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History Hunter: The Yukon exposition that never was

My wife Kathy and I have assembled a small assortment of Yukon-related postcards. They are interesting documents, often containing valuable historical information through the images, the postage stamps, and the messages to and from the Yukon, inscribed upon them. I especially like the images because many of them illustrate interesting stories.
Postcards come in many forms, shapes and sizes. Collector Dave Bouquot is shown here with one of the giant postcards from his collection. (Michael Gates/Yukon News)

My wife Kathy and I have assembled a small assortment of Yukon-related postcards. They are interesting documents, often containing valuable historical information through the images, the postage stamps, and the messages to and from the Yukon, inscribed upon them. I especially like the images because many of them illustrate interesting stories.

For those who are avid postcard collectors, there is an excellent reference book, titled “A History and Directory of Yukon Postcards 1897-1942,” written and published by Ken Elder, of Ottawa. It contains histories of several of the postcard vendors in the Yukon over the time period covered by his book, as well as information on printers and publishers.

Over 1,200 cards are listed, many of them accompanied by colour illustrations. I was contacted recently by a local collector of postcards, Dave Bouquot, whose knowledge on the topic of Yukon postcards is far superior to mine. He has been collecting them for 45 years. He has traveled to postcard fairs, and has contacts everywhere. Dave was kind enough to bring some of his collection (he has thousands of cards) to show me.

The cancellation on this post card from May of 1912 sparked the question: Whatever happened to the Yukon Exposition? (Courtesy/Dave Bouquot)

He has postcards that date back to the gold rush. Some are black and white, some are in colour. He has some that are oversized, approaching the dimensions of regular printer paper. Some have been custom-made on tanned leather. Messages and inscriptions are burned into the surface of the leather. This was a popular form of handicraft at the beginning of the 20th century known as pyrographic art, and I was surprised to see several examples in his collection. Some had been hand-painted, while one had a photograph mounted onto the front.

We spent a little time looking up a young (American-born) Dawson man named Clare Faulkner who had created postcards from photographs that he had taken himself. We checked directories, census and other records and learned that he had, before the war, run a business in Dawson with a partner. He served in the US army during the First World War, and never returned to Dawson, so far as I know.

The most intriguing of the postcards that Dave pointed out to me was one with an unusual cancellation over the stamp. It said: “Yukon Exposition AUG 14/17 1912.” Dave said he tried to find information about this, but with limited success. There was no exposition in Dawson that year.

Veterans of the Klondike gold rush were filled with eternal optimism. This advertisement announced the Yukon Exposition before the funding was secured for the event. The exposition was cancelled when the territorial council refused financial support. (Dawson Daily News April 21, 1912)

I did some digging around, and came up with information about the proposed event. By March 7, an invitation had been received by Princess Patricia and the Duke and Duchess of Connaught, to attend, or even open the Yukon exposition. An article in the Dawson Daily News, dated April 18, 1912 was the first mention of this exposition-that-never-was at a meeting of trustees of the now-defunct Arctic Brotherhood. The affair was to last four days, culminating on the 16th anniversary of the “official” date of discovery of the Klondike, Aug. 17, 1896. A committee was appointed that included several Dawson businessmen, one of whom was Charles Settlemier, editor of the Dawson Daily News from 1909 to 1924. The newspaper was always a big booster of Dawson business.

The committee put out a call for people all over the Yukon to send in samples of their products. Mineral specimens from creeks all over the Yukon and Alaska, garden produce, furs, trophy heads, “Indian curios, and anything of an interesting nature” were solicited. Chambers of Commerce in Seattle and San Francisco requested more information.

The White Pass and Yukon Route committed to shipping such specimens to Dawson for free, including one large copper nugget weighing more than a ton. Fares for people traveling to and from the exposition were slashed, to encourage visitors to attend. Prominent advertisements were placed in the Dawson Daily News.

The committee contacted Glenn Curtiss, the noted aviator, about featuring one of his airplanes at the exposition. Yes, was the response, for a guarantee of $3,000. The committee, convinced that this attraction was the centerpiece that would make the exposition a success, petitioned the territorial council, which was in session in early June, for financial support. They asked for $2,000. The News editorialized that the territorial council should support the request. The editorial noted that Fairbanks was planning an exposition for the year 1917. “If Dawson fails to go through,” it said, “and Fairbanks makes a success, what will be Dawson’s reputation in comparison? It is up to Dawson to make good.”

The exposition committee met with the territorial council on June 8. Councillors Tabor and Gillis both questioned the value of the exposition, while Councillor Phelps, from Whitehorse, thought it was a good idea. The petitioners argued that the event would place Dawson in the public awareness outside as a “live and progressive region.” The council did not agree, and the petition for funds was turned down. The airplane visit was cancelled, and it was another decade before the first flying machines arrived in the Yukon. In any case, what would have been a fascinating novelty to Yukoners, would not have been as novel to visitors who had come from the outside, where aviation was less exotic.

It was a sure sign that the gold rush capital was on the decline that by 1912, the planning committee was not able to raise sufficient funds to secure a commitment from the Curtiss organization to bring one of their aircraft north. By the end of July, the word was out that the event had been cancelled. All was not lost, however. On June 13, a bill in the territorial council to make Discovery Day a territorial holiday received final assent, and the city prepared for a grand celebration, sans airplane and exhibits. That was the beginning of a tradition that continues to the present day.

It is worthy of note, that five weeks after Dawson held Discovery Day, Skagway held its first agricultural exposition, inspired, perhaps, by Dawson’s efforts earlier in the year. Flowers and vegetables were put on display, with Fred Webber and W.C. Blanchard each submitting more than 20 specimens of flowers grown in their own gardens. There were specimens of 10-kilogram heads of lettuce, two-kilogram potatoes, a five-kilogram turnip, as well as massive mushrooms and celery. Exhibits of dairy and poultry featured ducks, turkeys, chickens and geese. To add insult to Dawson’s discontent, there were specimens of ore from the Atlas mine in Whitehorse.

And that is the story behind the mysterious Yukon exposition of 1912. Many thanks to Dave Bouquot for inspiring this article!

Michael Gates is Yukon’s first Story Laureate. He is the author of six books of Yukon history. His latest, “Dublin Gulch: A History of the Eagle Gold Mine,” received the Axiom Business Book Award silver medal for corporate history. You can contact him at