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Post Info TOPIC: Yukon Ho!


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Yukon Ho!
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Its time to tell the story. In 1969 we immigrated from the US to Canada, in late summer from southern California to the Yukon Territory in a Volkswagen bus with three young children and a German shepherd dog. We camped in tents and did our cooking in camp. We cleared customs and immigration at Osoyoos, BC on August 31 and headed north. It was a pretty routine trip until we reached Dawson Creek, BC where the Alcan Highway starts. Its 920 miles from there to Whitehorse. The first 48 miles to Fort St. John was newly paved but from there on was improved gravel. It was slow going what with breaking camp in the morning and stopping early to set up camp, we made about 300 miles a day.

 

In Whitehorse, we checked into the only motel room in town that was still vacant and had a fast food meal before baths and sleep. We arrived on a Saturday and spent Sunday resting and scouted around town. I met a fellow on the street and enquired about work opportunities in town. He owned the Pepsi Cola distributorship in town and offered me a job driving a delivery truck. I thanked him and told him that I wouldnt make a decision until Monday because I wanted to check with the Canada Manpower office on Monday. On Monday I checked in at Canada Manpower and was immediately recruited as a mill mechanic at Faro, Y.T., 230 miles north on a new gravel highway and a brand new town. I got the job because I had one year of experience as an underground mine lube/mechanics helper in New Mexico.

 

I was advised that housing was not yet finished at Faro so Id need to leave my family in Whitehorse until housing was available. Unfortunately, there was no housing available in Whitehorse because of the mining boom. We couldnt afford to keep the motel room for a month or so we decided we would stay together and all go to Faro. We found a suitable place to set up camp on the Pelly river just below town. I was told that the town was nearly complete in the Spring but a forest fire swept through and burned everything except one house so now there was a flurry of activity to complete housing before winter. In fact, there were several places where it was still smoking a bit.

 

Anvil open-pit lead/zinc mine was about 13 miles uphill on top of the mountain. I reported there the next day and was sent to the mill where I met the mill maintenance foreman who had very little if any, mill experience either. He told me we were scheduled on 13-hour shifts, 7 days a week and we would figure it out as we went. Everyone but me lived in a camp at the mine and ate three meals a day in the mess hall there. The guys I worked with told me the only acceptable excuse for not showing up was a terrible hangover. So, I ate my three good meals a day in the chow hall and squirreled away all the fresh fruit that I could in a bag which I took home to the family every night. 

 

The family was running low on food and there were no grocery stores in town yet but I heard that there might be a store in a little Indian village about 45 miles away. So, on Sunday I had a terrible hangover and we drove to Ross River and found a grocery store. The owner said he had only been in operation for a week and we did our shopping. The only restriction was that he wouldnt sell my wife any vanilla extract on Sunday. I could only assume that vanilla extract was an emergency drink for the local alcoholics.

 

When we got back to camp, a fellow walked over, introduced himself and told us he also lived on the river with his wife in a camper. He told us the housing construction guys had built a bar nearby on a gravel bar and suggested we move into it because it was vacant now. It seems the RCMP had closed it down because the guys had been shooting it up, from the inside. We moved in that day and found it very comfortable compared to a large tent. It had a short plywood bar and several plywood benches. Behind the bar was a trapdoor over a hole in the gravel that served as a rudimentary fridge. The river water was nearby but as fall progressed in the mountains, it kept getting farther away as the river flow decreased. There was also an outhouse nearby. My wife had a three-burner camp stove to cook on, even had a stove-top oven that she baked bread in one time. All the comforts of home!

 

I harassed the personnel officer at the mine on a regular basis to be first in line for housing in town as I already had my family on site and the weather was getting cold, too cold for a plywood shack with no heat. Finally, the first housing units were ready in town and we moved in, the first family with kids in the Newest Town in the North as it was billed. One other couple with no kids had already moved in a few days before. The homes were what was billed as maisonettes, rowhouses with the entry at ground level and stairs leading up to a 

living room, kitchen and dining room then upstairs to bedrooms and bathroom. They were nice homes but later, when the weather got really cold, we had fountain erupting out of the wall on the first floor by the entry. The shutoff valve was in the utility room and my wife got a cold shower on her way to the shutoff. That and the mess to be cleaned up did not improve her temper. The housing contractor had run the water pipes up in an outside wall and they froze. All of the maisonettes were on the lower bench in town and all had to be redone. 

