Nearly 20 minutes before the men working at the Pueblo Mine were scheduled to break for lunch tragedy struck.
The Pueblo Mine was the most lucrative of all the claims on the Whitehorse Copper Belt, a 30-kilometre tract located to the west of the city.
The first claim on the belt was staked by John McIntyre, a prospector on his way to Dawson City for the Klondike Gold Rush, on July 6, 1898.
Later he partnered with William Grainger and the pair operated the first hard rock mine in the Yukon, which they dubbed the Copper King.
Though many disasters befell the miners—in 1903 McIntyre fell through the ice at Taku Inlet and drown, and in 1907 Grainger was found dead at the bottom of a mine shaft after being poisoned by carbon monoxide—the worst disaster happened at the Pueblo Mine on March 21, 1917.
At 11:27 a.m. of that day the west face of the mine caved in and nine men were buried beneath the rubble.
At first mine officials hoped for the best.
“By those who understand the workings at the mine, it is believed the men are behind the cave-in, in which event they are perfectly safe until they can be reached with the drift that is now driving through the solid rock,” reported the Weekly Star on March 21, 1917.
“This drift will have to be 70 feet long and to date those at work have made the unprecedented speed of one foot per hour.”
For days rescuers kept a feverish pace trying to reach the trapped miners. The rescue party hardly paused to eat, sleep or rest, according to the Star.
Until finally, after drilling 81 feet, they found three of the trapped men—Harry Graham, Thomas Davis and Nick Radovich.
The three men, who had been entombed beneath the rubble for 86 hours, were unharmed. They were taken to the Whitehorse hospital and released after a few days of observation.
Meanwhile, rescuers continued boring through the rubble looking for more of the missing men, but found nothing but disappointment.
On March 29 all rescue efforts were abandoned at the mine.
Engineers had examined the site and found that there was imminent danger of a cave-in in the main shaft.
In fact the danger was so great that the miners left some of their equipment, including a diamond drill, behind in the tunnels.
The Royal North-West Mounted Police began an investigation into the disaster. After interviewing 20 miners who had worked at Pueblo at different times, they found that water running across the rock weakened the walls of the shaft to the point where it caved in.
After the accident the Pueblo Mine was closed and the bodies of the six men were never recovered.
Today there is a plaque on Fish Lake Road commemorating the six miners—T.M. McFadden, Bob Collins, Harry Graham, Thomas Davis, Andrew Beecher and B. Levich—lost in the disaster.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.