1944 Hougen's history
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. At age 14, he had gone to sea on a square-rigged 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 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 Hougens 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, among other things, the YPA soft ball team of which I was once bat boy.
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.
True to his civic spirit, Hougens sponsored junior hockey teams. In the mid-fifties, I was a member of the Hougens team that won the juvenile championship. Yes, there is a Hougen photo to prove it.
The '50s 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 looking 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 my older 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 the President of France subsequently 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 complex and time-consuming endeavour of his illustrious career.
At the time, his proposal to the CRTC involved a whopping 38 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 ensure that 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 that Rolf Hougen is an Officer of the Order of Canada.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.