Guarding the line on the Dalton Trail

The boundary line between the Yukon and Alaska was not always clear cut. In fact, nobody knew precisely where the line ran for almost 75 years.

The boundary line between the Yukon and Alaska was not always clear cut. In fact, nobody knew precisely where the line ran for almost 75 years.

A line of division had been drawn up between the Russians and the British in 1825 that included a strip of land along the Alaskan Panhandle that would extend no more than 50 kilometres inland from the coast, but that left the details open to interpretation. It really didn’t matter much until gold was discovered in the Klondike in 1896; then, it became an issue of international concern.

Canada contended that the 50-kilometre line would leave the head of Lynn Canal, and Skagway, in Canada, while the Americans maintained that the land all the way to Tagish in the interior was theirs.

In the end, the matter was resolved by Clifford Sifton, who was Canada’s minister of the Interior at the time. Sifton issued orders that the North West Mounted Police were to occupy the summits of the White and Chilkoot passes. He also sent Mounties to establish a detachment on the Dalton Trail.

Inspector A.M. Jarvis of the NWMP was dispatched to the Lynn Canal with 20 men and orders to establish a station at Rainy Hollow. They landed at Haines Mission (Haines) in Alaska the middle of April 1898, and immediately struggled up the Chilkat valley to their destination.

When Jarvis arrived at Jack Dalton’s cache on the Klehini River, he could go no farther. Rainy Hollow was still covered by six metres of snow.

The Mounties immediately set about constructing their headquarters within spitting distance from Dalton’s Cache at a location opposite where today’s customs office is located. They built an impressive post consisting of a half-dozen buildings arranged around a parade square with a flagpole in the middle. Using a nearby limestone outcrop, they were able to manufacture their own plaster for chinking the logs, giving the buildings a very decorative appearance.

As soon as weather permitted, they set off to patrol the interior and commenced the construction of small posts at Dalton House at the northernmost reach of the Tatshenshini River, and below Five Finger Rapid on the Yukon River.

The duties of the Mounties were to patrol the area along the trail, collect duty on foreign goods entering Canada, monitor the trade of liquor, prevent forest fires, and keep a close eye on the stampeders passing through the country. As one traveller noted, “We might lose ourselves but the Mounties would always know where we were.”

During the summer of 1898 slightly over 1,000 travellers passed over the trail in one direction or the other, and the Mounties collected roughly $13,000 in duty and mining fees. They monitored the progress of several cattle herds including a bizarre procession of reindeer (and their herders), that was sent to save the starving miners of Dawson.

The traffic over the trail was highly seasonal, so there wasn’t much for Canada’s finest to do once winter set in.

Things settled into a quiet routine. The White Pass became the favoured routes for stampeders after 1898, especially when the railroad was built. As a result, traffic over the Dalton Trail petered out, except for the numerous cattle drives for which the trail was so well suited.

In 1901, there was a flurry of activity when a plot, devised by American conspirators known as The Order of the Midnight Sun, to overthrow the government of the Yukon, was uncovered. The Dalton Trail was to double its complement of police, but ultimately, the whole affair came to nothing.

An international tribunal established a provisional boundary line in 1899 that ran down the Klehini River to the mouth of the Chilkat River, so the Mounties established a border crossing at that point that they named Wells, and started patrolling the new territory. In November of 1903, a final decision was reached regarding the dividing line. Canada lost the provisional land from the 1899 agreement, but they held firm at Pleasant Camp.

By this time, the biggest challenge for the Mounties was boredom. There was very little crime to deal with and virtually no customs duties to collect. About the only excitement occurred one Fourth of July in the nearby mining town of Porcupine when, after demonstrating a Mounted Police ride, one of the Mounties, who was drunk at the time, rode his horse up the stairs to the Lindsay Hotel and through the front window.

Meanwhile, the superintendent of the force in this area was writing headquarters, seeking permission to close the detachment, so little was the need for the officers to be stationed there, but head office ignored these pleas. Underlying all of the duties of the Mounted Police on the Dalton Trail was a fundamentally important role that was fulfilled by their mere presence: sovereignty.

