Daring photographer risked his life to capture railway construction

In May 1898, the White Pass &Yukon; Route railway's official photographer Harrie C. Barley narrowly escaped death by just a few inches. His camera was set up on a pile of rock near the other end of a tunnel, just above White Pass City.

In May 1898, the White Pass &Yukon; Route railway’s official photographer Harrie C. Barley narrowly escaped death by just a few inches.

His camera was set up on a pile of rock near the other end of a tunnel, just above White Pass City.

He had his head tucked under the black camera cloth to adjust the focus when, like a bolt of lightning, a rock which had been started by some workmen further up the hill, struck the camera.

Barley just missed disaster.

“Mr. Barley, as soon as he recovered his self-possession, started for his camera, which had been knocked about twenty-five feet down the hill,” reported a local newspaper on May 13, 1899.

“The camera was uninjured but it had a narrow escape. Mr. Barley was busy yesterday contemplating where he would have been had the rock struck him.”

Barley was hired as company photographer for the White Pass & Yukon Route Railway in the spring of 1898.

The British financiers behind the railway wanted some assurance that the construction was done properly, and so they hired Barley to provide them photographic evidence.

“American construction was generally supposed to be cheap and flimsy in its nature…,” according to a memoir, On the White Pass Pay Roll by S.H. Graves.

“In view of these facts it was important to secure good photographs of the work and country, and for that purpose we engaged a special photographer who was very daring and successful.”

Daring was an apt way to describe Barley, who risked life and limb to capture the best photograph while on the job in the Yukon and Alaska.

His first brush with disaster came soon after he arrived, in July 1898.

While attempting to photograph a blast, Barley was struck with a piece of rock.

“He tried to catch a big blast and he caught it alright – on the leg,” wrote Graves.

“When he was picked up he was conscious but speechless, and pointed in disgust to where the legs of his camera were sticking out from under the boulder.”

After that first accident he developed and printed his negatives at hospital camp 3.

And, according Graves, three days earlier he almost broke his neck trying to climb a precipice with his camera. “The man with him had turned back, saying he was not used to such ‘high life’.”

“You will see that if he lives a few weeks longer you will be likely to get some ‘risky’ pictures.”

Then in September 1898, after photographing a ceremony on Summit Lake, Barley was returning home late when he fell into a pile of rocks.

“Inasmuch as the photographer is not provided with wings when he stepped off the precipice he fell down on to the rocks beneath and landed on his collar button,” according to a lighthearted report in a local newspaper.

“He was quite badly bruised but not sufficient to render him speechless and for a few minutes his language was not fit for publication.

“Mr. Barley has a black eye and various other bruises but he is happy for he did not spoil his negatives.”

Despite his dangerous escapades photographing in the Yukon and Alaska, Barley survived to leave the North and died at his home in San Francisco on November 22, 1909.

This column is provided by the MacBride Museum of Yukon History. Each week it will explore a different morsel of Yukon’s modern history. For more information, or to comment on anything in this column e-mail lchalykoff@macbridemuseum.com.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Yukon RCMP are making an appeal for information in the case of Mary Ann Ollie, who was murdered in Ross River last year and whose case remains unsolved. (Black Press file)
Yukon youth being extorted online

Yukon RCMP say they’ve received three reports of youth being extorted on… Continue reading

Fines for contravening the fire ban start at $1,150 and could go as high as $100,000. File photo
Yukon campgrounds will open on May 1 this year. (Black Press file)
Yukon campgrounds to open early

Yukon campgrounds will open on May 1 this year. The early opening… Continue reading

Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce executive director Susan Guatto and program manager Andrei Samson outside the chamber office in downtown Whitehorse Feb. 23. (Stephanie Waddell, Yukon News)
When business models shift

Whitehorse chamber offers digital marketing workshop

Yukonomist Keith Halliday
Yukonomist: The aesthetics and economics of highway strips

One of the many cultural experiences you enjoy while driving from Whitehorse… Continue reading

Submitted
Artwork by Grade 2 student Faith showing her thanks for everyone.
Artwork by Grade 2 student Faith showing her thanks for everyone. (Submitted)
Yukon kids express gratitude for nature, pets and friends in art campaign

More than 50 children submitted artwork featuring things they are grateful for

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

David Malcolm, 40, has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm a police officer after an incident in Whitehorse on Feb. 18. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man resists arrest, assaults officer

A Whitehorse man has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm… Continue reading

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022

Most Read