Babe Southwick Trophy
The Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous celebrations of the Sixties had a magical feel about them. The Yukon hadn’t seen winter carnival celebrations since the late forties,…
Many Yukoners have fond memories of Alex Van Bibber. Mine is watching him take Babe Southwick’s dog team around the 14-mile course on the final two days of the 1965 Sourdough Rendezvous dog-sled race.
Babe was Alex’s sister-in-law. On the first day of the three-day race, she had finished fifth, but when the lap ended, she collapsed and died of a heart attack. Her number - 8 - was retired in a moving ceremony on the river ice and the mushers decided that the races should continue. Alex Van Bibber drove her team for the next two days in honour of a great Yukon musher. He didn’t win that year, but the symbolism of his feat is etched in Yukon dog mushing history.
Alex was born under a spruce tree, beside the Pelly River on April 4, 1916. His father, Ira, was from West Virginia. He came to the Yukon over the Chilkoot Pass in 1898.
In the Pelly River area, Ira Van Bibber met his Northern Tutchone wife, Eliza. Together they had fourteen children, all born and raised in the wilds of the Yukon. The family lived off the land, hunting, fishing and trapping.
Young Alex attended school in Dawson City at a time when his parents could only afford to send a few of their children to school. Alex was only thirteen when he was put in charge of the handmade log raft that carried him and his brothers several hundred miles downstream to the school in Dawson. He attended school until grade five. Then had to step aside to let his other brothers and sisters get educated.
Alex worked on the gold dredges in the Dawson area during the summer, then went home to trap during the winter.
In January 1943, the U.S. Army hired him to work with an expedition of six men and three dog-teams seeking a pipeline route from the Imperial Oil wells in Norman Wells to Whitehorse. His job was to use his knowledge of the country, to keep the party safe, and to break trail on snowshoes to Fort Norman, Northwest Territories, a distance of about 400 miles. It took about forty-two days to make this overland trip.
Alex started his professional hunting career in the fall of 1943 working for Carl Chambers. It was the start of an extremely successful guiding career that spanned six decades. He owned his own guiding territory, from 1948 to 1968, that he operated with his wife, Sue, who was born and raised in the bush and has lived a subsistence lifestyle all of her life.
A fond memory for Alex came when he was asked to look after journalists when Robert Kennedy climbed Mount Kennedy in 1965. At the Whitehorse airport, Alex presented the U.S. senator with a gold sheep-head necktie.
In the past thirty years, Alex has taught and shared his vast knowledge with others. In 1976, he became the chief trapping instructor for the Yukon Government.
Alex Van Bibber has been formally recognized over the years with various awards including the Order of Canada in 1992, the Yukon Fish & Game Association Sportsman of the Year Award in 1995, and the Canadian Wildlife Federation Roland Michener Award 1996.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.