 

We moved to a different style of row houses on the upper bench and they were conventional

 with in-ground basements, living floor, and the bedrooms on the top floor. Much better for us as we would eventually be closer to the school and closer to the store which was very important in really cold weather.

 

Initially, there were very few civilians in town but hordes of construction workers that had been in this isolated place without any kids around for months and they missed them. All work seemed to stop as the guys watched as the kids roamed town and were greatly appreciated by those guys.  Two more kids moved in shortly after we did so the four kids and our dog owned the place for a while. Naturally the kids took advantage of this and when they wanted to build a treehouse, asked the guys for some scrap lumber were given whole sheets of plywood, asked for a few nails, were given a 50-pound box, even given stairs and they built a three-story treehouse, not to code mind you!

 

In the early days we did not have a store in Faro so we filled out grocery orders and sent them into Hougen's in Whitehorse to fill. The orders were sent in with truck drivers delivering ore concentrate to Whitehorse and Yukon Route railway for trans-shipment by rail to Skagway, Alaska. Grocery orders were then delivered to Faro by transport trucks bringing other supplies to Faro. Our mail was also delivered to the mining warehouse the same way. Then we helped the warehouse people sort through the grocery orders and delivered them home. Mail was sent to the campsite in Faro then sorted in a rudimentary post office so it could be handed to the right party at the door. 

 

Then Hougen's from Whitehorse decided to open a branch general store in Faro and they sent one young man to do it. Well, they had a building but no one to install shelving or stock the shelves. We were all anxious to have a store in Faro and we realized that one young man was overwhelmed so many of us pitched in when we had a spare hour or two to help with him acting as supervisor and organizer. The weather was getting colder and one Sunday we drove our VW bus from our heated garage up to the store and parked it while we went inside to work. Six hours later, we decided to go home but the VW wouldnt start. Apparently -35F turns 30W oil into tar. No way would the engine turn over so we decided to tow it home with a pickup that was running. The rear wheels wouldnt turn either so we skidded it home and used a winch to pull it back into the heated garage. Lesson learned!

 

Building a new town in the wilderness isnt just buildings, the families come together and build a community. Fortunately we had a few folks very experienced in Northern living and they helped us a lot. For example, what would a couple from California know about cold-weather clothing? We made a good friend in a lady originally from Yellowknife, NWT and she sat down with my wife and the Sears catalog and helped her select winter clothes for the kids. They didnt come in as soon as expected, so my wife contacted Sears and asked what the delay was. She was told that the packages were in Whitehorse and a town called Faro did not exist!  Well, it was the newest town in the North so we had a good laugh and arranged for pickup.  

 

Wenda also advised us to buy genuine Northern parkas from Hudson Bay. They were not the typical parkas widely sold in department stores but durable, thick, goose down-filled long parkas with hoods that extended a foot in front of the face. The outer edge of the hoods was lined with wolf fur to minimize frost buildup. We didnt have much forward vision, just a little hole at the end of a tunnel, but it did warm the air coming in on the coldest days. Later, on a trip to the big city of Whitehorse, we stopped in at the village of Carmacks and located an Indian lady to build me a set of moose hide calf-high muckluks around a pair of size 12  felt boot liners. Excellent footwear on really cold days! She also decorated them with her unique beading so I felt like a real sourdough!

 

In October we finally had enough kids in town to open an elementary school in the basement of an apartment building just across the road from our home. Older kids were on correspondence courses. Other improvements continued when a rec centre opened with a curling rink and a hall for Saturday night dances. The town construction camp was winding down so the mess hall started opening up on weekend nights to the town population. Their specialty was inexpensive but very good t-bone steaks with a tiny bar next door that was always crammed. Then mine management had the bright idea of importing a dozen secretaries that were really experienced hookers to keep the single guys happy. 

