Museum wants telegraph office recognized

And after surviving a fire that wiped out most of downtown Whitehorse in 1905, and avoiding developers through succeeding decades, this 110-year-old waterfront building is now being championed by heritage buffs, who want it preserved.

For a spruce-log building, the old telegraph office has aged well.

And after surviving a fire that wiped out most of downtown Whitehorse in 1905, and avoiding developers through succeeding decades, this 110-year-old waterfront building is now being championed by heritage buffs, who want it preserved.

For 58 years, it has been part of the MacBride Museum, which now wants it officially designated a heritage resource under city bylaws.

“I think it really needs to belong to that historical group to be able to maximize on it as a heritage resource for the benefit of visitors to the museum,” says Hank Moorlag, chair of the museum’s board of directors.

Built in anticipation of the completion of the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway, the one-and-a-half storey building on First Avenue was the city’s only connection to the outside world from 1900 until 1925. The telegraph operator slept next to the public office, receiving and sending messages to cities across the continent.

The structure’s logs are hewn flat on three sides and held together with wooden spikes and chinked with oakum, a fibre-and-tar mixture, which was once commonly used to caulk the timbers of ships.

It was built by Joseph Charles Tache, a civil engineer who worked on the telegraph line and was superintendant for the federal Department of Public Works.

Obtaining official protection would allow the museum to tap the city’s heritage fund to help maintain the building, says Moorlag, adding it’s not just a money issue.

The museum would like to open the building to the public. Currently it is simply used for storage.

Council will vote on the proposal next week.

It’s a no-brainer, says Coun. Dave Stockdale on Monday.

“I think it’s great to preserve some of those things and we’ve spent quite a bit of money – well, ourselves and the territorial government more than us – on the buildings on the riverfront,” he says. “Tens of thousands of dollars to renovate, which seems like a lot of money at the time, but when it’s done and it’s there as a tourist attraction, then it seems like it’s worth doing that kind of thing.”

If protected, the site would be No. 15 on the heritage resources list.

The museum did some structural work on the office to ensure safety in 2004, says Patricia Cunning, MacBride’s executive director.

If it doesn’t get the heritage designation, anything can be done to the building by any future owner, says Cunning, as she looks out her office window at the aged log structure.

You can still see where the batteries used to be on the wall, she says.

And, from inside, you look out on the Yukon River.

“Focused on where the community used to be focused.”

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at

roxannes@yukon-news.com