The Mounted Police maintained their presence at Pleasant Camp despite the fact that the main entry to southwest Yukon was now from Whitehorse. In fact, only eight miners went over the Dalton Trail in 1904.

Herds of cattle continued to move over the trail, but the numbers had greatly declined from a few years before. In 1904 and 1905, an international survey party hacked out the dividing line between the nations. In 1905, the Mounties manned the post only during the summer. The boundary line was cut along a line that ran carefully between Dalton’s Cache and the police encampment.

In the end, the Mounties had served their purpose, and one of the final perimeters of the new nation had been defined. The last cattle drive over the trail occurred in 1906. After that, the trail fell into disuse until the Haines Road was built during the Second World War.

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

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

Just Posted

The City of Whitehorse’s projected deficit could be $100,000 more than originally predicted earlier this year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City deficit could be just over $640,000 this year

Third quarter financial reports presented to council

Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Brendan Hanley speaks during a COVID-19 press conference in Whitehorse on Oct. 30. Masks became mandatory in the Yukon for anyone five years old and older as of Dec. 1 while in public spaces. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
As mask law comes into effect, premier says $500 fines will be last resort

The territory currently has 17 active cases of COVID-19

Crystal Schick/Yukon News file
Ranj Pillai, minister of economic development, during a press conference on April 1.
Government rejects ATAC mining road proposal north of Keno City

Concerns from the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun were cited as the main reason for the decision

asdf
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for Dec. 2, 2020

Whitehorse and Carcross will be among seven northern communities to have unlimited internet options beginning Dec. 1. (Yukon News file)
Unlimited internet for some available Dec. 1

Whitehorse and Carcross will be among seven northern communities to have unlimited… Continue reading

Submitted/Yukon News file
Yukon RCMP’s Historical Case Unit is seeking information related to the unsolved homicide of Allan Donald Waugh, 69, who was found deceased in his house on May 30, 2014.
Yukon RCMP investigating unsolved Allan Waugh homicide

Yukon RCMP’s Historical Case Unit is seeking information related to an unsolved… Continue reading

A jogger runs along Millenium Trail as the sun rises over the trees around 11 a.m. in Whitehorse on Dec. 12, 2018. The City of Whitehorse could soon have a new trail plan in place to serve as a guide in managing the more than 233 kilometres of trails the city manages. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
2020 trail plan comes forward

Policies and bylaws would look at e-mobility devices

Snow-making machines are pushed and pulled uphill at Mount Sima in 2015. The ski hill will be converting snow-making to electric power with more than $5 million in funding from the territorial and federal governments. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Mount Sima funded to cut diesel reliance

Mount Sima ski hill is converting its snowmaking to electric power with… Continue reading

Fossil finds at Mt. Stephen. (Photo: Sarah Fuller/Parks Canada)
Extreme hiking, time travel and science converge in the Burgess Shale

Climb high in the alpine and trace your family tree back millions of years – to our ocean ancestors

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Mask fundraiser helps make children’s wishes come true

From Black Press Media + BraveFace – adult, youth and kid masks support Make-A-Wish Foundation

Colin McDowell, the director of land management for the Yukon government, pulls lottery tickets at random during a Whistle Bend property lottery in Whitehorse on Sept. 9, 2019. A large amount of lots are becoming available via lottery in Whistle Bend as the neighbourhood enters phase five of development. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Lottery for more than 250 new Whistle Bend lots planned for January 2021

Eight commercial lots are being tendered in additional to residential plots

The Government of Yukon Main Administration Building in Whitehorse on Aug. 21. The Canada Border Services Agency announced Nov. 26 that they have laid charges against six people, including one Government of Yukon employee, connected to immigration fraud that involved forged Yukon government documents. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Charges laid in immigration fraud scheme, warrant out for former Yukon government employee

Permanent residency applications were submitted with fake Yukon government documents

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decisions made by Whitehorse city council this week

Most Read