 

The interior valleys of the Yukon and Alaska have the coldest winters in North America. The coldest temperatures ever recorded was -83F, once in Alaska, and once in the Yukon. The coldest recorded in Faros weather station was -76F.  The nice thing about our cold winters was that there was never a breeze so wind chill was not a factor. We were there for two years and noticed that we had six weeks where the high in midwinter never reached -60F. We had school buses to take us to and from work at the mine and they were kept running 24 hours a day. One of my enterprising friends bought a station wagon  and ran a taxi service employing his teen sons as drivers while he worked at the mine and leased his two welding machines to the mine. One cold evening I called him and asked if he would pick up a cold case of beer and bring it to me. He did and charged me the taxi fee and the cost of the beer then sat down and helped me drink the 12 pack of beer!

 

While winters were long, dark, and very cold summers were just the opposite. We eagerly awaited breakup in Spring because the fish were biting! Pelly river was two swift and dangerous so I managed to get some topographic maps of the area and we poured over them until the snow subsided. The map showed all the little pothole lakes as well as the larger lakes so we set out to find them. The first was indeed a small pothole lake and I and my youngest daughter walked around it casting out. We were about ¾ of the way around before she got a solid strike and hauled in this 3 long skinny fish. This thing looked like a reptile with a long slender body and flat head with lots of sharp teeth! I wanted that lure back so I used a long hook remover to get it. Didnt know what it was but my daughter who was 9-½ was having great fun so she cast out again and caught another and so it went until the stringer was full. I managed to catch a few but spent most of my time untangling her line or tying on new lures. I cleaned them and took them home and I gave the excess to an English neighbour. My wife fried them up and they were tasty enough but loaded with tiny little bones. We found out that they were northern pike. They were sure hard on lures and line so I bought some steel leaders to stop some of that.  They were all about the same size, about 1-½ pounds and often when we were pulling them in, there was another snapping at his tail! Most of my lures were bass lures and I found that any old lure would work and if you lost one; just cast in the same spot and you would likely get the same fish and your other lure back. 

 

We found several small lakes just a short hike off the highway. One we found contained Arctic grayling, very tasty. Another we found small lake trout, even more tasty. Salmon Lake was a big lake along the highway where most of the guys went out in boats to fish. Fishing from a  boat just never appealed to me, I like to thrash through the brush along shorelines and fight to cast out a bit. 

 

Summers were dry and sunny and you might wonder why we had a lake over every hill.

Most of  the precipitation falls in winter as snow, we usually had about 2-½ feet

at winters end so it just soaked in during a slow Spring thaw. I suppose the glaciers in the last ice age must have dug  out all those hollows where lakes formed. We often explored the roads in the VW bus. It had good ground clearance and would go on most tracks in the bush.

 

In the second year we took a vacation trip to Dawson City, the city of the gold rush fame. It turns into a tourist town ever summer with and acting troupe that performs a follies routine. My son, a little guy of 8, cackled so loud down front that the performers found him after the show and told us how his laughs really brought out their best and they all signed a program for him. 

 

We were camped at a public campground just out of town so we visited rabbit creek where the original gold strike started. We found an entrepreneur there who had a placer gold  claim next to the road and was charging a dollar a pan of gravel and would teach you how to do it. He also guaranteed gold in every pan and we all found gold which he moved onto a tiny glass vials with water and he capped those souvenirs for us. Those little glass vials with water in them magnified the gold to make it look much larger than it really was. I asked him how he could guarantee  gold in every pan and he told me that the stretch of flat on his claim contained small flakes of gold. He realized he could spend hours a day panning it out himself or he could let tourists do it for a dollar a pan for about the same return. The only other way to do it was to purchase a lot of equipment and mechanize the processing. He lived on the claim in a camp trailer with his wife during the summer tourist season and then went south for the winter.

 



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Great story! My husband also worked in that area [Mayo/Dawson City] before we met, so some of this sounded familiar. 

We're in Williams Lake.



