Moccasin Telegraph keeps former Yukoners in the loop

For almost 60 years, Bill Dawson wondered about the woman who likely saved his life the night he arrested a drunk outside the old Regina Hotel.

For almost 60 years, Bill Dawson wondered about the woman who likely saved his life the night he arrested a drunk outside the old Regina Hotel.

As a former RCMP officer in Whitehorse during the 1950s, the young Dawson had been called to the bar in the middle of the night to pick up the troublemaker.

Sophie Armitage, who ran the business at the time with her husband Ernie, shouted that the man had a rock in his hand as Dawson was loading him into his car.

Years later, Dawson – now living in Burlington, Ont. – was scrolling through an issue of the Moccasin Telegraph when he came across a picture of an annual Yukoners’ reunion in Summerland, B.C. and recognized Armitage, who now lives in Kelowna.

The pair was able to reconnect through e-mail, said Moccasin Telegraph publisher Sherron Jones, who has published the electronic newsletter from her home in Vernon, B.C. since February 2003.

According to the Virtual Museum of Metis History and Culture it was a joke among the Metis that they would hear rumours through the ‘moccasin telegraph,’ an accurate metaphor since they wore moccasins and news travelled by foot.

Jones is a former Yukoner herself, having followed her husband to Whitehorse in the late 1960s, where they lived until 1983.

Starting out as a cashier at city hall, she eventually became the director of finance.

“We really enjoyed our time up there,” Jones said, adding they had a cabin at Marsh Lake.

The MocTel, as she likes to call it, started out as a repository for e-mail addresses. Over time, Jones received more and more stories that she believed would be of interest to those on the list.

“I’d come off a period of time doing genealogy and I realized how important it was, and how exciting it would be for people in the future to find information written by their ancestors,” she said.

Over 530 issues have been produced so far – 408 regular issues and 125 “special” ones that focus exclusively on one topic.

At its peak Jones had about 600 subscribers, she said, whereas it’s down to about 300 now.

“A lot of the old timers have passed away, while others have just lost interest,” she said.

Published every three weeks, the content is never the same – but people always contribute stories, letters and lots of old pictures.

The June 21 edition had a picture of a Whitehorse hockey team from the 1948-49 season, complete with names.

The newsletter is read as far away as Australia, where a man who once mined in Keno currently lives.

In England, there’s someone who has contributed historical information about Dawson through his connections to local masons there.

“When he was in Dawson, he went to the museum and somehow came by information that a sword had been hidden in one of the walls, and when they were renovating it they dug it out,” Jones said.

He also sent information about how the Dawson Masonic Lodge donated a mammoth ivory gavel to a masonic fraternity in New Zealand.

Jones said she just recently received a 32-page letter from a man who flew the DC-3 weathervane plane on display near the Whitehorse airport.

He and his wife had flown the ‘Big Dipper’ route – Dawson, Mayo, Old Crow and Inuvik – named because of the flight pattern.

Someone else who worked on the riverboats along the Yukon River passed on his log notes to the MocTel, the kind of information Jones has been able to share with researchers writing books, she said.

And there are no plans to slow down just yet, despite a decrease in the amount of content she receives.

Readers keep encouraging her to go on, she said.

“As long as it (information) keeps coming in, I’ll keep sending it out,” Jones said.

She’s only been back to the Yukon twice she since left, in 1985 for her son’s wedding and in 2006 to receive a commissioner’s award from Geraldine Van Bibber. But the territory still plays a big role in her life.

“We all take a bit of the Yukon with us when we leave, and you always feel a part of the stories,” she said.

Whether it’s to the people in them, there’s a connection somehow.”

The Moccasin Telegraph is available by subscription only, for a fee of $20-25 a year. Jones can be reached at

sherronjones@shaw.ca.

Contact Myles Dolphin at

myles@yukon-news.com

Correction

An earlier version of this story mistakenly reported that stonemasons in New Zealand had donated an ivory gavel to a masonic fraternity in Dawson. In fact, it was the Dawson Masonic Lodge that donated a mammoth ivory gavel to a masonic fraternity in New Zealand. We apologize for the mistake.

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