Yukon loses one of its eldest elders

One of Yukon's oldest and most storied elders has died. Arthur John Senior passed away early Tuesday morning at his Ross River home. He was 103.

One of Yukon’s oldest and most storied elders has died.

Arthur John Senior passed away early Tuesday morning at his Ross River home. He was 103.

He is survived by four children, 38 grandchildren and his wife Alice, with whom he celebrated an 80-year wedding anniversary last year that garnered national attention and included a papal blessing from Pope Benedict.

There were believed to be the longest wed couple in Canada.

“The community is a pretty sad place right now,” said his daughter Dorothy in an interview Thursday afternoon.

“He was definitely a role model for the family. He had a very full life. We were just talking today that he probably lived two lifetimes. He saw a lot of new things happen over his life.”

Bishop Gary Gordon of Whitehorse led Mass at the John’s 80th wedding celebration and described the couple as “love personified.”

“There was a sense of complete commitment to each other,” Gordon said. “It spoke volumes to the power of grace and the permanent bond and strength that can bring to the community. They could be counted on for wisdom.”

After Mass, Gordon recalled that someone asked Alice, “How do you keep going?” and she responded, “You just do.”

“It was a beautiful testimony for marriage, for better or worse,” Gordon said. “They were like a newly wed couple, just in absolute delight of each other’s presence. It was beautiful.”

By all accounts, John was a rugged and fearless outdoorsman, who began a tremendously successful prospecting career in 1949. He was also an accomplished trapper and a willing instructor for others.

“Whenever there was a social event in town he was there helping out,” said Dorothy. “He helped out a lot of different people and kids, kids other than his own family. He taught a lot of people trapping skills, he taught a prospecting course.”

John was an integral member of the team that discovered the Faro mine in 1969 and is credited with the discovery of tungsten, as well as hard rock gold in Dawson City, among other mineral deposits.

Twenty years later, and still hard at work, he was inducted into the Yukon Prospectors’ Hall of Fame.

Mike Burke, chief geologist with Golden Predator Corp. and a member of the board of directors at the chamber of mines, was at that induction ceremony and worked alongside John in the Kaska Dena region.

“He was one of those guys that just had an air about him,” said Burke. “He wasn’t a guy for a lot of words, but when he had something to say you’d be better off listening and not talking.”

John was still prospecting into his 90s and was known to explore the area on an Argo ATV. “He was tougher than about 10 of me put together,” said Burke.

In 2001, at 89 years old, John’s work was again recognized with the prestigious Spud Huestis Award, awarded for “excellence in mineral prospecting and mineral exploration,” at a ceremony in Vancouver.

“He loved to be out on the land and he respected it,” said Burke.

“He looked for all Mother Nature’s treasures whether they were ones you could see with the eye or had to dig beneath the surface. Our condolences go out to everyone that knows him. It’s a great loss when a man like that passes away.”

Ross River Dena Council Chief Brian Ladue described John as a “pillar to the community,” in an email to the Yukon News.

“Throughout his lifetime he’s accomplished many great things and has shared invaluable knowledge and teachings to his people, to his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. The loss of such an amazing man and member of our community and nation is truly a great loss, but his legend will live on through all the great legacies he leaves behind,” he wrote.

In Whitehorse, residents don’t have to travel far to be reminded of John’s contributions to the territory.

At Third and Main, outside the Elijah Smith Building, a bronze bust of a prospector and his dog towers above the street. John’s name is engraved at the base of the statute, as a member of the Prospectors Hall of Fame. Beside it, the bronze reads, “this statue is dedicated to all those who follow their dreams.”

A funeral for Arthur John Senior will be held at the Ross River School on Wednesday, June 4, beginning at 2 p.m. There will also be a viewing on Tuesday night at the Ross River Catholic Church from 7 to 9 p.m.

Contact Sam Riches at


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