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A story Worthy of film! Thanks for sharing.



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Thank you! That's how it actually happened.

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What Time didn't tell you was that after paying a dollar a pan to learn how to pan gold, I went a bit nuts with gold fever. So we went to a public claim and I had him fill a couple of large bucket worth the dirt from the claim. There was a creek running through the camp grounds, so I panned the dirt ......didn't find much gold, and by the time I had finished I kinda lost the gold fever.

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suzi wrote:

What Time didn't tell you was that after paying a dollar a pan to learn how to pan gold, I went a bit nuts with gold fever. So we went to a public claim and I had him fill a couple of large bucket worth the dirt from the claim. There was a creek running through the camp grounds, so I panned the dirt ......didn't find much gold, and by the time I had finished I kinda lost the gold fever.


 That's pretty funny. I lived in Colorado for a short time and there were gold-panning tourist traps in the mountains above Denver and Boulder...and they were always busy.

Wow...minus-76! And I thought Minnesota was cold! Their all-time state record is only around 61 below, up near the border. But they do get plenty of wind chill. The record for me is minus-27, once at Christmastime in Minneapolis, and again a couple of years later, in Chicago...where the wind-chill can make it feel like 80 below. That was on Super Bowl Sunday and I went out for snacks and booze. My brake lines froze and I had to drive my Chevy Malibu into a high snowbank in order to stop. Turned around and drove home. Never did get the snacks. Or the booze, either. Fuck it.

Now I live where we get snow up the wazoo...off Lake Erie. We get almost six feet a year in Cleveland, on average, but in the hills, an hour east of where I live, they get double that...and over in northwest PA they average almost 200 inches a year, thanks to the lake. That's one of the snowiest areas in the East, along with western New York. I really hate snow. But the cold is much, much worse. You folks were TOUGH.

I remember hearing, years back, about those little Yukon lakes that hardly ever saw any human visitors...and the good fishing. So you guys have told your story before, but not in such detail. Thanks muchly.

Not exactly like those clowns on "Northern Exposure" (CBS, 1990-95), where everybody seemed to have all the creature comforts of the Lower 48. But that's Unreality TV...network TV...for you. disbelief blankstare no

Charlie



-- Edited by KidCharlieMane on Thursday 5th of December 2019 10:38:09 AM

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My Aunt came to visit us one time (in summer of course), we named a lake for her and it stuck. Look at a map (on line) and you will find Lake Eleanor, or Eleanor lake. It was full of fish!

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Fascinating! That was a good read! You both should write a book together.

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I agree with Ghostal you both should right a book of your adventures and ventures. You are  both very talented and I really enjoyed reading your story.

It reminded me of Ed's 26 years of his being out west. He too went up to the Yukon for a job up there as a Faller but just one year and he was hired on to one of  the big fishing boats catching crabs. If you have a chapter two I would enjoy reading it.biggrin

Take care,

Uni

 



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Time and I were talking about our time in the Yukon, he said I ought to tell that story. So I am not as good at writing as he is but here goes.

As Time has said the townhouse's water pipes were run on the outside walls. So one day the kids were all in school and I had some time to myself. So I decided to take a nice warm bath (Normally I shower), so as I sat in the bath I could hear water running. I assumed my neighbor was washing or something. However it kept running so I jumped out of the bath dried off and dressed. Then I ran down the 3 floors to see water shooting out of the entrance wall! Just the night before Time had shown me where I could turn the water off, but to get to the shut off valve I had to run through the very cold water. Now you would think I would have been freezing at that point but I was flaming hot. I put my Parka on marched to the housing office, frozen hair and all. I blew my stack!
Times gun books were soaked as we had used that area under the stairs for storage, so I spent the day Ironing the pages till dry.

They then offered to allow us to move to the upper bench into a duplex with a real basement!

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suzi wrote:

so I spent the day Ironing the pages till dry.


That worked?

 



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Yes Nyt, it worked but the books were twice as thick as they were before. But they were still readable.

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I'm impressed. I had about thirty years of Analog magazines damaged by water and couldn't save one issue.

hmm



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