Pioneering mayor dies at 91

In 1943, Ed Jacobs made history simply by arriving in Whitehorse. He was the first civilian to drive the Alaska Highway.

In 1943, Ed Jacobs made history simply by arriving in Whitehorse.

He was the first civilian to drive the Alaska Highway. He was hauling airplane parts.

Jacobs’ brother worked for Canadian Airlines. One of its planes lost an engine in Whitehorse. The Jacobs brothers came to replace it.

Jacobs never left.

“He fell in love with the wilderness and saw tons of opportunity,” said grandson Paul Jacobs on Monday.

“The air was better, he was breathing better.”

The entrepreneur opened a machine/welding shop in town.

Even when he was in his 80s, Jacobs was still working in his shop.

“He had an amazing work ethic,” said Paul.

“He’d never ask anyone to do something he wouldn’t do himself.

“And if someone was taking too long, he’d tell them to get out of the way and do it himself.

“In his 80s he was stronger and faster than guys who were 25,” said Paul, remembering his aged grandfather working on huge crusher wheels.

“He’d get right into it and put his back in there.”

Jacobs was innovative, said Paul.

“He was always willing to try new things.”

In his early teens, Jacobs and his buddies built a snow machine with an airplane engine.

And, during the Second World War, he started tinkering with repairs to aluminum aircraft engine cylinders, which frequently broke.

“It was some of the first aluminum repair ever done,” said Paul.

To save his welding business money on oxygen and acetylene, Jacobs bought an oxygen plant.

He hauled it North from Phoenix, Arizona, in an old tractor-trailer.

That truck is still around, said Paul.

Jacobs set the plant up behind his service station, said Paul.

But he wasn’t sure he’d set it up properly and was nervous about launching the service.

About six months later, the hospital’s oxygen shipment missed the barge to Skagway.

It would be another week and a half until the oxygen arrived.

The hospital was running low.

Officials asked Jacobs for help, and his business has been supplying the hospital ever since, said Paul.

He soon expanded that business to Inuvik.

Jacobs Industries, in Whitehorse, still supplies the hospital, nursing stations, labs and welding businesses.

Paul now works at the business, which his father, Bob Jacobs, took over in 2004.

“I still see the shop as my grandfather’s,” he said.

“When people ask what I do, I say I work for my grandfather.”

Jacobs could see things in a way most people couldn’t, said his son Bob.

“He thought outside the box,” he added, citing the DC-3 aircraft on display in front of Whitehorse Airport.

Naysayers argued the plane couldn’t be mounted on a single pedestal. Side winds would send it flying, they warned.

If it’s always pointing into the wind that won’t happen, countered Jacobs, who built the revolving pedestal the plane still sits on.

He was inventive, said Bob.

“And he built countless tools to do jobs because there weren’t any, at least not up here.”

Jacobs and his son Bob opened a silver mine in the late 1970s in Casino. And when it went under, they moved over the mountain and started digging for gold.

To help with the mining, Jacobs bought a huge river barge that still runs daily, hauling loads from Sherwood Copper.

“(Jacob’s) primary character trait was his work ethic,” said Bob, who only saw his dad after work and on Sundays.

“He worked nine hours a day, six days a week,” he said.

But Jacobs also loved the outdoors, and when he had time he would take his family camping and boating.

“He built the first two roads into Lake Laberge,” said Bob, remembering when his dad took his small Caterpillar into Deep Creek.

The Cat was too small to pull out trees.

“So if there was a big tree we had to go around it,” he said.

“It was a pretty twisty road.”

Deciding Jackfish Bay was a better harbour, Jacobs got a bigger Cat and made another road.

He also used this Cat to put in a road to Haeckel ski hill, clear the runs and keep the road open in the winter. He even put in a rope tow.

Jacobs served as alderman for Whitehorse and was mayor from 1962 to 1965.

In 2001, he was awarded Transportation Person of the Year and was inducted into the Yukon Transportation Hall of Fame.

“He wasn’t trying to make history,” said Bob, remembering his Dad’s achievements.

“That just came as a result.”

Jacobs died on June 10th, at the age of 91.

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