Travails of Yukon travel

First train on the White Pass and Yukon Railway, February, 1899. Photo by Eric A. Hogg, Washington University Library, Wikimedia Commons.


Travel to Whitehorse and the goldfields of the Yukon was often an epic adventure. By rail, it was just 110 miles from Skagway, Alaska over the White Pass and Yukon Railway to the end of the line at Whitehorse, Yukon. Dawson City, at the centre of Yukon gold rush, was more than 250 miles farther north. By water the route to Dawson was more than 1,200 miles along the Yukon River from its mouth in the Bering Sea. The river was a main highway, especially between Whitehorse and Dawson City, for canoes, rafts and steamboats in the summer, and dogsleds and horse and carriage in the winter. But for several weeks each spring and fall, the river was a treacherous highway. And in winter, the short trip by train from Skagway must sometimes have seemed as long as the river route. A six-day journey is recorded in the Whitehorse Star, January 16, 1901.

The train arrived from Skagway after six long days’ battle of snow and ice… A dozen bewhiskered and hungry passengers came through from Skagway and barber shops, bathrooms and restaurants did a thriving business for several hours.

The train left Skagway last Thursday morning… The big rotary plow with two engines started ahead and moved along with little or no trouble until the summit was reached where the difficulties commenced. It was stopping, digging out and starting, until late Thursday evening when… two drawheads were pulled out of plow engine and they were compelled to lay up for the night. Some of the passengers mushed up to Log Cabin, a distance of three miles and waited there until Sunday when the train came along. With the broken drawbars replaced, they have been brought down from Skagway by the second rotary.

The dangers of travel on the river between Dawson City and Whitehorse were reported a few weeks earlier in this item from the Star, December 9.

Although several mushers have arrived from Dawson during the past week, the unsafe conditions of the ice on both river and lake was forcibly brought to mind on Saturday and Sunday by the loss of the Royal Mail stages and three horses.

On Saturday, about five miles this side of Lower La Barge, as the out bound mail team was coming over the lake, the whole outfit went through the ice. The driver managed to escape and saved the mail, but a span of $700 horses and the stage were lost.

Last night a mail team was going down Fifty Mile River with a lead horse in the rear. When about seven miles from White Horse the shore ice suddenly gave way and precipitated three of the horses and the stage into the river. As on the lake the day before, the driver escaped and also managed to rescue two of the horses, but the stage and one horse went down.

From the above it will be seen that while many people, unaware of the dangers of travelling over ice in the present unsafe condition, are kicking at the non-arrival of Dawson mail, Supt. Pulham is taking desperate chances to rush it through in as short a time as possible, and is deserving of much praise, instead of condemnation for his untiring efforts.

Unfamiliar Canadian history stories 090

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