The New Yukon
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 6 Apr 1922, p. 118-130

Black, George, Speaker
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Memories of the old Yukon. Ideas created from the sensational stories by early-day goldseekers, with some examples. Why people do not understand the Yukon. A description, including geographical features, climate, flora and fauna. The Yukon as a paradise from the hunter's standpoint. Currency in the days of gold-dust. Banks and banking in the Yukon. The Yukon proper created in 1898, carved out of the North-West Territories by The Yukon Act. Government and judiciary. Per capita enlistments and contributions to patriotic funds in the Yukon, exceeding those of any province in the Dominion. The isolation of the country, with illustrative anecdote. Americans living in the Yukon; living together as a happy family; a feeling of general good-fellowship pervading everything. Law, order and community. Exploration of the Yukon still to be done. Gold production, with dollar figures. Yukon at present undergoing a period of transition. Advances in gold production. Geological surveys and their findings. Yukon's contributions to Canada and what development there means to those in Eastern Canada. The Yukon as a most productive part of Canada.
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6 Apr 1922
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Full Text
Before the Empire Club of Canada, Toronto,
April 6, 1922.

THE PRESIDENT, Sir William Hearst, introduced Mr. Black who was received with loud applause.


Gentlemen,--Your President, unconsciously perhaps--I know it was unconsciously--said something in introducing me that reminded me, and other Yukoners that I see here, of some of the very stirring times in Yukon when he said, as I understood him, that I had been "King of the Yukon." That is one place where the people won't stand for local kings. At one time a very ambitious man undertook to set himself up as a king, and the Yukoners I see here today will vividly remember the dispatch with which Yukon dethroned that king. I might have conjured up some romance of the actual Yukon-it seems the proper thing to do always-if I did not see on my right my friend Judge Craig, who lived as my next door neighbour up there for years, and on my left Mr. Cameron, whose word was law in banking circles, and before me the Rev. Dr. Grant, who led in church matters; so I will have to remain a realist.


Mr. Black went from New Brunswick to the Yukon in 1898 and practised law there. He was elected to the Territorial Council in 1905, 1907 and 1909, and was appointed Commissioner in 1912. In 1916 he organized the Yukon Infantry Company, C.E.F., and went to England in command. He was transferred to Machine Guns and commanded these in France, where he was wounded. He represents the Yukon in the Dominion House of Parliament.


The memories of the old Yukon, about which so much has been written and said, are imprinted so vividly on the minds of those of us who went there in those early days, and those of us who represent those old times, that one can hardly speak of the Yukon of today without reference to the old Yukon.

It does seem strange that a Canadian should undertake to talk to fellow Canadians about a part of their own country, more particularly in this day and age when the facilities for travel have made the world seem so small. Many people have an idea of Yukon as akin to Iceland; a place which is the habitat of the polar bear, ice fields, icebergs, and all that sort of thing. Those ideas were created chiefly because of the sensational stories by early-day goldseekers. They seemed beset with the idea that they must tell wonderful stories, and relate wonderful adventures; globe-trotters, too, seeking to draw attention to themselves, told of imaginary adventures that they had had.

In 1916 I heard a lady speak before the Royal Geographical Society in London, and of a trip she had made through the Yukon as recently as 1914. She went in from Vancouver, up the coast in a palatial ship, over the Pass in an up-to-date observation car, and down the river in a very comfortable and well-appointed steamer, and was most hospitably received by the people, down the river to Nome, and back down the coast to Vancouver and Seattle. Her whole trip took less than six weeks. She came out and wrote a book on Yukon, and that day she was lecturing to the Royal Geographical Society, and she had the nerve to tell her audience that she was, if not the first, at least one of the first white women who had ever made the trip (laughter), yet she had been preceded by thousands of women, to my knowledge. She also told them that she had gone ashore in the up-to-date and orderly little town of Ketchewan on the Alaskan coast, and that the captain and ship's company who went on shore had to flee for their lives on account of hostile Indians. Of course it never occurred; if it had, you could not have blamed the Indians. (Laughter)

