Skip to content

New exhibition at UBC a gold rush legacy

University now shows exhibit on history of Yukon gold fields

In April 1894, John Grieve Lind, also known as Johnny, made a decision on the toss of a coin that would change the trajectory of his life. Tired of his job working for a railroad, and bitten by wanderlust, he wanted to move on to something new, but where to go? If the coin came up heads, he would venture north to look for gold; if it came up tails, he would head south to Venezuela where oil was calling.

It came up heads, and Johnny Lind headed north to seek his fortune in the placer workings of the Fortymile River. He worked hard for two seasons, and when he went to the small mining town of Forty Mile for supplies in December 1896, he learned of the Klondike discovery for the first time.

He was too late to stake a claim on prime ground, but he had enough gold saved that he could buy into claims that had already been registered. Soon, he was managing a crew of two hundred men working his property on Bonanza Creek. He worked hard, and unlike many of the other Klondike Kings, he didn’t fritter away his wealth on wild living.

He took his fortune back to Ontario and started a cement company which, 90 years later, was the largest independent cement company in Canada. His grandson, Phil Lind, who became an icon in the field of telecommunications, was aware of his grandfather’s humble beginnings and good fortune, and for fifty years, collected material related to the gold rush.

By 2020, Phil Lind had turned this collection over to the library at his old alma mater, the University of British Columbia (UBC), along with $2 million, with the express instructions to make the collection accessible to the public for future generations.

At the beginning of May, a new historical gallery was opened in the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre at UBC, in partial fulfillment of his bequest.

Claire Malek, an archivist at the rare books and special collections branch of UBC Library, has had an intimate relationship with the collection since its arrival at UBC in 2020 during the COVID-19 lockdown.

As a first step, she set about cataloguing the contents of his donation, and it is impressive. Consisting of more than 3,000 items, the collection includes: 500 books related to the gold rush, 74 published maps, 1,800 historical photographs, 300 post cards, coins and 1.5 metres of archival material, including unpublished maps, manuscripts, diaries and letters. The collection has been recognized as culturally significant by the Canadian Cultural Property Export Review Board.

As soon as the collection was itemized and listings had been posted online, Malek began to work by Zoom (remember this was during the COVID-19 pandemic) with a team of curators, historians, subject experts and designers to develop an exhibit gallery of selected specimens from the collection. The UBC Library has taken advantage of the wide array of new technology in the preparation of the exhibit.

Among the features in the Lind display is a touch table, produced by Ideum, a New Mexico firm, in which photos from albums in the Lind collection can be viewed. The pages of the albums can be turned by dragging a finger across the screen. Ideum also produced an application for projecting glass lantern slides and stereoviews in the gallery.

Dutch Igloo, a firm based out of Amsterdam, developed a digital diorama of Johnny Lind’s camera, using an updated version of the “Pepper’s Ghost” technology. In this installation, Lind is depicted with sled dogs, mending a sluice box, fixing his pyjamas and weighing gold dust on gold scales.

Malek says that the emerging digital lab at UBC is also working on a virtual walking tour of the exhibit, and she hinted that other new technologies might be employed to make the exhibit (and the collection) accessible.

Lind also embarked on a book about his grandfather’s exploits in the Yukon. “My grandfather was there and he was a central figure in all of this, even though he wasn’t widely known,” Lind is quoted as saying in a UBC press release.

Malek says that she first met Phil Lind when he came to UBC to select the photos from his collection, for the book. UBC partnered with Vancouver publishing firm, Page 2, and Lind collaborated with Robert Brehl to write the story. In addition to telling his grandfather’s story, Lind was particularly interested in revealing life in the Yukon before, during and after the gold rush. The book, Tales of an Unsung Sourdough, was released in 2023.

The final piece to this project is currently under way. Malek said that a team at UBC is digitizing everything in the collection so that they can be viewed via the internet, thus fulfilling Lind’s dream of making the collection accessible, not only to Vancouverites, but to people far and wide, especially for those in the Yukon, who would have to travel a long distance to view it in person.

When asked if any of the items stood out for her, Malek replied that the William Shape diary and photographs moved her. The diary describes a trip into the Yukon, prospecting on the Stewart and McQuesten rivers, and a trip out over the Dalton trail. The detailed descriptions and the sketches complemented the 100 photos, many of which were reproduced in a book titled Faith of Fools, and published in 1998 by the Washington State University Press.

Having worked so closely with the collection for four years, Malek said that she was ready to visit the Yukon to see it first-hand.

The Lind collection is displayed jointly with the Wallace B. Chung and Madeleine H. Chung collection. On April 19, members of the Chung and Lind families gathered in the new gallery to see it for the first time. Lind’s son, Jed, and daughter, Sarah, were among those attending the event.

For those interested in visiting the Lind collection or the new gallery in person, they are both located in the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre at UBC. The gallery, which is on the second level, is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Graduate student Emily Withrow, who is studying Yukon gold rush history at UBC, will be working in the gallery and will be able to answer questions in an informed manner.

The gallery contains only a small portion of the Lind collection. The rest can be examined at the rare books and special collections library, which, due to ongoing construction, is open to the public from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Monday through Friday. They expect to return to regular operating hours early in 2025.

If you want to get a glimpse at the content of this collection, you can go to the links below.

For a description of the items in the Lind collection, go to:

For a glimpse of photograph albums in the Lind collection, go to:

If you want to see stereograph images from the Lind collection, go to: