Livingstone Creek marked the start of a stellar political career

I was recently offered an opportunity to visit Livingstone Creek for the first time, but, in the placer mining vernacular, it didn't pan out. Too bad, because it is an interesting, little known piece of Yukon's early mining history.

I was recently offered an opportunity to visit Livingstone Creek for the first time, but, in the placer mining vernacular, it didn’t pan out. Too bad, because it is an interesting, little known piece of Yukon’s early mining history.

Livingstone Creek has a direct link to the career of George Black, a political force in the Yukon for half a century, so I turned to my wife, Kathy, who is researching the his biography, to help me learn about the origin of the placer work on this creek.

Passions ignited by news of the Klondike Gold Rush, George Black left his home and law practice in New Brunswick in the spring of 1898, destined for the Yukon as head of a group of New Brunswick men. If Black didn’t find fortune, he certainly found his life’s calling in the Yukon.

His Klondike adventure is a testimony to his determination under trying conditions, and his travels over the next two years are remarkable, even when compared with those of others who were headed to the Klondike. For one thing, he didn’t make it all the way to the Klondike at first, and for another, he made two trips to the Yukon within eight months.

His party originally planned to travel via the Stikine River over the all-Canadian route, but they changed their plan and continued to Skagway instead. From there, they hauled their supplies and equipment, including a boat engine over the White Pass Trail to Bennett.

They spent the spring building two boats, installing the engine on one of them, and when the ice broke on the lakes, they headed down the Yukon just like everybody else, but they never made it to Dawson City. Learning that all the creeks around Dawson had been staked, thus limiting opportunity there, they decided instead to try their luck on the Hootalinqua, now known as the Teslin, River.

Toward the end of the prospecting season of 1898, Black’s party fell in with a party of Missourians, being guided by a man named Joe Arthur, to a lost mine on the Nisutlin River. Not wanting to spend the winter in this remote region, Black and another prospector named Elmer Middlecoff accompanied Arthur to San Francisco, where Arthur was to introduce them to the owner of the lost mine.

They walked to the Stikine River over the old Telegraph Trail. At Telegraph Creek, they transferred to a boat best described as a cross between a scow and a packing crate, and headed down the Stikine River toward the coast.

They made it to Wrangel, and from there on to San Francisco, only to discover that they had been conned by their guide and that there was no lost mine. But Black wasn’t about to give up though; he immediately turned around and made his way back to the north and spent the winter prospecting in the Atlin district.

Summer found him in Dawson City for the first time, where he was admitted to the Yukon bar July 4, 1899. He apparently won his first case shortly after that, but he didn’t stay in the Klondike capital for long. On August 12, 1899, Black and a partner named Sam Lough staked discovery claims on a tributary of the Big Salmon River that he named Livingstone in honour of M.D. Livingstone, a Whitehorse lawyer.

A Dawson newspaper stated that he came out of Livingstone with $5,300 at the end of the 1899 season, although the exact amount reported has varied in different accounts over the years. It was enough, however, to convince him to return to New Brunswick, which he did later in the fall, to seek investors to defray the cost of developing his claims.

Accompanied by 10 other New Brunswickers, Black returned to the Yukon to mine his claims in the spring of 1900. It was hard work on Livingstone Creek. While his partners were hunting, prospecting, cutting and hauling timber, then sawing it into lumber, building cabins and a dam, and mining the claims, Black travelled back and forth to Hootalinqua, the nearest point of contact on the Yukon River filing claims, transporting mail and hunting to augment their diet.

The men fought mosquitoes, working seven days a week until they were able to sluice in August, but a flood washed away their dam and their sluice boxes and left Black broke with a crew of miners to pay. He was able to raise the necessary funds by sawing cordwood for the river steamers. By the fall of 1900, there was plenty of work for lawyers in Dawson City, so he turned away from mining and spent the next fifty years practising law and pursuing his passion for politics.

Black was eventually elected to the House of Commons, and held the Yukon seat jointly with his wife (his wife Martha held the seat from 1935 till 1940) until 1949, a span of almost 28 years. His credentials as a miner certainly helped the longevity of his political career.

According to one analysis, Livingstone Creek was not the best choice for mining. Gold was not found there in the same quantities that had made the Klondike legendary, nor did the prospectors have the advantage of permafrost in these deposits, so it could not be easily worked in the winter. Mining was expensive on Livingstone and required more capital than the average Yukon miner could spare

One of the obstacles to development was the cost and irregularity of river transportation to the Livingstone area. Construction of a wagon road from Mason’s Landing on the Hootalinqua (Teslin) River over to Livingstone Creek helped reduce to cost, as did the development of a winter road via Lake Laberge, but the annual gold output fluctuated between $35,000 and $100,000 over the next few years.

The Mounted Police established a post at Livingstone Creek from 1901 to 1910. The summer population reached as much as 100, but dropped during the winter. A townsite grew up consisting of a number of log structures built along the wagon road from Mason’s Landing.

There were four roadhouses (two were licensed) and a general store operated by Daniel Snure who became Livingstone’s leading citizen in the early days. Snure also operated a roadhouse and mined his claims, while acting as the community’s postmaster, telegraph agent, and mining recorder at various times.

After 1910, the creek yielded a few hundred ounces of gold every year at best, but that is small potatoes in the Yukon. By the mid 1980s, gold production on Livingstone had picked up considerably, and with the price of gold skyrocketing these days, I imagine that Livingstone Creek is a busy once again.

Michael Gates is a Yukon historian and sometimes adventurer based in Whitehorse. His latest book is History Hunting in the Yukon. You can contact him at msgates@northwestel.net

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