to 30 individuals, companies and organizations that have helped prospectors.

Since 1992, the Yukon Prospectors’ Association has carried on the spirit of Patnode’s Prospector Project.

In early 2006, the names of 13 new inductees and prospectors of the year were added to the appropriate bronze plaques.

After the statue was completed, Patnode stepped aside as president of the prospectors’ association — he’d served seven years — to follow his own dreams.

Though he moved to Parksville, BC, on Vancouver Island, he never missed an opportunity to promote the Yukon.

“For every area that has its past history steeped in mining, there are individuals who stand out in so many ways for their energies and contributions,” noted former Yukon resident Dutch Van Tassell, an Alberta-based geological consultant and former exploration superintendent for United Keno Hill Mines.

“Such is the story of Bruce Patnode whose roots were planted and nurtured by his prospector dad. I remember Bruce for his friendly, positive attitude.

“Bruce will be remembered for his contribution to the Yukon Prospector’s Association and the Yukon Chamber of Mines and as importantly for his creative artistry.”

A biography, Bruce Patnode: Designer of Prospector Statue, is posted on the Yukon

Prospectors’ Association’s website at

Bruce Patnode will be laid to rest in the Grey Mountain Cemetery on Sunday, September 30, 2 p.m. A reception and yarn-swap will follow at the High Country Inn.