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History Hunter: Every photo has a story to tell, sometimes more than one

I came across an intriguing old photograph last June in Dawson City. My wife, Kathy and I were reviewing items from the collection at the Dawson City Museum, looking for anything relating to the Yukon Order of Pioneers. Thanks to the assistance of the competent and dedicated staff at the museum, there was plenty to look at.
There are many stories captured in this photograph, believed to have been taken in 1938, of the officers of the Yukon Order of Pioneers. It portrays a time in Dawson’s history when the population was small, and the Pioneers had a dwindling membership, so they took turns filling various positions on the executive. Then there are the stories behind the lives of each of these men. The sashes and pins and various regalia also tell us something about who they were. (Courtesy/Dawson City Museum)

I came across an intriguing old photograph last June in Dawson City. My wife, Kathy and I were reviewing items from the collection at the Dawson City Museum, looking for anything relating to the Yukon Order of Pioneers. Thanks to the assistance of the competent and dedicated staff at the museum, there was plenty to look at.

A new donation of photographs had interesting content. Some were group shots of Pioneers taken at various times over the last century. In some, the individuals were identified; in others, they weren’t.

I found one that fell into the latter category, but luck was with me, and I found a second photograph of the same group of men. The names were listed as, front row, left to right: Charles Jeanneret, Fred Envoldsen, Alex Adams, Charles Vifquain and Fred Hickling. Standing behind them, left to right, were: James Dillon, George Vernon, David Bradford (D.B.) Cole and Charles Tennant.

The men appeared to be in their 70s and 80s, and were dressed in suit and tie, wearing their Pioneer sashes festooned with pins and badges of various sorts. This was not an informal get-together. Just a guess, but was it possible that these were the officers of the lodge?

Each year, a new slate of officers was elected, both to the Dawson Lodge, No. 1, and to the Grand Lodge, which presided over the three lodges active during the 1920s to the 1940s — Dawson, Mayo, and Rampart, Alaska.

When was the photograph taken? Was there any way to narrow down the time period? I referred to the obituaries that we have compiled so far for members of the three Yukon lodges (the Whitehorse lodge vanished around 1920, but incorporated for a second time in 1966). Fred Hickling was the first to die, in 1941, so the picture had to have been taken before that time.

I turned to other information that we had compiled on the Pioneers, which included who had been elected to the executive each year. The best fit appears to be 1938, when seven of the nine men in the photo were on the board. The other two were Charles Tennant, the past president (1937) and D.B. Cole, who was a trustee in 1937.

Having established who they were, and when the photo was probably taken, what could we learn about these individuals? I turned again to our research.

James Dillon died suddenly, of a heart attack December 8, 1947, while walking with a friend. He was 78 years old. Born in Arnprior, Ontario, he first came north during the gold rush, spending some time in Atlin, British Columbia before continuing to Dawson City.

Dillon ran a freighting business for a while, and then drove stage for Sam McCormick. After retiring, he lived in a small bungalow on Harper Street. He had long been active in both the Pioneers, and the Oddfellows in Dawson.

D.B. Cole died on May 17 in the same year as Dillon. He was 89 years old. Originally from Hartford, Connecticut, he came to the Klondike in 1898. A druggist by profession, he mined for many years before becoming a painter and decorator. He was described as a true and loyal friend, but quiet, retiring and humorously philosophical.

Fred Hickling passed away at home of a heart attack the morning of September 11, 1941. He was 72 years old, born in Nottingham, England, and was a contractor and builder by trade. Hickling came north in 1898 and never left. He was survived by his wife and two sons, both of whom became prominent electrical engineers in the eastern United States.

Alex Adams was born in Ontario and moved to North Dakota with his family when he was 14 years old. He was only 23 years old when he arrived in the Klondike with his father. Adams remained in the Yukon for the rest of his life. His death was reported in the Whitehorse newspaper in 1962 after the Dawson News was no longer in business, so his obituary in the Whitehorse Star was short on the facts of his life in the Klondike.

Charles Jeanneret was born on the Franco-Swiss border in 1860 and eventually moved to Paris after taking up the engraving trade. He emigrated to the United States, where he moved frequently before coming to the Klondike. His mining on Dominion Creek, southeast of Dawson, was successful, but he later moved into Dawson, where he worked for J.L. Sale and J.P. Renzoni, both prominent jewellers.

Jeanneret continued to operate a jewelry business after his previous employers moved on and was still working as a jeweller until a short time before his death at age 83. He was described as “a beloved and devoted father, and industrious, loyal sourdough pioneer, a faithful and esteemed citizen,” who was actively involved in both the Pioneers and the Eagles in Dawson.

Ferdinand “Fred” Envoldsen was born in Norway in 1860. In 1897, he joined the stampede to the Klondike and remained in the Yukon. He prospected widely throughout the Yukon before enlisting in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during World War I.

During the Second World War, Envoldsen established the Dawson Rangers and quickly filled the ranks to capacity. He then organized a branch of the B.C.-Yukon Chamber of Mines, later being made honourary president of the Dawson branch of the chamber. He was the town librarian for many years, only retiring at 91 years of age. At age 95, he was still going strong, but we have yet to establish the date on which he passed away.

Charles Vifquain died in Vancouver in 1962. Because he passed away after the Dawson News went out of business, the only reference to his passing that I could find was a notice to creditors published in the Vancouver Province in November of that year. Vifquain was actively involved in the executive of the Yukon Order of Pioneers from 1913, when he was the grand president, until at least 1943.

Vifquain worked for White Pass in many capacities for at least two decades. When his wife perished in the sinking of the SS Princess Sophia, he married his sister-in-law, Elizabeth Zaccarelli, whose husband also perished in the maritime disaster.

I could find little about Charles Tennant before I sat down to write this. He died April 19, 1959 at the age of 66. The Dawson News was no longer in business and there was no coverage to be found in other newspapers. Similarly, little has been uncovered about George Vernon — who he was, what he did and exactly where he died at age 94 in 1954. Surely there must be more to his life than his age and the date he died.

There was plenty of history captured in one photograph, of the lives lived by nine long-time residents of the Klondike. The gaps stimulate the quest to learn more. But we have compiled the names of more than 2,000 Pioneers, so the question is, where to start? To uncover the stories of lives lived is important, but how to establish priorities? Do we start with the names that are most familiar or tackle the ones that are least known?

Perhaps information uncovered as our research progresses will identify individuals from the crowd. But there is more to learn from this image. What about the various pins and regalia worn by these nine men?

Can anyone reading this account add to our knowledge of the men depicted in the photo? I’d like to know.

Michael Gates is Yukon’s first Story Laureate. His latest book, “Hollywood in the Klondike,” is now available in Whitehorse stores. You can contact him at