Now, is it any wonder that people really do not understand the Yukon. No doubt it is unnecessary for me to tell you that the Yukon is the most northwesterly part of Canada, in the extreme north. Its southerly boundary is the north boundary of British Columbia. It extends north to the Arctic Ocean, and is bounded on the west by Alaska and on the east by the North-West Territories. We have no seaboard except the Arctic Ocean, and of course it is not of much use as a winter port. (Laughter) To come out to the Pacific we have to come through a few miles of Alaskan territory that stretch down the north-western coast of the continent, a territory that was bought by the United States Government from Russia. Yukon has an area of approximately 200,000 square miles; to be exact, 196,976.

As to its climate, of which you hear such wonderful stories, in summer we have six months of typically warm summer weather. The rivers open in May, and usually remain open until November. During that period, in the months of June and July, we have two months of continuous daylight, with almost continuous sunlight. The sun dodges behind the mountain for a couple of hours, and comes out again. It does not stay away long enough to let anything get cold. Vegetation on the lower levels, on the low lands, is rapid. All sorts of vegetables can be grown there, including first-class potatoes. Only barley and oats ripen. This winter I saw firstclass pork up there in the mining camps that was raised in the country and fattened on native-grown barley. I saw native beef raised and fattened in the Yukon, and in great demand on the Dawson market. Coming out over the former trail in January we passed through herds of stock and horses wintering out in the open, feeding in the wild meadows without any artificial shelter or artificial feeding. They were fat and in good shape. You cannot do that in Iceland.

From the hunter's standpoint the Yukon is simply a paradise. We have moose and bear of all descriptions, the grizzly being the most sought after and the most dangerous of course; mountain sheep and caribou and .I think practically all of the game known in other parts of Canada, except perhaps the mountain sheep, which is got to some extent only in British Columbia; but in the Yukon it is really plentiful in several localities. The caribou roam the hills there literally in thousands. It seems that in the fall of the year the small bands or herds, which are scattered pretty well all over the country get together and form such a vast herd that it actually takes the herd as long as two weeks to pass a given point. I have seen them so thick there--although I hesitate to admit it, but it is a cold fact--that I have climbed up on the rocks to let them separate and go by for fear. I would be tramped down by them. Of course, you can go up and get beautiful caribou heads without number. There is one species of game that used to provide some sport in Yukon. I am happy to say it is practically extinct up there now. It seems to have changed its habitat to Ontario, and I am told by local hunters that it can be found right here in Toronto. I refer to the blind pig. (Laughter) In regard to that style of hunting, I think Yukon is pretty sane. They don't pretend to be what they are not. They don't have any more open bars; but they are really temperate people, speaking of temperance in the ordinary sense of the word. Other sorts of big game we do not see up there any more, game that used to be most interesting, as described so well by Robert Service in the well-known words with Kipling's metre; how penniless men went out into the hills, took up fortunes in glistening gold dust and nuggets, and tossed them away just as quickly and just as lightly on the turn of a wheel or the throw of a card.

In those days gold-dust was practically the only medium of exchange. We did not have much currency, or, as they called it there, cheechako money--cheechako being the Indian word for "tenderfoot." Everybody carried his gold sack, a little bag or sack made of chamois or moose-skin, and carried a certain amount of gold dust in that to use for change. There was a gold scale in every place of business, and every office. A client went into a law office to consult counsel; he was charged not so many dollars but so many ounces, and the lawyer proceeded to weigh out his fee on his own gold scale.

