Wernecke’s wreck: a ‘good news’ story

Wernecke's wreck: a 'good news' story When you are involved in the mineral exploration industry you can't help but see all the 'bad news' stories - controversy over winter roads, accidents, bad public relations, poor involvement with the local First Nat

When you are involved in the mineral exploration industry you can’t help but see all the ‘bad news’ stories – controversy over winter roads, accidents, bad public relations, poor involvement with the local First Nations, neglect at keeping funds in the Yukon, the list goes on.

But the truth is, there are in fact a lot of good news stories as well. Unfortunately people usually don’t find the time to tell the good news stories. But I have a good one that I would like to share with fellow Yukoners, and if you can believe it, it involves the mineral exploration industry. Who’d of thought that was possible?

It all started three years ago.

As a young geologist, I decided to make the move over to the Yukon and was hired on by a local contracting company, Aurora Geosciences Ltd. My first job didn’t involve rocks at all, but rather, claim-staking. I arrived in Keno City, which I had never heard of, and was surprised to find its sweetly eccentric nature very hospitable.

It was then that I met local Kenoite Matthias Bindig, who was an experienced staker and prospector. He offered to show me around the Keno area and, over the next couple of weeks, he did just that. We went everywhere – Sourdough Hill, the Signpost, the museums after hours and, lastly, the Wernecke minesite.

When we arrived at the end of Wernecke Road, I saw a stately home that had clearly battled numerous harsh winters and bathed in many hot suns. Here, he began to teach me about the Keno Hill silver history, about the wealth that it brought, about how it was responsible for the development of the Klondike Highway to Dawson and for the advancement of coal mining in Carmacks, about how it carried the Yukon economy after the bust following the gold rush.

I was astounded. I noticed a name repeatedly came up, Livingstone Wernecke, and was amazed to find that as I listened to this story, I was sitting in his bedroom overlooking the valley below.

For the next three years I often thought about Wernecke and his house. I read Aho’s Hills of Silver, Coates and Morrison’s The Land of the Midnight Sun and poured over Gold and Galena. Accounts of Livingstone Wernecke were colourful – he was a hardworking, determined man who is accounted with being the first individual to practise modern mining techniques in the Yukon, a man who worked with the locals and who employed the majority of the Yukon for years and helped carry the Yukon’s economy.

I hoped that one day I would return to Keno and find that someone put the effort in to prevent his house from collapsing, but each year I would come back to Keno to find that it was a little worse for wear than the year previous. I realized that this untold story of Wernecke minesite was at risk of being forgotten along with the house.

Something had to be done, and quickly. I thought about Dawson City and its perfectly restored brothels and wondered how the Wernecke site slipped through the cracks, to be forever forgotten.

So at the 2007 Geoscience Forum Bindig and I discussed the minesite. Local Kenoites wanted to restore the home, had talked about it for years, but with a limited population of approximately 20 full-time residents, they were all very busy with work in town on the museum, recreation hall etc., and so they hadn’t managed to get it done, he said.

Matthias and I decided to get it rolling; but we had no money and no idea how one goes about such projects.

At this time we were lucky to get in touch with Bruce Barrett from the historic resources unit, who proved to be our saviour.

He knew about the mine workings at the Wernecke site and understood our enthusiasm. As we began our research we quickly learned that we had to get all of our ducks in a row in order to succeed, and we wanted to do our very best at making sure that we considered all of the parties involved.

So we met with Rob McIntyre from Alexco Resources Corp., the company who holds the mineral claims that the Wernecke site sits on. He was enthusiastic and helpful and wanted to help us achieve our goal; he brought the idea up with the board at Alexco and was able to get us a letter of support.

Bindig talked with local Kenoites and the Keno Community Club and instantly gained full support; therein KCC members met with the local Nacho-Nyak Dun, the Silver Trail Chamber of Commerce and Tourism and contacted the Yukon Workers’ Compensation Health and Safety Board.

Finally, we had everyone on board.

We received financial support from Historic Sites, the local Keno City Mining Museum and, in fact, our primary sponsor was a local junior mining company called Monster Mining Corp.; their support alone paid for all of our materials for our year one restorative work.

By the time we got everything in order, it was late summer and we hoped to get the area cleaned up and remove an addition put on during the 1980s by an exploration crew that used the house as a base.

We rid the site of any potential hazards and began working on the foundation, which, in the front of the house, was out by a couple of feet, resulting in a steep incline within the home.

As we removed the skirting we realized that we had our work cut out for us, but with help from local Kenoites, who had plenty of experience from working on the restoration of the Keno City Mining Museum, we began leveling the house.

Our early project delays and arrival of snow prevented us from installing a historically accurate rolled-roof this summer, but we, The Wernecke House restoration crew, are happy to announce a successful first year.

The project will continue in the summer of 2009, thanks to the support of: Historic Sites, particularly Bruce Barrett and Barb Hogan, the Keno City Mining Museum, Monster Mining Corp. and volunteers.

I presented this project at the annual Geoscience Forum this November and was flooded with phone calls and e-mails from locals and junior mining companies offering support and enthusiasm.

A true good news story involving the mineral exploration industry – who’d of thought that was possible?

Lauren Blackburn, project manager, Wernecke House Restoration Project

Friends of Keno City