A Mohawk in the Klondike

Here is an interesting story that was recently brought to my attention by Donald Smith, professor emeritus of history at the University of Calgary.

Here is an interesting story that was recently brought to my attention by Donald Smith, professor emeritus of history at the University of Calgary. It is a story about a remarkable man who came to the Klondike like thousands of others and spent a decade in the North before heading for greener pastures.

It is a story of some remarkable firsts in Canadian history, but also a story that would undoubtedly have had a different ending – if he hadn’t been of Mohawk ancestry.

Thomas Daniel Green was born Dec. 21, 1857, near Brantford, Ontario to Mohawk parents, and grew up on 243 hectares of land near Brantford.

Green was an exceptional student who always ranked at or near the top of his class. Because he didn’t live on the Six Nations Reserve, he was able to attend school in Brantford. When he took the entrance examination to enter Brantford Collegiate Institute in 1875, he was the best of 41 applicants. At the end of his first year he won the prizes for English, Latin, mathematics, and general proficiency.

In 1878, his entrance examination resulted in the top score for any student seeking admission to the applied science program at McGill University. He worked his way through university by tutoring, but also received scholarship money toward his tuition because of his excellent performance in high school.

Green graduated from McGill in 1882 with a bachelor of science degree. He was the top student in the graduating class.

He began studying for his certification as a land surveyor, qualifying in May of 1884. He was the first native person known to have achieved this status in Canada.

He sought permanent employment as a land surveyor with the federal government, even receiving support from Sir John A. Macdonald, who recommended him to then deputy minister of the Interior, A.M. Burgess. Burgess relegated Green’s application to the pile of temporary postings.

There was always an excuse for his rejection for full-time employment – no vacancies, others more deserving, being a poor draughtsman, or not a good surveyor. When offered a series of temporary jobs, he received a third less pay than the going rate. The truth is, being of aboriginal descent blocked his career path in the public service.

One of Green’s fellow graduates from McGill, Andrew Low, also applied for a permanent job, was accepted, and gradually rose through the ranks to become the first deputy minister in the Department of Mines.

Green balanced his disappointing prospects in the civil service by excelling at sports. He was good at hockey, and joined the Ottawa Hockey Club, becoming the team captain in 1886. During this period, he was also sent as a delegate to form the Amateur Hockey Association of Canada in December of 1886. He was then elected as the first president of what was the first hockey league in the world.

A few years after Green played with the Ottawa team, another young player named Weldon “Weldy” Young spent several seasons with the same team before heading to the Klondike. Young was later recruited to play with the Dawson Nuggets, the team sponsored by Joe Boyle to challenge the Ottawa Silver Seven for the Stanley Cup.

In Dawson, Green operated in partnership with J.B. Tyrrell, a consulting geologist, from 1899 until at least 1900 in an office located on Harper Street, and then in his own business opposite St. Andrew’s Church on Church Street. According to one source, when a claim owned by Joe Boyle once came into question, he turned to Green’s survey of the claim to confirm that everything was in order.

Green left the Yukon in 1907 and toured Europe with his wife for six months. In 1908, he surveyed mining claims in the Brazeau mining district of Alberta. In 1910, he acquired a homestead south of Rocky Mountain House, Alberta, where he and his wife lived until they both passed away in 1935.

I have done a quick search for Thomas Green to see if I could fill in some of the gaps during the period that he spent in the Klondike. How he reached the Klondike is not yet clear. From the mining records, we know he held a couple of mining claims. From the newspapers, we can trace his business from 1899 to 1903 through advertisements – first, under the business name of Tyrrell and Green, and then later, under his own name.

The most interesting thing I have found about Green is a peculiar little article in the Yukon World for February 11, 1903 titled “Knockout in Two Rounds.” The evening before, Green and a mine concessionaire named Johnny Doyle stepped into the ring for a four round boxing match. By agreement, they determined before the match that there would be no declared winner.

“Curley” Monroe served as the referee for the match, which was held at the Burley Club. It was rumoured that if Monroe had stepped through the ropes, he would have been the recipient of their blows; for that reason, he officiated from outside the ropes in the “English” style.

The Yukon World noted: “The bout was a rattling exhibition, both men showing considerable science but being handicapped equally by shortness of breath… at the gong both men walked to their corners without assistance. They looked tired and both were blowing. This was plainly Green’s round.”

They came out for the second round, both sparring for an opening. The spectators went wild when the two combatants laid a flurry of blows upon each other. Doyle struck low, hitting Green in the ankle, but the referee refused to call a foul. Then Doyle delivered a right with everything he had, catching Green on the jaw. Green went down, but the gong went when the referee reached seven. Technically, it was called a draw, and the approving audience cheered.

Why two middle-aged, men, in poor physical condition should choose to go into the ring in pugilistic combat remains a mystery. I could not find anything in preceding copies of the World to explain the purpose of the bout.

Green was clearly a man of firsts, and the deck was stacked against him because of his origins, yet he survived and enjoyed 77 years, having made a contribution to Canada’s national sport. There is more to the story if someone is willing to dig for it.

Michael Gates is a Yukon historian and sometimes adventurer based in Whitehorse. His latest book, Dalton’s Gold Rush Trail, is available in Yukon stores. You can contact him at msgates@northwestel.net