The handling of money, the handling of gold, was careless. Everybody got into careless ways. They seemed to lose sight, really, of the value of money. The care-free miner would go into a saloon with thousands of dollars of gold dust in his coat pocket, and go up to the open bar and proceed to call up the host of men and treat them to wine at $15 a pint -and it cost some money. The banks were usually more careful in the handling of gold, but I am going to tell you of an actual fact. One of the leading banks of the town did business for a great many years in a little old log building near the bank of the river. They had their assay office on the same lot, a little distance away from the bank, and millions of dollars' worth of gold passed through that bank and through that assay office. About ten years after the rush, when the production was at its peak, a former employee of that bank went back to Yukon and made arrangements with the then manager of the bank to give him what he called a "leg," that is, a -working lease on the ground, on the surface gravels of that bank lot. The lot was next door to where I lived, and I gave him the use of the garden hose. He constructed a set of man-power sluice boxes, and proceeded to run through the sluice boxes, with water, the surface gravels lying between the bank building and the assay building; and, would you believe it, he cleaned up three thousand dollars in gold, in dust and nuggets and crucible buttons which had not been put there by nature, but had simply been carelessly spilled in the operations of the bank's business. He cleaned up thousands. That was a surprise to the bank manager, but that former employee knew his business; he had been there in the old days. After that fellow got through, the contractor who had the contract to move the buildings had a "go" at it, and he cleaned up a nice respectable little pocket; and after that my small boy went at it, and recovered something over $100-he and a school chum of his. That shows you the way they scattered money. (Laughter)

In 1898 the Yukon proper was created. It was carved out of the North-West Territories by an Act called The Yukon Act, which gave us our constitution, established our Courts, and gave us a local government consisting of an elective council with legislative powers corresponding to those of a legislature in a province, and a government vested in the hands of a commissioner who had practically the same executive powers as the government has in the provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. They had the power to make and administer local laws, and did make them, and do yet.

It may be of interest to you as a British Empire Club to know that the per capita enlistments and the per capita contributions to patriotic funds in Yukon exceeded those of any province in the Dominion. (Applause) When enlistment was going on up there we had more young old men, I think, than you would find in any other part of the world. Most of them had an official age--that is, an Army age--and a real age. The real age they kept to themselves. Of course the medical officers weeded out the unfit men and kept them at home, and there were many heart-burnings over that, because there was scarcely a man up there that did not feel that he was as fit as he ever was to go to war. When we got to England the medical officers shook their heads at those gray hairs and bald heads, but I assure you that when they stripped those men and put them through the necessary tests they went through them, and were fit all the way through. We took them under age as well as over age. It is a fact that there is a strong British sentiment prevailing in Yukon. It seems to me that it is even more persistent than in more populous centres where you can quickly get in touch with matters that go to engender British sentiment.

We have a great many Americans living up there, but we all live together as a happy family. The feeling of general good-fellowship pervades everything. I think all Yukoners will agree with me that if you want real Simon--pure good fellowships, you have to go to the Yukon to get them. I do not say they do not exist in other places, but they certainly do up there. Yukoners at home can voluntarily disagree, but when they go outside they meet as brothers and good fellows, ready to assist in every way. The churches in Yukon have done and are doing a great work. They banded their efforts for practical good in the establishment of hospitals and other good works. They ministered first to man's material wants, and I think in that way they undoubtedly reached him in a spiritual sense.

It is true the country is very isolated. Even today, when we have the telegraph line and the daily press, it seems that life there is separate and apart from the rest of the world. I will give you an anecdote that impressed that on me very strongly only this past winter. The Yukon telegraph line was down on the day of the election, as it unfortunately has a habit of being, and we did not know up there for some days what the general result was in Canada. Naturally my friends, the Conservatives, were very much elated at winning, (laughter) and they were very much pleased with themselves for about two days. Then the wire went up, and they got a shock. (Laughter) A Swedish friend of mine, a young fellow who had come into the Yukon in his boyhood by way of the United States, recently from the Old Country, but who knew nothing whatever of Canada or Canadian institutions or Canadian affairs, who had grown up there, had been fortunate enough to bet his money on the winning horse, and he was very much pleased. He came up to me the day the wire went up and he said, "What's the matter with the boys?" I said, "I don't know what you mean, Joe?" He said, "Well, we won the election, didn't we?" I said, "Yes, we won." "And we won the money?" "Yes," he said, "Well, all our fellows was pleased, but today they are all sore, and the Liberals is all pleased, because they heard about some election on the outside." (Laughter) He added, "What do we care about the election on the outside? We won our election, and we won the money; I can't understand it." (Laughter) And that is a fact, which, as you know, was altogether foreign to that man.

