Rolf Hougen has been a lifelong preserver, photographer and curator of Yukon heritage. Hougen partnered with radio host, historian and storyteller, Les McLaughlin to create the Yukon Nuggets. Les researched, wrote and voiced these amazing stories and they became a staple of CKRW.
Rolf and Marg Hougen wanted the work that Rolf, Les and CKRW created to be available to a wider audience. Expanding on their partnership with MacBride Museum, the Nuggets content and website has been revamped and is now available in the Telegraph Office at MacBride as well as online.
Rolf Hougen’s father arrived in the Yukon in the summer of 1906 via the White Pass railroad. Not inside a rail car mind you. Rather, Berent Hougen walked along the tracks from Skagway with a pack on his back. It took him five days to reach Whitehorse. He had gone to sea at age 14 on a square rigger ship and sailed around the world twice with a two-year stop in Australia before heading for the Klondike.
In Whitehorse, he built a log raft and headed down the Yukon river to Dawson where he got work with the big dredging companies. Berent stayed in the Klondike three years, and then moved to Cripple Creek, Alaska where he and a partner operated a hotel for a few years.
In 1913, he sold out and returned to Norway. There, he met and married his wife Margrethe and the following year, they emigrated to Canada. The dream of the Yukon stayed with Berent and in 1944, he returned with Margrethe and the youngest of his seven children, a fourteen-year old boy named Rolf.
With the arrival of the Alaska Highway, the Yukon was once again booming. In 1944, the Hougen’s opened a small store selling Rawleigh products and photographic supplies.
Berent worked on the highway, while Margrethe, with young Rolf’s help after school, ran the store. In 1946, they moved from Wood Street and Second Avenue to the White Pass Hotel building.
In 1947, grade twelve graduate Rolf took over the full-time management of the company and in 1949, Hougens became a real department store with the acquisition of a much larger building on Main Street.
In 1952, fire raged through the building which was partially destroyed. Undaunted, the resourceful Hougens bought the bowling alley next door and built a larger store. Still, it wasn’t all work and no play for young Rolf in the early days. He was one of the founders of the Young People’s Association. He had an interest in photography and took pride in photographing numerous community events.
In 1955, Rolf married Margaret Van Dyke of Edmonton and the couple embarked on a four- month honeymoon to Europe. Back in Whitehorse, they began a family that grew to six children and eighteen grandchildren.
The fifties were a time of change. The isolated Yukon began to take on modern amenities such as cable television with Rolf Hougen as a member of the founding fathers of WHTV.
It was a primitive television operation by any standards; broadcasting on just one black and white channel for four hours a day. The prerecorded programs were six months old. By 1965, the programs delivered on tape by truck, were only a week old.
Over the next twenty years, the forward thinking Hougen put his money into the Yukon. He developed the Klondike Broadcasting Company, owned the local Ford dealership, and the Arctic Investment Corporation, one of the few investment firms that Les McLaughlin’s brother, a devout family man without a big income, would trust because, he said, it was owned by Rolf Hougen.
In 1976 Margaret and Rolf took the family to France to live for a year in order for the children to experience the Cultures of Europe and to learn the French language. Not long after returning, Rolf was asked to serve as the Honourary French Consul for the Yukon for which, subsequently, the President of France appointed him an “Officer of the Ordre National du Merite”.
In 1978, Rolf was the driving force behind Cancom, the Canadian Satellite Communications system that delivers multi-channel radio and television signals to more than two thousand remote communities in Canada. It may have been the most involved and time-consuming endeavour of his illustrious career.
At the time, his proposal to the CRTC involved a whopping thirty eight-million dollars to set up and operate and the system would not make a profit for the first four years. While it almost sent him to the poor house, it worked and Rolf became a recognized visionary on the national scene.
But Rolf Hougen’s life is measured in more than business success. His “Yukon-first” attitude helped insure the SS Klondike was moved from its shipyard location to Rotary Park in 1966. He also helped to make sure the White Pass railway’s Yukon sector was not sold for scrap when the company ceased operations in the early 1980s.
He was president and founding member of the Whitehorse Board of Trade; chairman and founding member of the Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous; the Founding Chairman of the Yukon Foundation, and is a member of the Yukon Order of Pioneers. Nationally, he has served on the board of directors of many large corporations and is former Chairman of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.
Little wonder Rolf Hougen is an Officer of the Order of Canada.
Les McLaughlin was a long time broadcaster and Yukon historian. Born in Valleyview, Alberta, he moved to Whitehorse at the age of three.
His broadcasting career started in the late 1950s when he was a volunteer with the pre-CBC CFWH. In 1964, he was hired on as an announcer and operator with CBC North in Whitehorse.
In 1965, along with fellow CBC announcer/operator Cal Waddington, McLaughlin produced a documentary on the Yukon for the closure of the Yukon Consolidated Gold Corp in Dawson City. This would be the first of many projects documenting the unique history of the territory.
Along with being a broadcaster, he also produced music for a number of Yukon and Northern artists including Daniel Tlen, Charlie Panigoniak, Susan Aglukark, Manfred Janssen, William Tagoona, Charlie Adams and David Gon.
Les also founded the True North Concert series broadcast across Canada. McLaughlin would also produce a series of broadcast recordings featuring Northern musical talent from across the north.
The series includes over one thousand musical selections. For this work, McLaughlin won the CBC’s highest honour, the President’s Award, for the “musical foresight and professional dedication in searching out promising northern musical talent.”
McLaughlin would finish his career in 1995 after stints in Montreal and later Ottawa as a Northern Service producer with CBC, but his heart would remain in the Yukon. In retirement he would work on many Yukon historical projects, including writing and reading short storytelling pieces know as Yukon Nuggets for CKRW.
McLaughlin spent countless hours helping to preserve the history of the Yukon with his recordings of special people and events over many years for CBC Radio. More than two hundred hours of these audio selections are housed in the Yukon Archives and the Prince of Wales Heritage Centre in Yellowknife.
McLaughlin passed away on January 8, 2011 at the age of 69.