This column is second in a three-part series on the White Pass and Yukon Route company’s impact on the Yukon’s transportation history.
At first glance it doesn’t look like anything special — just a rusted green box sitting in the corner of the Museum’s courtyard.
In fact one visitor to the museum thought it looked more like a giant garbage bin than an important piece of Yukon’s history.
But in the 1950s this container was part of a revolution. It was a key piece of an integrated transportation system that started a new wave in transportation begun by the White Pass and Yukon Route Company.
The new system was cheaper, easier and delivered the goods in perfect condition.
A container could be loaded in the Yukon and transported all over the world without the need of being opened and reloaded.
“’Containerization’ is the big word in transportation these days,” read the White Pass Container System News in March 1969. “It’s bandied around in articles, TV commercials and transportation circles across Canada and the United States.”
Early containers measured 1.8 metres by 2.4 metres by 2.1 metres and held five tonnes of freight. The temperature could be controlled from 50 degrees Celsius to -20 degrees and the container could be locked and sealed for the entire journey.
The first containers used for transportation wouldn’t meet today’s standards.
“In fact the White Pass test container — the first one built — had ‘bugs,’” according to the White Pass Container System News.
Though it delivered its first shipment of building paper rolls to the Yukon in perfect condition the doors on the container had jammed shut and would not open.
They finally had to be opened with a cutting torch in front of a group of White Pass officials and curious onlookers.
The company acquired the first container ship — the Clifford J. Rogers — in 1955.
It was the first containerized freighter, designed to carry 200 containers in its hold and connected to the ship’s electrical system to maintain the required temperatures.
The containers were loaded at the shipper’s warehouse, locked, sealed and arrived at their respective destinations in the Yukon via integrated ship, train and truck, the contents intact.
The ship’s first trip carried containers between Vancouver, British Columbia, and Skagway, Alaska, on November 26, 1955.
In Skagway the containers were loaded onto railroad cars and transported into the Yukon.
“The new ship and containers, coupled with the upgraded and dieselized railroad and truck fleet made the Yukon the home of the first integrated container system in the world,” according to the White Pass Container System News.
Over the years the system and the containers grew and improved.
In 1965, the Clifford J. Rogers was replaced with the MV Frank H. Brown, one of the world’s most modern freighters.
By 1969, the modern White Pass 1,200-cubic foot sealed containers came in four types — heater, freezer, vented and dry.
“Containers and heavy deck loads of northbound freight were easily exchanged at Skagway for a southbound containerized cargo of copper, asbestos and silver-lead-zinc concentrate, when mining in the Yukon was at its peak of production,” according to a CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.
By 1982, with mining activity in the territory at an all-time low, the White Pass shut down its railway.
Container shipping by rail stopped completely but the impact of the White Pass Company’s innovation is still felt around the world.
Today, almost every manufactured product spends some time travelling in a container.
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.