Yukon Nuggets

  • Engineer mine photo in 1965by Rolf Hougen.

  • Mrs. Alexander with parrot in her hand; Captain Alexander sitting in chair. Yukon Archives. Reginald Brook Sr. fonds, #18.

  • Engineer Mine Camp after buildings completed. Tutshi in mid distance. Lawsons camp above smoke stacks. Yukon Archives. Reginald Brook Sr. fonds, #65.

1965 Yukon Nuggets

Engineer Mine


Engineer mine was located 42 kilometres west of Atlin, British Columbia, along the shores at the south end of the Taku Arm. In a region of wilderness beauty, the mine has a history of misfortune and curses.

In July 1899, two Swedish prospectors told some White Pass railway engineers about a pale yellow metal they had found on the shore of Taku Arm. The engineers formed a partnership with the Swedes and two of the engineers decided to explore the area. One, Charles Anderson, rowed past large visible quartz veins running down into the lake. He then staked a claim which he recorded in Atlin on July 20, 1899.

In all, twelve claims were staked that year, in an area that became known as the Engineer Group. Ore samples showed very promising results. The first shipment of ore was carried to Lake Bennett aboard the steamship, the Gleaner

Then John Hislop, one of the key figures in the White Pass railroad story, became president of the Engineer Mining Company of Skagway. There were a significant number of local investors, including many White Pass workers. Tunneling work took place over the next several winters. In 1902, the company built a stamp mill, but money woes shut down production for two seasons.

In 1906, some of the claims were mistakenly allowed to lapse and were quickly staked by a Mr. Brown of Atlin. Led by Captain James Alexander, a group from Atlin, known as the Northern Partnership, acquired the claims from Brown.

Evidently there were some under-handed tactics involved with the group's take-over, and Brown placed a curse of death and disaster on everyone involved with the mine.

Still, work continued and, by 1910, the company had two mills on the property, employing about 30 people. For the next few years the property was under litigation and work slowed substantially. By 1912, Captain Alexander had taken control of the mine and found a larger orebody. The mine’s potential increased and several investors, including the provincial government, funded a large-scale operation.

By 1917, work on the mine leveled off as the First World War severely depleted the pool of mine workers. In 1918, Captain Alexander seemed to have found a buyer for the mine, so in October he and his wife decided to head south. Alexander left his pet parrot “Polly” at the Caribou Hotel in Carcross, and took the White Pass train to Skagway.

From Skagway, the couple sailed to Vancouver on Princess Sophia. On October 22nd, the Sophia ran aground on Vanderbilt Reef. Two days later with all passengers still on board, the ship slipped off the reef. Three hundred and fifty-three passengers and crew drowned in the icy waters of the Lynn Canal, including Captain Alexander. The tragedy had a terrible impact on the Yukon since many key players from the Yukon’s mining and transportation industries were headed south after the summer season. Polly the Parrot lived at the Caribou Hotel in Carcross for more than 50 years after Captain Alexander left the famous bird there.

Captain Alexander’s death had an immense effect on operations at the Engineer Mine. It ceased production for five years while litigation dragged on over ownership of the property.

In 1924, investors from New York acquired the mine and built a number of structures including bunkhouses, a mess hall, and several residences. A powerhouse was built on the Wann River, 5 km south of the mine. The mine site began to resemble a small town. By 1925, upwards of 140 men worked at the mine. The S.S. Gleaner, and later the S.S.Tutshi, made regular visits, delivering mail to a wooden box nailed to a tree.



The mine made a profit for a while, but never achieved its hoped-for potential. The workforce declined to about 20 men in 1930. At this time several of the gold-bearing veins were depleted, and the mine closed once again.



It seems the reported curse delivered by Mr. Brown had some merit. Certainly the mine experienced more than its fair share of trouble, and for Captain Alexander, his untimely death on board the Princess Sophia, proved the curse was real.

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.

Les McLaughlin

Les McLaughlin

As storyteller, radio man, and music producer, Les proved a passionate preserver of Yukon heritage throughout his life — nowhere more evident than as the author and voice of CKRW’s “Yukon Nuggets,” from its inception until his passing in 2011.