Now, notwithstanding the many lurid tales that have been circulated in regard. to life in the Yukon, even from the outset it was an orderly community, a law-abiding community, and good order prevailed -largely due to the wise administration of the Royal North-West Mounted Police. (Applause) Don't think that the police did not have a task on their hands, for I don't suppose a more cosmopolitan population ever got together. We had men there from all quarters of the globe; good men, lots of bad men; it was the Mecca for all bad men; naturally they came where the money was, but very few of them stayed long, and those who did stay remained under restraint. People who went through it will bear me out in saying that conditions on the American side of the line, from Skagway and in Skagway up the trail till you came to the Canadian boundary, were simply deplorable while the rush was on. Murderers and crooks and confidence men plied their vocation on the American side practically without restraint. People had to carry guns to protect themselves. Fortunately that has never been the fashion in Canada; but when you get out of the area and across the boundary-merely stepped across it, and it was no imaginary line-you came into a different atmosphere altogether. The fear of violence was unknown. Arms that people carried on the American side were put away out of sight as excess baggage along with other dunnage, and probably never produced again; and I can say, after living in that territory for the greater part of twenty years, in the country where the North-West Mounted Police has been the only police force, that on every occasion I have found them absolutely fair and just and gentlemanly in all their dealings, and if I hear anybody sneering at the Mounted Police, or abusing them, it immediately causes suspicion in my mind against the person who is making the statement. There must be some reason for it, because law-abiding people don't get into trouble with the Mounted Police.

As I said, Yukon has an area of practically 200,000 square miles. Let me impress you with this fact, that only a third of that area has been explored, and only a half of that third has been prospected; that is, only a sixth of the total area of that country has been prospected up to date. When I tell you that $200,000,000 worth of gold has come out of that one-sixth area of the Yukon, you can see the possibilities in the balance of the territory, for $200,000,000 of gold is almost half of the total production of gold for all Canada, for all time, up to date. The total production of gold in Canada to date is $445,617,000, so the Yukon runs well up to half.

Yukon at present is undergoing a period of transition, passing from the days of the placer mining gold camp to that of a lode mining gold camp. As recently as 1919 wonderfully rich deposits of silver ore have been discovered there; silver ore in such quantities and such richness that within a very few years Yukon will be counted as one of the great silver mining camps of the world. Now, that is a fact, and I want you to mark my words, and remember them when you hear about the Yukon silver camps.

The gold production has been advancing for years. Gold was discovered there in 1896 in amazing quantities within practically a small area, perhaps an area of fifty miles, at a very shallow depth in most cases, strewn there on the bed-rock and in the gravel, so that anybody could go and get it. It did not need any skill or any experience; all you needed was a little grit and back-bone, and you could take a pick and shovel and dig in there and get it, and many did so, and many made wonderful fortunes. In time of course that gold became exhausted, or began to become exhausted--it is not exhausted yet by any means, but the easy money, the quick money, was taken out. Capital came in and bought out the miners in that area, and installed up-to-date and intricate machinery, huge dredges, fleets of dredges, and conveyed water in long ditches and flumes, so that they could hydraulic the hills. The ground that made those Yukon miners' fortunes has since then been literally turned over; the whole of the creeks have been covered and dug out by dredges, and the hydraulic mines have taken the hills down on top of the debris in the creeks. The whole hillside of the country has been changed. Much more ground has been worked by those methods at less profits, and since this wonderful discovery was made, in 1919, the population has practically doubled, and the excitement is only beginning.

