Skip to content

Letter: Commentary on Klondike Kate documentary appearance was off base

New York television presenter resents statements made in History Hunter column
Email letters to

Editor's Note: The following is a response to the History Hunter column It was Klondike Kate vs. Klondike Kate on TV dated Dec. 1, 2018.

I still remember the morning when I started getting angry emails from the Yukon. Columnist Michael Gates had seen me interviewed about Klondike Kate and wrote I was “no historian; his account is highly coloured, and factually inaccurate.” I was devastated.

I love history. It never made me much money, but it took me on some fun adventures. They began in 2009, when I got a job with a successful New York City tour company. That sounds like a brag, but it’s not. I despised them. They were 48 per cent marketing, 48 per cent personality, and 4 per cent facts. When I interjected more history into my tour, I was fired. The owner said I wasn’t telling enough jokes. She hated history.

As fate would have it, I booked a role in a play upstate — I’m also an actor. Before heading up, I bought every book the Strand Bookstore had about Central Park and New York. After rehearsals, I spent my nights researching. When I returned to the city, I started giving my own tour, the Central Park Sunset Tour. My research didn’t stop there though. I spent hours poring over the Municipal Archive’s and New York Public Library’s historical documents. I harnessed my knowledge to present a plan called Central Park Arch Project to help improve the safety of New York’s transportation infrastructure utilizing Central Park’s original plans. I fought to save a historic home on Staten Island. I also began giving talks and writing articles about my expanding realm of research.

One day, I received a call from a producer working for The Travel Channel. She wanted to interview me about an article I’d written on New York’s Rocking Chair Riots. I wasn’t offered money but was happy to oblige. After that, we collaborated several times. They’d ask what I was researching, and bounce topics off me. In July 2017, they asked to interview me, again without fee, about Klondike Kate. I read their notes and pushed back where it felt appropriate:

“...from what I've read the rumors did not cause her to lose her job as a mountie. She'd left that job to tend to sick family in Johnville and when she returned, she continued to run her restaurant and work with the North West Mounted Police as a gold inspector.”

I didn’t write or work for The Travel Channel. They did their own research. My only contribution to the story is the interview, not their telling. You will notice that you’ll never hear my voice sharing the story about Kate almost losing her job. It was actually pushback like this that caused them to keep interviewing me. I took pride in being as accurate as I could.

In December 2018, after the segment aired, I started receiving angry emails because of Gates' article. One accused me of "the casual re-working of history to promote consumption of goods." That statement couldn’t be further from the truth. I didn’t make a dime on these, I did it out of passion. My intention was always to educate, and I checked sources every time. Maybe I’m not specifically a Yukon Historian, nor have I conducted primary research on Klondike Kate, but Ann Brennan was and did.

During emails exchanged between myself and Gates, I conceded he was right about misuse of the term Royal Northwest Mounted Police, something I’ve realized I never said, it was the show’s Don Wildman. I challenged his other assertions and shared citations. Gates claimed, citing Ann Brennan’s “The Real Klondike Kate,” Kate Ryan was never in Dawson City and there’s no relation between the two Kates. I was familiar with the book. It was a source of research for the show and me. I shared other sources Gates overlooked: British Columbia and Yukon Gold Hunters: A History in Photographs, by Donald Waite and The Great Journey of Klondike Kate, an article written by Ann Brennan, the same researcher Gates cited to discredit me. The publisher, Alton Morrell, refers to Brennan as “the undisputed expert on the life of Kate Ryan, or Klondike Kate.”

Gates double-checked Waite’s book and conceded that it supported my claim. He contacted Waite who was not able to cite his source. Gates also contacted Alton Morrell who published Brennan’s article. Morrell suggested Gates contact Brennan, however she’d passed away. At this point, Gates decided that Brennan was wrong. “Since Ann Brennan has passed away, I can't ask her directly. Frustratingly, she did not footnote her references. I haven't found anything anywhere indicating that Kate Rockwell was sentenced to a month of hard labour…” Then he accused Brennan of the confusion he accused me of in his column. “I wonder if Ann Brennan confused Kate Rockwell with Kitty Henry?” While I respect his intent to get to the truth, it’s unfair to attack me because he has a feeling the “undisputed expert,” he previously quoted, was incorrect. I offered Gates other sources including an interview with Vanessa Ivy, Manager of Deschutes Historical Museum and Society. Nothing would change his mind.

I’d hoped Gates would amend his harsh piece. He hasn’t, even though he apologized via email: “My editor brought to my attention your comments in response to my article, for which I must thank you. Let me apologize for being so harsh in my column, but I find Yukon history is commonly misrepresented.” He also complimented me: “a good historian can cite the source of their information, which you did. I pulled Don Waite's book off my bookshelf and checked, and sure enough, he is the source of the story you told on Mysteries at the Museum.”

It’s unfair to say I should “leave Yukon history alone.” Research supports my entire interview and Gates’s off-column communications indicate he respects my work.

After all, I cited sources where many in the Yukon did not. The irony is that Gates is guilty of the thing he accused me of. He seems to care more about the drama his piece created than the facts.

-Matt Falber