1936 Yukon Nuggets
Faith Fenton, Journalist
Though much has been written over the years, the first news accounts from the Klondike came from a pioneering journalist. In the spring of 1898, the Toronto Globe newspaper got caught up in the incredible story unfolding in the Yukon Territory. The Globe would be the first to print first-hand descriptions as told by one of Canada's first women journalists.
Faith Fenton had already made a name for herself in eastern Canada, but this was to be different. She was going to the Klondike.
Faith teamed up with the Victoria Order of Nurses and the newly formed Yukon Field Force to travel from Toronto to Vancouver, and up the Inside Passage to the Stikine River in northern B.C. Then they would travel over the tough land route from Telegraph Creek to Teslin Lake, down the Teslin River to the Yukon River, and then on to Dawson City.
Faith wrote in great detail about the gold seekers who chose this all-Canada inland route over the route through Alaska.
She vividly described the human chain of more than 5000 desperate men carrying all their possessions on wagons pulled by dogs, horses, mules or - in many cases - by themselves. She told of fights on the trail. Luckily, the men of the Field Force were able to ensure the safety of her party.
A picture of Faith Fenton, somewhere in the wilds of Stikine valley, shows her sitting on a log in front of a tent in a wide-brimmed top hat, a stiff flowing dress, holding a kitten she had brought with her. It looked like she was ready for a walk in the park, except for the big boots she was wearing.
When the party finally reached Fort Selkirk on the Yukon river, it was late August. The land already had a look of fall about it as they boarded a paddlewheeler for the final 200-mile journey to Dawson. Here, Faith Fenton could scarcely believe the seething humanity in this newly established city of gold. A telegraph line was being built but, for the time-being, Faith filed her stories by mail - up the Yukon River by steamer, back down over the Chilkoot Pass and on to the outside world. The accounts she produced for the Globe were an extensive, detailed picture of the unbelievable events occuring in the Klondike. Her stories took eastern Canada by storm. The Globe featured each on its front page.
In December, the first of many fires took hold of the downtown sections of Dawson. Faith reported in great detail how the clapboard buildings, forty in all, were consumed. Most of downtown Dawson City lay in ruins, as the prospect of rebuilding during the coldest months of the year gripped the already beleaguered citizens of this frontier town.
One incident, during the winter of 1899, showed Faith's zest for getting a good story out quickly. In this case, too quickly. Four men were convicted of murder and sentenced to hang. Since the mail run was leaving before the hanging was scheduled, Faith wrote the story and sent it by special dispatch with a packer she hired. The packer left Dawson on the overland trail to Whitehorse. The story was on its way. But the hanging wasn't. It was postponed. A frantic Faith Fenton convinced her friends with the Royal Northwest Mounted Police to chase down the mail packer and retrieve the story. Once again, the mounties got their man, to the relief of this faithful frontier journalist. The next time, Faith wrote about the difficulties in filing stories from the frozen north.
Faith stayed in the Klondike long enough to see the coming of the telegraph line. She filed story after story during those tumultuous years. She stayed on long enough to marry the Yukon Medical Officer of Health, Dr. John Brown, in 1900. The couple left the Yukon for good in 1906. Back in Toronto, Faith continued her journalistic career. In January 1936, Faith Fenton died, bringing to a close a unique chapter in the saga of the Klondike Gold Rush.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.