Tales of an early transportation pioneer

William Drury Taylor was honoured June 5 with the 2012 Pioneer of the Year Award in the Yukon Transportation Hall of Fame, which is located in the Yukon Transportation Museum beside the airport.

William Drury Taylor was honoured June 5 with the 2012 Pioneer of the Year Award in the Yukon Transportation Hall of Fame, which is located in the Yukon Transportation Museum beside the airport.

He was born in Whitehorse on October 8, 1909, the son of Isaac Taylor who, in partnership with William Drury, formed the business known as Taylor and Drury, which operated in the Yukon for three quarters of a century. Isaac Taylor returned to England shortly after the turn of the century, where he met and married Drury’s sister, Sarah.

Bill Taylor grew up in Whitehorse and was initiated into the family business at a young age. One of his first jobs was as a cook’s assistant on the Taylor and Drury riverboat. He was sent to university school in Victoria from Grade 8 through Grade 12, after which his father dispatched him to work in the Seattle Fur exchange for a year to learn the ropes in the fur buying business. Bill returned to the Yukon in 1929 and quickly assumed a role in the family company.

Taylor and Drury, or T&D, as it was popularly known, gave a good price for the furs they bought, taking only a small mark-up because they knew the trappers would then buy their goods from the Taylor and Drury stores.

Over the years, the firm operated 18 posts throughout the Yukon, with as many as 12 open for business at any given time. To support this network of stores, they established a transportation network that included riverboats, horse-drawn wagons, dog teams, early snowmobiles and trucks, some of which were modified with tracks and runners for winter operation.

The enterprise flourished for decades, surviving the Great Depression, and accommodating the surge in demand during and after the Second World War. It came to an end only when there were no successors to continue the family business.

Bill Taylor was the dog-mushing accountant who could be sent out to check on the outlying posts in any kind of weather. In 1929, for example, the company boat the Yukon Rose (which is currently being restored by Marc Johnston in Dawson City) and the barge of supplies it was transporting ran aground on a bar on the Teslin River. The post at Teslin ran low on food by early February, with the essential supplies stranded on the barge down the Teslin River.

Bill Taylor and Frank Slim set off from Whitehorse for the stranded barge with dog teams, where they loaded 90 kilograms on each sled and continued the 120 kilometres to Teslin. The snow was so deep that Bill and Frank broke trail with their snowshoes each night so that the dogs would have easier travel the following day.

When they arrived in Teslin, Taylor hired 10 dog teams to return to the barge to pick up more supplies. That’s the way it was done before the communities were connected to each other by today’s network of modern roads. When the roads were first built, of course, they weren’t of the standard we have come to expect. On one occasion, in the 1930s, traveling back to Whitehorse from Champagne, Bill had to repair the transmission of his car with nothing but one of his wife’s hair pins.

On another occasion, the company steamer Thistle sank in Lake Laberge, so Bill led a team of employees to the wreck site in a fleet of small boats to salvage what goods they could. The tins lost their labels, so T&D later held a sale called “Canned Surprise!”

T&D opened a General Motors dealership in Whitehorse in 1927, and Bill eventually took over management of the business in the 1950s. George Johnston of Teslin bought the first automobile from them in 1928. Thirty years later, Johnston returned the vehicle as a trade-in.

Bill Taylor had a strong sense of history, so he took the old car on as a project to have it restored. When the work was completed, he had the great pleasure of donating it to the George Johnston Museum in Teslin, where today it is a proud centrepiece of their museum collection.

I remember meeting Bill Taylor in his office at the car dealership when I was seeking some information about Fort Selkirk back in the 1970s. I was young and enthusiastic about my history hunting even back then. He was accommodating with his time, and helpful in supplying me with names of people and information about the company store that they operated there. It helped me understand the site when I visited it for the first time.

Bill Taylor helped some friends build a road into their cabins on Marsh Lake in the 1940s, and he loved to tell stories of dog mushing at 50 below, boat trips on Tagish Lake and expeditions along the early Alaska Highway. He passed away October 4, 1998, just shy of his 89th birthday.

You can visit the Hall of Fame at the Yukon Transportation Museum and learn more about Yukon’s transportation heroes. For information about their hours of operation, go to http://goytm.ca/about/

Anyone can be nominated to the Transportation Hall of Fame if they meet the criteria for any one of three categories: Transportation Pioneer of the Year, Transportation Person of the Year, and the Order of Polaris (aviation).

For more information for the criteria and how to nominate someone for this prestigious award, go to www.hpw.gov.yk.ca/trans/transportservices/hall_of_fame.html

You can email the Transportation Hall of Fame at: thof@gov.yk.ca, or you can phone them at 867-667-5832 For out-of-town calls, call 1-800-661-0408 ext. 5832.

Their mailing address is: The Transportation Hall of Fame, Transport Services, Government of Yukon, Box 2703 (W-17), Whitehorse YT Y1A 2C6

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

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