An area has been found in Big Spring--well-defined fissure veins over an area about ten miles long by five miles wide. I was talking to a geologist in Ottawa only the day before yesterday who, during the past two summers, has been making an expert survey of that country, and I read a report I received there this week telling me of the discovery, in one of the prospects, of silver ore that runs 3,000 ounces to the ton. He said he was not the slightest bit surprised, and he would not be surprised at them finding similar veins in that area within fifty square miles, so well defined was the mineral. That is highgrade ore, mind you, and when I speak of high-grade up there, it must be high-grade because of the cost of transport. Up here in Northern Ontario, mines that run $30 to $35 to the ton are looked on as rich ore. In Yukon they cannot begin to handle ore that does not go over $100 to the ton, and in the meantime they don't pretend to; but as transportation improves it will enable them to get low-grade ore, $50 to $60 ore, of which there is an unlimited quantity lying about, and they will in the same proportion increase the magnitude of the operations. Today they are shipping some 3,000 tons of that high-grade ore, and they have thousands and thousands of tons blocked out; they know it is there, and they are getting ready to work in a systematic way. Already big companies are in there, and mining in a large way. They are not going at it in a haphazard fashion; they have had experience there and they are going to realize every dollar that the ore will produce. They have constructed the water power, and you people here can tell better than I can what hydro-power means. They have plenty of water power up there, and they are utilizing it, for that is the power that is driving their dredges, and handling their mines today. They even have it in the new quartz mine.

Of what use is all this to Eastern Canada? Of what use is it to us who do not actually go out there? Well, you will see the point when I call your attention to the fact that Yukon has up to date imported and used over 300,000 tons of Canadian goods. Of necessity we do not produce much of anything up there but minerals; but the people have to make from "the minerals, and you have the goods. You have to feed them, but they are prepared to pay for it, and 300,000 tons of Canadian goods means over $100,000,000 in value. That is altogether apart from the importations from the United States and Europe. I think you will see the importance of that territory as a market for you agriculturists and manufacturers of Eastern Canada. It is what we have all been talking about and looking for--an ideal home market.

And do not overlook the fact that Yukon is part of Canada, and a most productive part of Canada. It has been a steady producer of wealth, and bids fair to surpass in the future, the production of the past. It is a magnificent market for the goods that you produce here, and for which you are looking for profitable markets today.

I don't know that there is much more that I can say to you. I must say that I was somewhat abashed to find the old Yukoners I do in the audience, knowing that anyone of the three I have mentioned, at any rate, would address you much more interestingly than I have or could, and probably as informatively.

I thank you very much for the hearing you have given me, and I want to impress on you the value and importance of that particular north-west corner of the Dominion of Canada. Don't think that it is only a country of romance, a country which has a memory of the glamour of the days of that old gold rush; but look on it as a business proposition-a part of Canada which will take your goods as long as you are able to manufacture and produce them. (Loud applause)

MR. JUSTICE CRAIG voiced the thanks of the Club to the speaker for his very interesting address, adding some reminescences which corroborated various statements made by Mr. Black. The meeting closed after a standing vote of thanks was carried amid hearty applause.

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The New Yukon

Memories of the old Yukon. Ideas created from the sensational stories by early-day goldseekers, with some examples. Why people do not understand the Yukon. A description, including geographical features, climate, flora and fauna. The Yukon as a paradise from the hunter's standpoint. Currency in the days of gold-dust. Banks and banking in the Yukon. The Yukon proper created in 1898, carved out of the North-West Territories by The Yukon Act. Government and judiciary. Per capita enlistments and contributions to patriotic funds in the Yukon, exceeding those of any province in the Dominion. The isolation of the country, with illustrative anecdote. Americans living in the Yukon; living together as a happy family; a feeling of general good-fellowship pervading everything. Law, order and community. Exploration of the Yukon still to be done. Gold production, with dollar figures. Yukon at present undergoing a period of transition. Advances in gold production. Geological surveys and their findings. Yukon's contributions to Canada and what development there means to those in Eastern Canada. The Yukon as a most productive part of Canada.