Joann Robertson visited the Yukon recently to attend the Yukon Transportation Hall of Fame Awards. Her grandfather, J.E.F. (Ned) Hoggan was inducted into the Hall on Tuesday, June7, at the Yukon Transportation Museum.
She also brought her brand new book, which throws light on a little known era of Yukon history.
The title of the book, which is now available for sale in Whitehorse, is self-explanatory: The Yukon Between the Gold Rush & Highways.
While reading her self-published story, which is based upon her own memories of the era and unpublished letters and papers of others, I came across an illuminating story of travel in the early days.
Before there was a good road from Dawson to Whitehorse, Clary Craig, Bob McLaren, Bill Grafton and John Hill bought an old Model T Ford touring car from Andrew Baird, the manager of one of the big Klondike dredging companies, for $50.
It was early fall and, because the rivers hadn’t yet frozen at the crossing points along the trail, the overland stage wasn’t yet running between the two cities. Dawson City was cut off from civilization during this period, but these young men were determined not to wait.
They tuned up the engine of the Model T, and modified the back seat to accommodate a wooden box. With them, they took tools, haywire, blankets, a spare wheel (they were made from wood in those days), extra cans of fuel, and an empty 4-gallon can to melt snow in.
Somewhere around McQuesten River, an errant stick pierced the radiator. They fixed that by pinching the hole closed and sealing it with mustard supplied by a nearby wood cutting camp. For a distance after that, they had to cut through an area where there was no road at all. One of their tires broke, and they replaced it with the spare they had brought along.
Crossing the Stewart river was easy due to the cold weather, but they then passed through an area full of fire-killed deadfalls which they had to cut through to make progress. The weather became warmer as they moved south, so when they reached Pelly Crossing, the river had only frozen over the night before.
They stayed overnight at “Ma” Shaffer’s roadhouse, and the next morning, with a skin of ice only a few centimetres thick, they raced down the hill in their empty jalopy (they removed their gear to lighten the vehicle) and scooted across the ice with “water following the rear wheels on the far side.”
Road conditions were no better from Pelly to Yukon Crossing, where, due to warmer weather, they found open water and ice floes. Using a six-metre freighter canoe they found on the bank of the river, they were able to get across to the roadhouse on the opposite side.
Harold King, the caretaker of the roadhouse, had been given orders by T.C. Richards, who ran the stage line, not to help the competition. They were stranded!
These ingenious men were not to be deterred. Under cover of darkness, they crossed back to the other side, and with a large bonfire to give them light, they dismantled the Model T, and in two trips, carried the 360-kilogram vehicle across the ice-choked Yukon.
This crossing was a hair-raising experience because the hulk of the old Ford made the freighter canoe top-heavy and it could easily have capsized. Luck was on their side, and they made it.
After reassembling the car, it was an easy drive to Whitehorse, which they reached a day later.
It took more than a little determination, and a dose of youthful recklessness to complete a journey that we now think nothing of making in a few hours!
Today, thanks to years of effort and attention, the Yukon has a network of nearly 5,000 kilometres of roads, plus 128 bridges, two ferries, and two dozen airports scattered over an area twice the size of Great Britain.
What a difference it has made in our lives.
This year’s inductees in to the Transportation Hall of Fame included Dawn and Gordon Bartsch, who received the Order of Polaris from Commissioner Doug Phillips. The couple partnered in Connelly-Dawson Airways and brought in the first DC-3 for bush flying. It was the first such aircraft to land in Old Crow.
In his acceptance speech, Gordon Bartsch told a crowd of 100 that when they started to fly freight into Inuvik, the price of goods came down by 45 per cent. Dawn Bartsch was also a true pioneer of aviation. She was the first woman in Canada to receive her commercial pilot’s licence.
A few years later, the couple started their own airline, Great Northern Airways, which linked small northern communities to Whitehorse and Calgary. The DC-3 they first flew in the Yukon was CF-CPY, which is now proudly displayed in front of the Yukon Transportation Museum as the world’s largest weather vane.
Also recognized at the ceremony was the late Ned Hoggan, whose granddaughter Joann Robertson, and great granddaughter Maribeth Mainer received Hoggan’s 2011 Pioneer of the Year award from the
Honourable Archie Lang, Minister for Highways and Public Works. Hoggan was a master mariner who, after the Klondike gold rush, piloted steamers on the waters of the Yukon for many years.
Over the years, Hoggan and his wife Kate also served the transportation industry by operating roadhouses that served overland and river traffic.
In her acceptance speech, Mainer pointed out that Hoggan represented a group of men whose role in river transportation was essential to maintaining the tenuous supply link with the outside world.
Clive Boyd, the last recipient of the evening, accepted the 2011 Transportation Person of the Year award from Doug Bell and Jennifer Byram.
Boyd first came north as a student in 1944 and 1945 as part of a government survey team upgrading the newly constructed Alaska Highway. He later trucked ore for United Keno Hill mine, and then worked for the Northern Commercial Company before being hired on by Leo Proctor (who is also honoured in the Transportation Hall of Fame).
Later, while general manager for General Enterprises, he became known as the man who could move mountains. This title was earned after General Enterprises removed the top of a mountain at Clinton Creek, thereby exposing the large body of asbestos ore for mining.
According to the citation for the award, there was no major work or roadway in the Yukon upon which Boyd and his team did not work.
These four people contributed to improving a transportation network that we now take for granted. Congratulations to them all!
Michael Gates is a Yukon historian and sometimes adventurer based in Whitehorse. His book, History Hunting in the Yukon, is now available.