As mentioned before, this gold-rush-era hotel had many names through the years.
The original, of course, was the Melbourne Hotel. Then the Principal Hotel. And, finally, the Bonanza Hotel.
Evidently, the building burned down in the early spring of 1976.
Wolf Riedl, of Haines Junction, submitted that information and photograph of the hotel burning, which was very helpful. Now I have received an interesting letter that talks about some history surrounding the Melbourne Hotel.
The letter came from Wes Woodford of Oak Creek, Colorado, USA.
His letter follows:
First, a little background as to how I found out about the early history of the Melbourne Hotel. My grandfather went to Valdez in April, 1898 to strike it rich, but all he came home with were a lot of great memories. I must have inherited that interest in the gold rush as I have been reading about it most of my life. While looking through old books in an antique store in George Town, Colorado, that specialized in mining paraphernalia, I found a little book published in 1906 by Luella Day. The book’s title was The Tragedy of the Klondike, which of course caught my attention, and I bought it.
Luella Day, as it turns out, is definitely a top candidate for your colorful five per cent. She was a medical doctor with a practice in Chicago, Illinois, in 1898 when she decided to join the gold rush and head for the Klondike. She went over Chilkoot Pass in April of that year and ended up in Dawson, where she immediately became an active participant in the local community. She also invested in some gold properties that turned out to be successful. She met a local businessman by the name of Ed MacConnell, who had built the Melbourne Hotel. “I was offered a position by Mr. MacConnell. He had just completed building the Melbourne Hotel, a log building three stories high, containing 27 rooms: a huge caravansary for that country and which had cost him $36,000.”
She continued to work for MacConnell and also acted as secretary for several of the miners. “At the time, my mines were yielding big returns and in a short time I bought the Melbourne Hotel from Mr. MacConnell, paying him $32,000 for the property.”
She doesn’t mention in the book that she also married Mr. MacConnell. After buying the hotel her life takes a drastic turn as the manager of the Canadian Bank of Commerce was determined to buy the hotel and she was just as determined to not sell. This sets her on a path which eventually resulted in several attempts on her life and forces her to leave Dawson under cover of darkness in 1900. The remainder of the book describes various attempts made to intimidate her and details the rampant corruption in Dawson at that time and names the most prominent actors.
The book also describes what life was like in Dawson during the early days of the rush. I think you would find it fascinating reading.
Unfortunately the book is quite rare and is getting to be fairly expensive. However, the book has recently been made available again in paperback because it is considered to be culturally important. It can be purchased online from Amazon.com for about $20.
Luella ended up in St. Augustine, Florida, where she acquired the property that she turned into a world-famous tourist attraction called the Fountain of Youth, which is still operating today. She wasn’t in St. Augustine long before she became well known for her high-spirited lifestyle. She was also known as Diamond Lil after she had a diamond inserted in her front teeth. She lived there until 1927 when she died in an automobile accident. You can find her on the internet if you are interested in learning more about her life.
I hope you find this information useful and if there is anything else that I can do please let me know. I was in Whitehorse a few years ago to float the Teslin and Yukon rivers with Kanoe People Outfitters and hope to return again someday. The spell of the Yukon is definitely working on me.
Anyone with information about this subject, please write Jim Robb: The Colourful Five Per Cent Scrapbook—Can You Identify? c/o the Yukon News, 211 Wood Street, Whitehorse, Yukon, Y1A 2E4, or e-mail through the News website, www.yukon-news.com.