Consummate businessman Thomas Cecil, better known as “T.C.” Richards was rarely seen in public without a hat on his head.
The man loved hats and as the story goes, one day he was in a shop in Atlin, BC, when he began grabbing the hat off the head of each man who set foot in the shop and threw it into the stove.
Before the man could protest, Richards purchased him a new expensive hat.
And he kept going until he had bought all the hats that the shop had on offer, and had shelled out a large amount of money for the lot.
By this time Richards was well known throughout the Yukon for his generosity and for his keen business sense.
And it was that business sense that drew him to the North in the first place.
In 1915, Richards came to Whitehorse to manage P. Burns and Co., a meat supplier.
Three years later when he married Bernadine Piper, the Whitehorse Star reported: “The bride is … one of the most accomplished and esteemed of the younger social set.
“The bridegroom is the manager of the Whitehorse branch of P. Burns and Co., which responsible position he has held for the past three years with credit to himself and to the extreme satisfaction of the firm’s many patrons.”
T.C and Bernadine had three children: Cecil, Bobby and Evelyn, who is better known as Babe.
In 1921, T.C. began a cattle drive north to provide the mining camps with fresh meat. Cattle were transported by steamer to Pelly, and then driven overland to the Mayo area where they were slaughtered and kept cool within the mine shafts.
“This is a very excellent business scheme on the part of Mr. Richards and will give Mayo a good supply of fresh meat and it will be dressed ready for the market in the best possible manner, as Mr. Richards is without equal in this line,” reported the Star in August 1921.
Over the following few years, T.C. and his business partner W.L. “Deacon” Phelps started a winter service from Whitehorse to Dawson, which was then the capital of the Yukon, and they won the mail contract.
The enterprise was called Klondike Airways, although they never owned a plane.
In 1937, T.C.‘s interests expanded yet again when he won $20,000 from a poker game in the Whitehorse Inn’s notorious Snake Room.
He used the winnings as a down payment on the Inn, and was later backed by the White Pass company, which boarded its employees there until the mid-1950s.
“He was a very hard worker,” T.C.‘s daughter Babe said of her father, who was also her first boss as Babe earned her first paycheque from washing dishes at the Inn’s cafe.
“I remember my father coming in with the paycheques for the cooks and I thought it would be nice to get a paycheque,” said Babe.
When she asked her father about payment, T.C. replied: “Get a cheque? OK, what do you think you’re worth?”
“Fifty cents,” Babe replied, and that’s what she was paid.
“That was big money in those days,” she said.
As military soldiers and engineers poured into Whitehorse during the Second World War, the Whitehorse Inn prospered. The cafe was opened 24 hours a day, and there was often a line to get in.
T.C. ran the Inn until his death in 1961.
“Yukoners this week had a farewell in their hearts for one of the almost legendary sons of the territory,” read his obituary.
“Thomas Cecil Richards, the man who personally improves on every vivid-hued story told about him, the man who is himself a suitable figure to place, commandingly, against the scarlet and green and blue backdrop of the past and present Yukon history.”
Today the Richards’ house still stands on Main Street across from the Gold Rush Inn.
This column is provided by the MacBride Museum of Yukon History. Each week it will explore a different morsel of Yukon’s modern history. For more information, or to comment on anything in this column e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.