The formation of the engineering profession in the Yukon

Engineers have been around since the construction of the first pyramids, and they were certainly in the Yukon from its early days.

Engineers have been around since the construction of the first pyramids, and they were certainly in the Yukon from its early days. By the summer of 1898, the first bridge was built across the Klondike River after designs prepared by a mechanical engineer from Seattle named Rufus Buck. The bridge, which was financed by two men named Howard and Roberts, was built by contractors Kruppler and Albertson.

The bridge linked Dawson City to Klondike City, or “Lousetown,” which was located on the opposite side of the Klondike River near its mouth. A toll of 25 cents per crossing or $3 a month was charged for foot passage, while higher tariffs were charged for one and two-horse wagons. The bridge lasted for 13 years before it was taken down.

Mining engineers flooded into the Yukon to oversee the operation of the placer mines in the goldfields. The Yukon Gold Company and the Yukon Consolidated Gold Corporation (YCGC), as well as other ventures, employed large staffs of engineers to oversee all aspects of their operations, from ground preparation, to dredge construction, to power generation and planning.

Warren MacFarland, a mining engineer and a graduate of the University of California, was first employed by Yukon Gold in 1909. He remained active in the mining business in the Yukon and Alaska for the next five decades. He rose through the corporate ranks of the YCGC to become its general manager in 1934, and in 1943, when a chapter of the B.C. Chamber of Mines was established in the Yukon, he was named honorary president.

When the United States was drawn into the Second World War after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, engineers were involved in the design and construction of the Alaska Highway. Military engineers continued to oversee the upgrade and maintenance of the highway for many years after the war.

One of these men was Lieutenant-Colonel Malcolm C. Sutherland Brown, a graduate of the Royal Military College at Kingston, Ontario, who had a long and illustrious career as a military engineer. During World War II, he received the Distinguished Service Order for the construction of the first bridge over the River Orme in France after the Normandy invasion in June of 1944. He then held a series of important postings after the war until he was appointed Senior Highway Engineer of the Northwest Highway System in Whitehorse from 1952 to 1956.

Sutherland-Brown was instrumental in the establishment of the body that is today known as the Association of Professional Engineers of Yukon (APEY), and was its first president in 1953. He takes credit for drafting the first ordinance respecting the engineering profession. He asked John Phelps to help him create and introduce the ordinance into the territorial legislature.

John Phelps was the son of Willard Leroy Phelps, a Klondike stampeder, lawyer, and long-sitting member of the territorial legislature. John Phelps earned a degree in mine engineering at the University of British Columbia in 1940. He soon became an employee of the Yukon Electrical Company, of which his father was a major shareholder. Along with brother-in-law, and fellow engineer, John Scott, he formed the first hydro generating company in Whitehorse. The new plant started supplying electrical energy to Whitehorse in May, 1950.

Phelps was elected to the territorial legislature in 1952 and again in 1955. It was during this time that he introduced the private member’s bill he had crafted along with Sutherland-Brown. Bill 35, An Ordinance Respecting the Practice of Professional Engineering, received assent April 2, 1955. This was the act that constituted the association as we know it today. The following year, Phelps, Sutherland-Brown and Scott were among the first dozen engineers who were officially registered in the Yukon.

By the end of 1956, there were 15 engineers registered to practice in the territory; of the six based in Whitehorse, Phelps and Scott may have been the only home-grown members. Four, including Sutherland-Brown, were in the military, two were based in Elsa, and two were from out of the territory. Curiously, none of the engineers working for the Yukon Consolidated Gold Corporation was among the charter members of the organization.

Today, The Association of Professional Engineers of Yukon can boast of having 718 members, of whom 129 are based in the Yukon. The current president is Brian Crist, P.Eng. The association is a self-governing body of professional engineers that regulates, governs and disciplines the engineering profession here. Only individuals licensed by the Association of Professional Engineers of Yukon are permitted by law to undertake and assume responsibility for engineering projects in the territory.

The association provides scholarships for students interested in entering the profession, and attends career fairs where students can learn more about a career in engineering. For 21 years, the association has sponsored the annual bridge building competition, where students and adults compete in various categories to see who can build the strongest bridge across a span of 700 millimetres. Rules for this enjoyable contest can be viewed at the following website:!bb-get-started/ccmo

The association also presents awards to those who have demonstrated excellence in the field of engineering in the Yukon. The association has also developed a “hall of fame” of prominent members of the profession, and illustrates interesting engineering projects that have been undertaken in the past.

Examples include the construction of the massive Yukon Ditch (1906-1909), which provided both water and electrical power for the mining operations in the Klondike, and the building of the Whitehorse Dam, which was completed in 1958. To peek at these and to learn more about the association, you should check out this website:

The next time you take a drive, cross a bridge, walk into an office building or turn on a light switch, remember that somewhere in the background, there are professional engineers who are designing and overseeing these projects. You won’t even know they are there.

This article was provided by the Association of Professional Engineers of Yukon.