The plaque commemorating the Whitehorse fallen from World War I was originally mounted on a monument in front of the first public library, at the corner of Elliott Street and second Avenue. It was then moved to the federal building on Main Street. It  is now located in front of Whitehorse City Hall, along with a second plaque memorializing the fallen from World War II. (Michael Gates/Yukon News)

History Hunter: Yukon war memorials remind us of the fallen

The cancellation of the Remembrance Day service at the Canada Games Centre due to the declaration of a COVID state of emergency, was a disappointment to many this year. In recent times, close to a thousand people were attending each ceremony. Over the last century, people have strived to remember those who gave their lives in order to protect the freedoms that we hold so dear.

Commemoration in the Yukon started before the end of the First World War. In October of 1918 (the Armistice was not declared until November 11th), a shrine was installed on the wall at the Dawson City post office. It came in the form of a triptych, made from material removed from the famous old battleship Britannia. Listed on the side and central panels of the triptych were the names of hundreds of Yukon men who had signed up. Those who had died in the service of their country were denoted with a cross printed in the margin beside their names. This triptych has been displayed in the lobby of the Dawson City Museum for many years.

Aware that the names of several southern Yukoners had been omitted from this honour roll in Dawson, the Whitehorse branch of the IODE took action. They had a temporary wooden cross prepared as a tribute to those who had “made the supreme sacrifice.” The cross was placed on a wooden plinth in the Pioneer cemetery on December 8, 1918. The memorial, which now includes a tribute to the fallen of World War II, was still there, but badly weathered and was detached from its plinth when I saw it in 2017.

This triptych was mounted in the old Dawson post office in October of 1918. Containing the names of several hundred volunteers, the fallen soldiers had a cross beside their names. It was later moved to the lobby of the Dawson Museum, where this photo was taken. (Michael Gates/Yukon News)

Discovery Day in Dawson, 1919, had sombre overtones. The Eagles Lodge Aerie No. 50 held a memorial service to commemorate six brethren who had lost their lives in the service of their country. A large gathering of lodge members witnessed the unveiling of a cement monument honouring the service of these men. That memorial can be seen today in the Dawson City public cemetery, overlooking the Klondike Valley.

On June 9, 1920, a memorial service was held in front of the Whitehorse Public Library, where a monument, commemorating the fallen of the Great War was unveiled. Great War veterans, followed by members of the IODE, marched to the site at Second Avenue and Elliott Street, where they were joined by the Girl Guides, school children, the Masons and the Fraternal Order of Moose. Lieutenant Frank Berton read out the roll of 100 names. “When the names of 15 dead heroes were called no reply came except a tap on the muffled drum.”

After the old Whitehorse library burned down during the Second World War, the cenotaph stood in the centre of a large vacant lot. In 1954, a new memorial, bearing the 1914-1918 plaque, was unveiled October 24, 1954, in front of the newly constructed federal building, on Main Street. The bronze plaque was subsequently moved again and is now displayed beside a second monument, dedicated to the Fallen of World War II, in front of Whitehorse City Hall.

Gold Commissioner George Mackenzie unveiled a bronze tablet in the Dawson City public school at 2:00 o’clock on November 11, 1920. Upon it were engraved the names of eight students from Dawson schools who were killed during the Great War: Stuart Ross Cuthbert, Donald Chester Davis, Francis E. Gane, Oswald Grant, Harry McLennan, Charles Thomas O’Brien, George Vail Raymond, and Frank C. Slavin.

Mackenzie, who had been the first principal of the school, mentioned several other fallen Dawson students whose names had been overlooked. They were: Ross Hartman, Alex McDonald, Thomas Taylor, and two sons of Sergeant Major Bowdridge of the Royal Northwest Mounted Police. The tablet is presumed to have been destroyed when the public school, which had been constructed in 1901, burned to the ground 56 years later.

The cenotaph in Dawson City was unveiled in September, 1924. Mounted on the front of it was a bronze plaque commemorating fallen Yukon Soldiers from World War I. A second plaque, seen here on the side of the plinth, was added after World War II. (Michael Gates/Yukon News)

On September 17, 1921, another plaque was unveiled in the flag-draped lobby of the Canadian Bank of Commerce in Dawson. This plaque honoured three former employees who enlisted in the war effort: John I. Miller, Frank H. Thompson, and Lieutenant Albert Arthur Browne (Browne was killed on April 5, 1918). The present location of this plaque is not known.

In August of 1922, during his visit to the territory, Governor-General Byng presented the regimental colours of the 2nd Canadian Motor Machine Gun Brigade to Gold Commissioner Mackenzie at Minto Park. The brigade was composed of a large contingent of Yukon volunteers. The colours (a regimental flag, and a Union Jack) were carried with great ceremony to the administration building, where they were placed beside the Speaker’s chair in the council chamber.

These treasured artifacts remained in the council chamber until August 15, 1948, when they were transferred, again in a solemn procession, to St. Paul’s Anglican Church. You can see them on display there today, along with framed documents listing the members of the congregation who served in the Great War.

In 1923, the Great War Veterans’ Association in Dawson raised $2,700 by public subscription for a memorial to honour the Yukon’s war dead. It was placed In the centre of the lawn adjacent to the north end of the administration building., where it still stands today. Consisting of a granite obelisk mounted on a granite base, that stood seven metres high, the memorial was unveiled on a cool windy day in September of 1924. Attached to the base is a bronze plaque with the names of 71 dead Yukon men who had served their country during the Great War, and a second honouring the Dawson fallen from World War II.

This triptych was mounted in the old Dawson post office in October of 1918. Containing the names of several hundred volunteers, the fallen soldiers had a cross beside their names. It was later moved to the lobby of the Dawson Museum, where this photo was taken. (Michael Gates/Yukon News)

Finally, there is a large stained glass window in the Canadian Memorial Chapel (United Church of Canada) dedicated to the Yukon’s fallen soldiers. The first service in the newly constructed chapel, located at 1806 W. 15th Avenue, in Vancouver, took place on November 11, 1928.

Each window in the chapel has a religious motif above the provincial (or territorial) coat of arms, flanked by window panes on each side that depicted some events significant to the history of that jurisdiction.

The IODE in the Yukon set itself the task of raising funds in the territory for the window representing the Yukon. The money came in from all quarters by private donation, and the window was dedicated at a ceremony held in the new chapel on the evening of Sunday, June 23, 1929. As noted in a contemporary pamphlet about the memorial, “…it is still a dramatic and beautiful memorial to the fallen of World War I that is not well known to Yukoners today.”

We may have missed the traditional Remembrance Day this year, but these windows, plaques and monuments are a constant reminder of the sacrifices made by past generations. You don’t have to wait until November 11th to see them.

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

History Hunter