by Pat Ellis
I am compiling stories and pictures from pioneers who once lived in one of the old squatter areas in the lower town of Whitehorse. I hope to publish them into a proposed book called The Squatter Days of Whitehorse.
In contrast to our present bustling and thriving capital, Whitehorse in the ‘50s and ‘60s was an ugly duckling, honey bucket town, with ramshackle buildings left over from the two mad “rushes” of 1898 and World War Two.
The young population, from all over, came seeking the high wages in the Yukon, almost double of elsewhere. But, same old story, plenty of jobs, but no place to rent.
Affordable housing came by building a little cabin on a piece of empty White Pass or Crown land downtown, known as squatting. This incredible building boom flourished in the ‘40s, peaked in the early ‘60s to the final clearance in the late ‘90s by the city in Moccasin Flats (Shipyard Park).
It has left us with an amusing picture of a survivor town of muddy streets, crude shacks and outhouses that huddled below the escarpment and airport. Sitting above, in its own modern world, was the Canadian military, the main payroll.
A report on the squatters of Whitehorse for the Department of Northern Affairs by Jim Lotz in 1961 featured a map of the squatter areas. For instance, there were 310 squatter homes downtown, occupied by an average of three persons, one-third of the downtown population.
Here is a list of dwellings – shacks, cabins, trailers, etc. – in 1961:
Whiskey Flats (S), now occupied by the SS Klondike: 51.
Whiskey Flats (N), now Rotary Peace Park: 56.
First Avenue, near Hanson between the tracks and the river: eight.
Moccasin Flats: tracks to the river (Shipyard Park area): 51.
Sleepy Hollow (W), now Fourth Ave to Second Ave (Home Hardware area): 22.
Sleepy Hollow (E), a river view, once swampy areas that are now home to trendy condos: 56.
Two Mile Hill: six.
As well, these dwellings were found along the cliffs:
West of Eighth Avenue: 18.
West of Sixth Avenue: 13.
Wye Area: the old WP Round House yards, now the Drury Street area: 27.
(Note: The escarpment lots were later sold to the residents by White Pass and by the city.)
One can see that the locality of the squatters makes a loop around downtown and many agree that it should be honoured as The Pioneer Trail and celebrated with a reunion.
Please send me your stories (I hope amusing) and photos to: firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 667-4141.
Pat Ellis is a Whitehorse resident who once lived in Whiskey Flats.