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From buying outfits to building an empire

Isaac Taylor and William Drury came to the Yukon with plans to strike it rich on the Klondike gold fields during the rush of 1898, but the fates had…

Isaac Taylor and William Drury came to the Yukon with plans to strike it rich on the Klondike gold fields during the rush of 1898, but the fates had other plans for the two men.

Although they did not make it to the Klondike, they found a fortune of their own with a chain of 19 stores and fur-trading posts across the Yukon.

Taylor and Drury took the hard way to the Yukon. The two Englishmen met on the Ashcroft Trail, or “poor man’s route,” as they walked hundreds of miles from central British Columbia.

By the time they arrived the good claims were already staked in the Klondike. So Drury opened a store during a mini-stampede at Discovery, near Atlin, BC, and Taylor quickly joined him.

Starting out with just $200 and a 3.6-metre by 4.2-metre tent the pair turned a profit by buying outfits from unsuccessful gold seekers and selling them back to newcomers.

When the railroad was moved to Bennett, Taylor and Drury moved their shop to follow the action.

At Bennett, Taylor & Drury General Merchants really were ‘general’ — they sold everything that a prospector, trapper or fisherman would need.

They repaired boots.

They traded furs.

And Drury kept busy making sails for the scows headed to Dawson.

As Bennett declined, the merchants moved their business to the White Pass & Yukon Route railhead at Whitehorse.

Their first Whitehorse store was an expanded tent near the Yukon River, not far from the where the MacBride Museum is today.

Their business continued to thrive even as the Klondike stampede drew to a close.

Taylor & Drury opened new locations across the territory.

Some stores lasted for decades, while others opened and closed quickly as mini-stampedes came and went.

Their continued success was due, at least in part, to their ingenuity and creative problem solving.

It seemed there was no hurdle the businessmen could not overcome.

When they had trouble getting supplies to their remote stores, they built their own boat, The Kluahne, and purchased their own sternwheeler, the Thistle.

When no insurance company was willing to cover them, they took the risk themselves.

When there was no place to buy a car in the Yukon, they began selling them.

In fact, George Johnson of Teslin bought the first Chevrolet in 1929, and The Thistle delivered it to him as there was no road to Teslin at the time. Johnson drove the car on makeshift roads in the community, one of which was Teslin Lake, when it froze.

In 1962, Taylor and Drury bought the car back from Johnson and put it on display as a well-built machine.

When the Alaska Highway was opened to the public in 1948, demand for cars increased so much that they opened a new separate business, Taylor & Drury Motors.

And when there was nowhere to buy gas for the cars, Taylor and Drury built a gas station.

They also created their own currency when it proved too expensive to keep their stores stocked with cash.

Like many other companies that did business in remote areas, Taylor & Drury minted its own money in the form of brass and aluminum tokens.

As there were no banks in the outposts it was easier and cheaper to use the tokens rather than paper money.

The tokens were widely circulated through the territory and when real money appeared it was difficult to get some people to accept it. More than one visitor found it impossible to get in on a local poker game until he exchanged his real money for tokens.

The company minted $10,000 in coins, and they remained in use at the outposts until the 1940s.

Today the tokens have become sought-after collector’s items because there are few complete sets left in existence.

Over the years Taylor and Drury locations opened and closed as need dictated. The last shop in Whitehorse closed in 1974, after a dip in the economy.

This column is provided by the MacBride Museum of Yukon History. Each week it will explore a different morsel of Yukon’s modern history until the museum opens its new expansion on May 22and 23.