While in the Vancouver area recently, I visited a spectacular new archival collection in Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of British Columbia (UBC) Library. This one had a direct link through three generations to the Klondike gold rush – and before.
John Grieve Lind made his fateful decision to look for gold in the Yukon on a coin toss. In 1894, he arrived in the mining camp of Forty Mile, situated about 80 kilometres below the future site of Dawson City on the Yukon River. Within a short time, he moved on to Franklin Gulch, a tributary of the Fortymile River, where he mined for the next two years.
Lind recovered enough gold that in the early days of the stampede to the Klondike, he was able to buy shares of claims on Bonanza and Eldorado Creeks. He worked these hard and shied away from publicity, avoiding the temptations of Dawson City, until he left with an unspecified fortune in 1901.
Lind returned to Ontario and later became a partner in a cement company that eventually grew to become the largest independent cement supplier in the country. One of the other investors was a man named Alfred Rogers, whose cousin’s son Ted, would establish the Rogers Communications empire. Johnny Lind’s grandson, Phil, became involved in Ted Roger’s enterprise, eventually assuming the position of vice-chairman.
Phil Lind had a love affair with the Klondike, and his grandfather’s remarkable success story. The former led him to become a collector of Klondike memorabilia. It was in this way that our paths crossed back in the mid-90’s. I was in Vancouver, where an antiquarian bookseller introduced us. We had dinner, and over the following years, we had many friendly encounters, especially when he and his family descended en masse upon Dawson during the gold rush centennial years. Johnny Lind’s unpublished memoir led to a newly published account of his gold rush experience.
Earlier this summer, we corresponded about his grandfather’s connection to the Yukon Order of Pioneers. Sadly, Lind passed away in August.
In 1998, we planned a boat trip on the Fortymile River with my mentor, John Gould, as well as Bill Berry (great-nephew of Klondike king Clarence Berry), Phil, and his father, Jed Lind. The Linds were unable to join us in the end due to health issues, but John and I were able to take Phil on a road trip to Chicken Alaska a couple of years later.
Phil Lind’s collection grew to become one of the best in the country, and in 2021, he donated it and a large sum of money to his alma mater, the University of British Columbia. The collection is currently being processed, but there is already an online listing of the contents of the collection, which can be accessed at: https://rbsc.library.ubc.ca/2021/05/11/phil-lind-klondike-gold-rush-collection/
The collection consists of more than 500 books, 1,800 photographs, 300 postcards, 70 maps and various other numismatic and philatelic artifacts.
In addition to the donation, an exhibit, based upon the Lind collection, is planned to open next year. Meanwhile, Lind, with co-author Robert Brehl produced the richly illustrated (with photos from the Lind collection, of course) volume titled, Tales of an Unsung Sourdough, which is currently available in Yukon retail outlets.
The only disadvantage that I found about my visit to the temporary location of the Rare Books and Special Collections at UBC, was the limited visiting hours. The facility is only open between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., which puts visitors from the Yukon at a disadvantage. The service, however, was professional and efficient. You must prepare in advance by registering, and identifying the items you want to examine when you get there. I had selected certain textual records online and when I arrived at 10 a.m. sharp, the boxes of material were already waiting for me.
I worked my way through selected items from the textual records, which included pamphlets, unpublished manuscripts, photos, postcards and letters. There was sheet music inspired by the gold rush: “The King Klondike Two-Step”, “The Chilkoot March” and the “Klondike Rag” being but three of them. Wouldn’t it be nice to hear them played? I wonder: would they evoke the isolation of the wilderness or were they just compositions given a gold rush title to exploit the heightened interest in the Klondike?
There were memoirs written by participants in the gold rush. These can be photocopied upon request. One document was the constitution of the Arctic Brotherhood (A.B.). Since the A.B. has been defunct for nearly 100 years now, I did not feel like an interloper gaining access to privileged information when I looked through its pages.
One of the unpublished manuscripts was the memoir written by John Grieve Lind. Glancing through the pages, I found passages that made their way into Tales of an Unsung Sourdough.
A couple of the books contain photos taken by photographers back in the heady days of the gold rush. Some postcard views of Whitehorse and Dawson are new to me, as are some of the photos, each separately numbered with their own envelopes.
Among the images was a photo of a row of log cabins along a Whitehorse street. A boardwalk runs past the front doors, but the street itself appears unused, and filled with grass. In front of the nearest cabin, in the middle of the avenue is a woodpile. It is obvious that this was taken when Whitehorse was still in its infancy and there were no automobiles wheeling down the avenues yet. This photograph, and others in the Lind collection, were views that I hadn’t seen before and left me wondering what other surprises I might find in the collection.
Many envelopes were passed over. A brief glimpse of their contents didn’t capture my interest, nor was there time to look at everything. My visit came to a conclusion all too quickly, and left me hungering for more. A quick review of the online listing when I returned to Whitehorse confirmed that there was much more of interest. When I have another opportunity to visit Vancouver, I will surely want to explore this collection further.
The short visiting hours combined with the distance from the Yukon are frustrating issues for northern researchers. On the other hand, if the promise that the collection will be posted online as part of UBC’s Open Collections is fulfilled, then someday soon this collection will be a keyboard away, rather than 2,000 kilometres.
In the meantime, this collection is the full package – archival collection, companion book, exhibit and online accessibility. You would expect nothing less from a media mogul!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org