An old scrapbook that contains snapshots, post cards and other souvenirs of a trip to the Yukon and Alaska between 1935 and 1937 was gifted to historian Michael Gates. (Michael Gates/Yukon News)

History Hunter: Old scrapbook tells story of Yukon tourism in the early days

It was quite the Christmas gift

My wife Kathy is always surprising me with unusual Christmas gifts. This year it was a scrapbook from a trip taken through the Yukon and Alaska nearly a century ago.

The scrapbook consists of 21 pages with as many as a dozen images affixed to each page (six per side). The 226 images appear to be snapshots intermingled with post cards that would have been purchased along the way. Other pieces of paper ephemera are also glued onto some of the pages, including three tourist maps, produced by various transportation companies, illustrating commercial travel routes through the Yukon and Alaska. One of these maps was published by the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway.

Tourism goes back more than 125 years in Yukon history, if you include the trips taken by “gentleman travelers” like Warburton Pike, who visited the Yukon before the gold rush. The first real tourists, though, were probably two well-to-do American women Mary Hitchcock and Edith Van Buren.

Hitchcock and Van Buren arrived in Dawson City, at the height of the gold rush in 1898, with a small entourage, and bringing with them such necessities as a circus tent (for roughing it), a portable bowling alley, and even an “Animatoscope,” a new-fangled device that projected moving images.

In the years following the gold rush, the community of Dawson City made efforts to encourage tourist traffic to the Yukon. For decades, seasonal tourism represented a small but steady source of revenue for the Yukon economy.

During the teens and twenties, tourists were encouraged to travel into Alaska to Circle City, a few hundred kilometres below Dawson, where they could witness the midnight sun, these travelers were called “sunners,” and there are numerous references to them passing through Dawson in the local newspaper.

Not long after Robert Service’s departure from Dawson in 1912, his cabin on Eighth Avenue became an iconic attraction to curious visitors, and deserved mention in the accounts of visiting travel writers, like Frank Carpenter and Charlotte Cameron. By the 1930s, the community was sponsoring tourist dances at the Eagle Hall (formerly the Arctic Brotherhood Hall, and known today as Diamond Tooth Gertie’s gambling hall).

In 1938, a local group of young people opened the old Auditorium Theatre (now known as the Palace Grand), renaming it the Nugget Dance Hall. They formed an orchestra and performed for dances in the theatre. Boxing and wrestling matches were also held in the Nugget during this period, but with the onset of the Second World War, that local entertainment came to an end.

Let’s return to this tourist scrapbook. Who assembled the pictures and ephemera into the scrapbook, and when was the trip taken through the north? Since it wasn’t stated (there might have been something on the missing album cover), I had to use my powers of deduction.

The photographs pasted onto the pages are predominantly of scenery along a route that follows the Pacific coast to Wrangell, Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway, over the White Pass railroad, with a side trip to Atlin along the way. The photos illustrate Whitehorse, the Yukon River to Dawson, then continue into Alaska to Fairbanks. From there, the photos portray a trip to Anchorage, then along the coast to Valdez and Cordova, and ending in Seattle.

Since the snapshots portray only two individuals, matronly women named Blanche and Margaret (at Skagway), and no other images of groups of travelers, I assume that the photographer was a middle-aged woman travelling alone, perhaps a widow or a school teacher on summer break. Another image, of a woman standing in a scenic municipal park in Cordova, has no caption identifying who she was, suggesting that it might be the creator of the album, who, of course, would not need to identify herself.

The pages progress in an orderly fashion along the route described above, and contain some fascinating images. At Carcross, there is a photographic post card of Patsy Henderson, garbed in buckskin, greeting tourists on the train from Skagway.

In Whitehorse, there is a photograph of the substantial log barracks of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (a feature mentioned in White Pass tourist pamphlets), Sam McGee’s cabin (immortalized by Robert W. Service), and the White Horse Rapids. There are several snapshots of the rapids. Since three dollars would have paid for an automobile ride to Miles Canyon, I suspect that this lady walked to the rapids, which are close to downtown Whitehorse, on her own. There are photos of the SS Klondike, and numerous snapshots of scenery along the Yukon River.

By the 1930s, Dawson was a fading image of its past glory, filled with decaying buildings as a reminder of the town’s colourful origins decades before.

There are photos in this album of scenes along the Dawson waterfront, including the Royal Alexandra Hotel, a row of decaying derelict Front Street buildings, the Yukon River ferry and St. Mary’s hospital. Pictures taken from a lookout beside the slide behind Dawson suggest further foot excursions. There are photographs taken up Bonanza Creek (the White Pass brochures states that for $2.50, it was possible to take an automobile ride as far as Bear Creek in the Klondike River Valley).

