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History Hunter: Yukon pioneers enjoyed a good get-together

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In 1933, a group of former Yukoners gathered in Toronto to reminisce. There were many similar events across Canada and the U.S. in the decades after the gold rush. From left to right, top row: Andrew Scougale, David Hardy, E.B. Hegler, Huugh Rose, George I. Maclean, A. Sanson, Dr. J.N.E. Brown. Middle Row: (first name unknown) Kelly, A.E. Marks, Dick Cowan, (first name unknown) Sherwood, (first name unknown) Port, R.A. Rumsey, J.C. Hess(e), Rev. J.R. Warren, R.B. Young and F.A. Magee. Front row: Lachlin Burwash, R.A. Chouquette, John Grieve Lind, Everett Thompson, J.B. Tyrrell, Rev. Andrew Grant, Garrett Tyrrell and Frank Davis. (Courtesy/Gates collection)

Whitehorse resident Susan Mooney was in Seattle last spring and chanced to visit the U.S. Park Service Klondike gold rush display in Pioneer Square. There was a display case devoted to groups of pioneers from the Yukon and Alaska. She shared photos of this display with me when she returned to Whitehorse. One photo in the display showed a group of 37 men and women posing for a photo in front of a bus. Amid the group was a large mounted buffalo head.

The caption said “Buffalo Head won by Alaska-Yukon Pioneers at Banff August 16-19, 1932.” I dug into the Calgary newspapers for that time period and learned that a reunion of Alaska-Yukon Pioneers was held in that city over a four-day period.

The event included luncheons, banquets, a picnic at Bowness Park, a dance, a reception hosted by the U.S. Consul and a field trip to Banff. Although the number attending the event was smaller than expected, 289 delegates came from Seattle to attend the affair. The field trip to Banff took place on the last day. Judging from the photograph, the weather was fair, and everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves. I wonder what happened to the buffalo head?

The second photograph was more intriguing. It shows a group of 25 men. The caption reads: “Pioneers of the Klondike Re-union at the Hearthstone [Restaurant] Toronto Nov 1st 1933.”

I contacted Phil Lind in Toronto, knowing that his grandfather, John Grieve Lind, had been in the Yukon before the gold rush, and was a member of the Yukon Order of Pioneers. Phil confirmed that his grandfather was third from the left in the front row of the photo.

Did he have a copy of the photo? I asked. Phil had recently donated his entire collection of Klondike memorabilia to the University of British Columbia (UBC). He gave me contacts there to follow up. Claire Malek, an archivist at the UBC Rare Books and Special Collections was responsible for the donation. She was kind enough to send me scans (front and back) of something from the collection that included a grainy version of the group shot, and a list of surnames on the reverse.

Recently, my wife Kathy found a copy of this photo for sale so she snapped it up. The photograph is sharp and clear.

I dug into newspapers from the time noted on the photograph, and found an excellent article that described the event. Ontario businessmen who had been in the Klondike in the early days, had gathered to form the Sourdoughs of the Klondike Gold Rush. Dr. J.N.E. Brown was its first president, and J.B. Tyrrell the vice president. The group continued to gather and reminisce in the following years. The last reference that I found had them gathering at Toronto’s Prince George Hotel in 1942.

Brown is less well known than the woman he married; journalist, and later socialite, Faith Fenton. He served as secretary to the Yukon commissioner and his council. Later, he was appointed Dawson’s Medical Health Officer. The couple left Dawson in 1906.

John Lind was able to secure shares in claims on Bonanza and Eldorado Creeks that proved to be productive. At the height of his mining activity, he sustained a payroll of 200 employees. He later had a share in establishing St. Marys Cement Company in Ontario, which continues to operate to the present day.

J.B. Tyrrell (front row, centre, with hat on his knee) was a noted Canadian geologist and surveyor, who established his reputation from his expeditions across the Arctic barren lands. He later explored the geological potential of the Yukon, and hung out his shingle as a consultant before moving on to other interests in gold mining in Ontario. For his achievements, he was recognized as a person of national significance, and a bronze plaque in his honour was unveiled in Dawson City in the 1970s.

Seated second from the right, front row, was Garrett Tyrrell, J.B.’s cousin and business partner in Dawson.

Between the two Tyrrells is Andrew Grant. Grant was a Presbyterian minister assigned to the Klondike during the gold rush. Arriving in Bennett, he helped to build St. Andrew’s Church, the only structure that still overlooks Bennett Lake today. In Dawson, he also oversaw the construction of the Good Samaritan Hospital and St. Andrew’s Church, whose derelict remains can still be seen on Church Street.

Former Yukoner Tim Popp, who chronicles Yukon military history, was able to help me with the man seated at the far right, front row. His name was Frank Davis, and he was a member of the Yukon Field Force, a unit of 203 officers and men from the Permanent Force of the Canadian Militia sent to the Yukon to reinforce Canadian sovereignty in the region during the gold rush. He was posted to Fort Selkirk, and then later in Dawson, from where he took his discharge in 1900. He remained in the Yukon until 1905, working for the Alaska Commercial Company. Davis re-enlisted in the military in 1906, and rose through the ranks, retiring from the Canadian Expeditionary Force in 1920 with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

Also seated in the front row, at the far left is Lachlin “Lockie” Burwash. Burwash was sent to the Yukon in 1897 by the mining company he worked with at the time. He served as mining recorder in various gold camps, and Burwash Landing is named in his honour. He left the Yukon in 1912, and a decade later, sailed with Captain Joseph Bernier into the high Arctic. He continued to explore the Canadian Arctic for another decade.

In the back row on the far left is Andrew Scougale, who was the proprietor of a mercantile store in Dawson for many years. Third from the right in the back row is George I. Maclean. Maclean came to the Yukon with the Congdon administration and served various positions in government until 1913. He returned to the Yukon from 1928 to 1932, to serve as gold commissioner.

Little is known about the others in the photograph. Perhaps readers of this story will recognize some of them and can help me fill in their stories?

These two gatherings are examples of many such reunions that occurred in the years after the gold rush. There were branches of the Yukon Order of Pioneers in Seattle and Vancouver. The Vancouver lodge was disbanded in 1928 and replaced by the Vancouver Yukoners Association, an organization I understand is formally dissolving at the end of December, after 95 years of activity.

The International Sourdough Reunion Inc. organized annual gatherings in cities all over western Canada and the United States for more than 70 years. I attended one that they held in Whitehorse in the 1990s. Hundreds had come from far and wide to be there.

Today, the Pioneers of Alaska (formed in 1908) and the Yukon Order of Pioneers (founded in 1894) are still active in the north.

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 msgates@northwestel.net