They work, they play, they protect and they love unconditionally. Throughout the history of the Yukon, dogs have done it all.
Dogs served as faithful companions for lonely prospectors living on the remote Klondike creeks where they may not see another human being for days.
For H.V. Sutherland, a man who had terrible luck looking for his fortune during the Klondike Gold Rush, a husky was his best friend during tough times.
As his supplies and finances dwindled after a freezing cold winter, Sutherland made his way to Dawson where he used the last of his currency to buy food. He left the dog in Dawson knowing that there would not be enough to sustain them both, Sutherland wrote his diary of 1899.
Days later the last of Sutherland’s food is stolen from his cabin leaving him to survive on candles and boiled moccasins. Through the miserable days that follow Sutherland writes: “at least the dog is cared for.”
The North West Mounted Police sent dog-sled patrols into remote regions of the territory to deliver the mail.
In 1902, Yukon dogs and B.S. Downing made headlines in the New York Times for running the mail nearly 1,300 kilometres from Dawson to Fort Gibbon, at the mouth of the Tanana River.
“His is the longest star route in the world, and it is one of the coldest trips known to man today, the thermometer often registering 60 degrees below zero,” wrote the Times on March 30. “But never yet has Mr. Downing failed to deliver the United States mail within the time limit, which is 30 days from Dawson to Fort Gibbon.”
Decades later, dogs became heroes of the silver screen as the stars of epic tales about the Yukon that were brought to the cinema. For writers, such as Jack London, dogs were a large part of the Yukon’s lore.
White Fang, the story of a wolf dog during the gold rush, was written by London in 1906 and adapted into a movie many times including in 1991 with Ethan Hawk.
Sign of the Wolf was another ripping yarn whose tagline was “Jack London’s power-packed story of a blonde spitfire and her dog, who crash into the Canadian Wilderness Ã‰ where men know how to fight and kill, but have to learn how to love!”
The film Call of the Klondike, released in 1951, featured a favourite actor of the time Chinook the Wonder Dog, who also appeared in other titles such as Yukon Vengeance, Yukon Gold and Trail of the Yukon.
The Yukon Quest International Sled Dog Race, which began in Whitehorse on February 14, was first held in 1984.
The trail follows the route that prospectors travelled to reach the Klondike during the 1898 Gold Rush and from there to the Alaskan interior for subsequent gold rushes in the early 1900s.
Currently, the MacBride Museum of Yukon History has an exhibition of historic photographs from the museum’s collection hanging in the Hougen Heritage Gallery at Arts Underground.
The exhibition, Man’s Best Friend: Mutts, Malamutes and Huskies in Yukon History, explores the exceptional role that canines have played in building the territory and befriending its people.
Along with the images already hanging in the gallery the museum invites you to bring in and hang a picture of your canine companion.
The show will be at Arts Underground until April 30, and then it will move to the MacBride Museum.
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.