What does it take to be remembered as one of the Yukon’s “more colourful residents”?
If takes lots of hard work, wonderful ingenuity and a bit of bad luck then Jimmy Domerville Richards, also known as Buzz Saw Jimmy, was such a resident.
Jimmy left Saint John, New Brunswick, for the Klondike Gold Fields during the rush of ’98.
He bought a $25 train ticket from the Maritimes to Vancouver, and the trip was going fine until Rat Portage when six coaches overturned due to a broken rail. Two people were killed but Jimmy got away with scrapes and bruises.
At Vancouver he worked on a ship that took him to St. Michaels, Alaska, and on to Dawson City.
He arrived in the Klondike capital with “dreams of pockets bulging with nuggets,” Jimmy wrote in his memoir Dawson or Bust.
“Dawson City, white with tents, is in the periscope just ahead. Tied up to the dock we investigated our wardrobe, spruced up and headed for the Canadian Bank of Commerce with Travellers’ Cheques to trade them for (local currency) gold dust.”
Jimmy soon realized that his future lay in sawing wood, not mining gold.
He’d learned the wood-cutting trade at Allen’s Foundry and Machine Works in West Saint John, and soon settled in Whitehorse and got to work.
Using parts from a tractor and a Ford Model T and some old scrap iron, Jimmy made a buzz saw that could cut wood faster than any conventional device.
Unfortunately, it also caused more accidents. Over the years this terrifying invention caused Jimmy many injuries.
He lost his little finger in his first accident, and almost lost an arm during a second.
While cutting wood for the Yukon Electric Company he slipped on some newly cut logs, fell backwards against the revolving saw blade and received a deep gash through his muscles missing the sciatic nerve by a fraction.
In 1919, Jimmy was working on the woodpile belonging to the Whitehorse public reading room and something happened to his machine. Without shutting off the power, Jimmy got beneath the machine to investigate.
He shifted his weight and brought his leg into contact with the saw, which severed through the muscles on his limb.
Known for his toughness, Jimmy walked to the hospital to receive medical attention.
“It has become such a common occurrence for Jimmy Richards to get tangled up with his wood saw and come out second best that a serious accident which befell him Saturday … caused hardly a ripple of excitement in town,” reported
the Whitehorse Weekly Star on December 12, 1919.
In 1921, he lost a leg below the knee. He was fitted with a wooded leg, which was sliced off again in the same beast of a sawing machine.
“Jimmy seems to live under an evil star, though, for this is not the first time that he has been injured with his saw,” reported the Star on December 16 of that year.
Despite the many injuries, Jimmy lived a long life.
He died in 1967 in Vancouver’s Grandview Nursing Home at age 94.
“A familiar figure on the streets of Whitehorse until 1963, ‘Buzzsaw’ had spent most of his life here, and is remembered as one of the more colourful residents,” read an obituary in the Star on October 19, 1967.
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 email@example.com.