In the winter of 1904-1905, eight Dawson City men walked, biked, sleighed, rode two boats and finally a transcontinental railway to challenge the Ottawa Silver Seven for the Stanley Cup.
The Dawson City Nuggets were the latest Canadian team to gun for the 12 year-old trophy, still just a modest piece of silverware created with the intent of uniting the nation.
“Dawson was the latest and the most outlandish,” said Keith Halliday, who wrote a fictional account of the Canadian epic published in May.
Game On Yukon! Mystery of the Dawson City Nuggets and the 1905 Stanley Cup, is his fourth piece of historical fiction in the Aurore Series.
It follows the Nuggets on their 6,436-kilometre trek for the Cup, a journey that still holds the record for longest hockey road trip ever.
Dawson wasn’t any closer to the rest of the country when the Nuggets left town on December 18, 1904. But it was one of Canada’s economic and social pillars after the 1898 gold rush.
The other words, the Nuggets had cachet in the young northern nation.
“The people in the book all picture Canada as a northern country,” said Halliday. “We’re headed north, we’re developing north, that’s the direction of the future.”
“There was extensive coverage in all the Canadian papers and in Seattle,” he said. “It was the idea of the Yukon hockey players coming to challenge the big city for the Stanley Cup.”
Everything about Canada was young back then.
The Nuggets took the Canadian Pacific Railway across the country, a route that had only been around 20 years.
They arrived in Ottawa on January 12 1905—a former logging town that had only been the nation’s capital for 38 years.
The teams were starkly different, but in a way represented two sides of the Canadian life—the city and the outpost.
The Nuggets were mostly hardened creek panners, but guys like Norman Watt were government bureaucrats.
“(Watt) had just come back from his day job regularizing the filing system used by different government officials in Dawson,” said Halliday.
Some of the Silver Seven were Ottawa Valley farm boys. But there was also the famed One-Eyed Frank McGee, the nephew of Father of Confederation D’Arcy McGee, and the son of the clerk of the privy council, the highest public servant job in the land.
“He was really part of that Ottawa Anglo-Scottish elite,” said Halliday.
But he could also play hockey.
After a request for a few days rest was denied, the Dawson City boys were routed 9-2 and 23-2.
McGee scored eight goals in less than nine minutes in the latter game.
Watt got a 15-minute penalty for knocking an Ottawa player unconscious.
Despite the loss, the Nuggets kept travelling to challenge other cities, winning some games and losing others.
In a world still enamoured by the risk and romance of the gold rush, newspaper ads hailed the arrival of the “Klondikers.”
They were building the mythology of the Yukon, stories that burrowed easily into the larger Canadian story.
“There are a few themes in Yukon writing and you can see them in London and Service as well,” said Halliday. “Which is that this is a big place with some outsized challenges but people get a chance to reinvent themselves here.”
Even the young characters in Game On Yukon are liberated from normal expectations.
“These kids are not constrained by being expected to be kids,” he said. “They just have to solve the problem and catch the bad guy. This is part of Yukon stories.”
The mystery book is written as the diary of a boy who travels with the Nuggets to Ottawa.
The toughest part of writing for children is getting into their heads, said Halliday.
He listened to the way his four children spoke, but also ran several proof copies through a focus group of 10- to 12-year-olds.
“They always flagged when the story lagged and got a bit dull,” he said. “They would say, a kid wouldn’t say this, or this is how a kid would do it.”
They would also question the adult characters’ thinking.
“‘Why don’t they take a boat?’ they would ask,” said Halliday. “That clued me into the fact that there’s a bit more history and background to be explained here.”
But Halliday faced an extra hurdle in trying to write in century-old Canadians lingo.
“The challenge for the historical author is to pull out all the modern words so there’s no anachronisms,” he said.
In Halliday’s last book in the Aurore series, the word tourist had to be dropped because the term hadn’t been invented yet.
“Words like gosh and yahoo—we had to be really careful at getting the right words for the time,” he said.
The Dawson City News was the best way to get an ear for turn of the century Yukoner-speak, he said.
When it came to animating his books with anecdotes, Halliday received extensive help from the MacBride Museum.
But his own childhood provided some of the most vivid examples.
“I grew up with my grandmother ripping yarns about the old days,” said Halliday.
Hiking the Chilkoot Pass some years ago with his family, his daughter challenged him to write down the decades-old tale he was telling.
“She might have been trying to get me to shut up,” he said.
Halliday took up the “Forrest Gump principle” by taking a basic historical event and then layering fictional characters and dialogue into the weave.
The story of his grandmother’s arrival to the Yukon became the first Aurore book.
“Her father died in Montreal and there were all very poor,” he said. “They had this uncle that kept writing to say he was King of the Klondike and that he had struck it rich.”
He even called himself Mayor of Kirkland Creek.
“Kirkland Creek had one cabin and (the uncle) was crazy,” said Halliday.
Halliday’s great-grandfather Isaac Taylor and great-great uncle Will Drury came to Whitehorse in 1898 and began the Taylor Drury’s Merchants trading post chain all over the territory.
Halliday’s roots go deep here, but he’s spent a large part of his life Outside and beyond.
Halliday, who is 42, worked in the Canadian diplomatic service in Brussels.
He was tasked with keeping the Europeans from banning or putting tariffs on the Canadian fur trade.
He then worked as a consultant at a global strategy firm in Toronto.
But the Yukon called him back.
“I was sick with cancer a few years ago and I needed to take a break,” he said.
He now has time to work as a management consultant and write books.
It’s his own gift to the territory’s heritage in a long line of Yukon storytellers.
“I think it’s a magical place to live,” he said.
Contact James Munson at