whitehorses town photographer

Ephrim J. Hamacher came to the Yukon to photograph the excitement and madness on the creeks during the Klondike Gold Rush, but he never made it to…

Ephrim J. Hamacher came to the Yukon to photograph the excitement and madness on the creeks during the Klondike Gold Rush, but he never made it to Dawson City in 1898.

Despite the fact that his journey was cut short, Hamacher’s story is not a tragic one.

Hamacher was born in Kitchener, Ontario, in 1857, and moved to Washington state as a young man. There, he learned the photographer’s trade.

He ended up settling in Bennett in 1898 where he took over the work of Eric Hegg, who carried on to the Klondike to become one of the most famous gold-rush photographers.

When Bennett became a ghost town two years later, Hamacher intended to move on to the Klondike but his equipment was delayed.

So he ended up settling in Whitehorse in 1900, and began building quite a name in the town of about 400.

He was well known to the residents; he even earned a mention in the diary of local businesswoman Anna Puckett.

“Today was Mr. Hamacher’s ‘Camera Picnic’ and it was a real success,” Puckett wrote on July 25, 1907. “All of us, clutching our cameras and our lunches, boarded the train and rode out to Miles Canyon.

“Once there we climbed and explored and took pictures and posed and ate lunch and finally, sunburnt and more than a little grubby, caught the afternoon train back.

“I imagine Mr. Hamacher will do very well out of it. He and Archie (Puckett’s son) are thick as thieves these days. I must say he — Hamacher — is a remarkably fine photographer and he’s teaching Archie a lot.”

Hamacher ran in many circles. In addition to being a photographer he also played the flute in the Whitehorse town band; he was a “crack shot” at duck hunting; he ran a general merchandise store and he mined a claim on Ruby and Sheep creeks with his associate, Jerry Doody (who was also a well-known photographer and artist of the time).

Hamacher’s photographic studio had a resident cat, which he used in advertisements that read: “Look pleasant when you go to Hamacher’s Picture Gallery.”

He was soon dubbed the “town photographer” and would have his name mentioned in local news briefs often. One such mention, on June 20, 1924 promised locals quite an adventure if they were interested in meeting at his store at midnight.

“E.J. Hamacker (sic) is arranging to take a photo of the town at midnight on Saturday,” reported the local newspaper. “The photo will be taken from across the river and any one wishing to go will be taken along if they are at Mr. Hamacker’s store promptly at midnight.”

Hamacher took photographs of landscapes and documented life in Whitehorse.

In 1906, when the SS Columbian was lost after a crewmember accidentally fired a gun into a load of explosives, Hamacher was there and he “obtained some excellent views of the wreck of the steamer.”

He lugged his camera and glass-plate negatives up and down the Yukon River.

Through his work he captured images of Yukon’s history, but he specialized in portraits.

He loved to shoot his subjects in fanciful costumes and, according to one source, would cut the price of shooting a portrait in half if his subject donned a costume.

“As a professional photographer, E.J. is known far and wide,” says the Anglican Church records. “A gentleman of the old school, E.J. was noted for his courteousness and affability in all circles.”

Hamacher died in Whitehorse in 1934, and was buried in the Pioneer graveyard.

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 lchalykoff@macbridemuseum.com.

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