There is a photograph of Robert Service Cabin. As early as 1916, the ladies of the I.O.D.E. were maintaining the cabin for tourists to visit; and putting on special events there. They continued to pay the property taxes for the cabin until the late 1940s.

Other snapshots illustrate scenes along the Yukon River below Dawson City, Fairbanks and coastal communities beyond Anchorage.

When was this excursion through the Yukon and Alaska taken? One photo included in the album is of a modernistic looking ferry, the M.V. Kalakala, which was first placed into service in 1935 in the Seattle area. Other features depicted in photos in the album do not help to narrow down the date when the camera captured them, but close examination of a panorama photograph of Dawson, taken by the creator of the album from the Moosehide slide, clearly shows the Dawson Amateur Athletic Association building, or D.A.A.A.. Since this building burned down in late 1937, it is possible to narrow the window of when the photos in this album were taken to somewhere between 1935 and 1937.

The journey into the Yukon and Alaska, which would have taken several weeks, must have left a strong impression on the creator of the album, as much effort and attention were given to assembling the items pasted onto its pages. Hopefully, more sleuthing will reveal his or her identity.

Michael Gates is a Yukon historian and sometimes adventurer based in Whitehorse. His book, From the Klondike to Berlin, was shortlisted for a national book award. You can contact him at msgates@northwestel.net

History Hunter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Team Yukon skip Laura Eby, left, directs her team as Team Northern Ontario skip Krysta Burns looks on at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary on Feb. 22. (Jeff McIntosh/CP)
Team Yukon reports positive experience at Scotties

Team Yukon played their final game at the national championship in Calgary on Thursday afternoon

A sign indicating a drop-off area behind Selkirk Elementary school in Whitehorse on Feb. 25. (Haley Ritchie/Yukon News)
Parking lot proposal for Selkirk Elementary criticized

Parents and school council are raising concerns about green space and traffic woes

adsf
WYATT’S WORLD

Wyatt’s World for Feb. 26, 2021

Ken Anderson’s Sun and Moon model sculpture sits in the snow as he carves away at the real life sculpture behind Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre for the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous festival in Whitehorse on Feb. 21, 2018. Yukon Rendezvous weekend kicks off today with a series of outdoor, virtual and staged events. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Rendezvous snowpad, live music and fireworks this weekend

A round-up of events taking place for the 2021 Rendezvous weekend

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. The proposed Atlin Hydro Expansion project is moving closer to development with a number of milestones reached by the Tlingit Homeland Energy Limited Partnership and Yukon Energy over the last several months. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Atlin hydro project progresses

Officials reflect on milestones reached

Tom Ullyett, pictured, is the first Yukoner to receive the Louis St-Laurent Award of Excellence from the Canadian Bar Association for his work as a community builder and mentor in the territory. (Gabrielle Plonka/Yukon News)
Tom Ullyett wins lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Bar Association

Ullyett has worked in the Yukon’s justice ecosystem for 36 years as a public sector lawyer and mentor

The Blood Ties outreach van will now run seven nights a week, thanks to a boost in government funding. Logan Godin, coordinator, and Jesse Whelen, harm reduction counsellor, are seen here on May 12, 2020. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Blood Ties outreach van running seven nights a week with funding boost

The Yukon government is ramping up overdose response, considering safe supply plan

Ranj Pillai speaks to media about business relief programs in Whitehorse on April 1, 2020. The Yukon government announced Feb.25 that it will extend business support programs until September. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Government extends business relief programs to September, launches new loan

“It really gives folks some help with supporting their business with cash flow.”

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
A look at decisions made by Whitehorse City Council this week

Bylaw amendment Whitehorse city council is moving closer with changes to a… Continue reading

Susie Rogan is a veteran musher with 14 years of racing experience and Yukon Journey organizer. (Yukon Journey Facebook)
Yukon Journey mushers begin 255-mile race

Eleven mushers are participating in the race from Pelly Crossing to Whitehorse

Legislative assembly on the last day of the fall sitting in Whitehorse on Nov. 22, 2018. As the legislature prepares to return on March 4, the three parties are continuing to finalize candidates in the territory’s 19 ridings. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Nine new candidates confirmed in Yukon ridings

It has been a busy two weeks as the parties try to firm up candidates

David Malcolm, 40, has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm a police officer after an incident in Whitehorse on Feb. 18. (Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Man resists arrest, assaults officer

A Whitehorse man has been charged with assaulting and attempting to disarm… Continue reading

Yukon Energy in Whitehorse on Aug. 4, 2020. A site on Robert Service Way near the Alaska Highway has been selected as the future home of Yukon Energy’s energy storage project. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Site selected for Yukon Energy battery project

Planned to be in service by the end of 2022

Most Read