Yukon Nuggets

1909 Yukon Nuggets

H.C. Barley, White Pass Photographer


Yukon history owes a lot to Harry C. Barley, a man most people have probably never heard of. Like other photographers who made their living when the Yukon was young, Barley toiled in the shadows of greatness. In this case, a great project. And toil he did.

The thousands of images showing the amazing construction project called the White Pass Railway were, for the most part, taken by Harry Barley. Originally from Colorado, Barley made Skagway his home after coming north from Denver.

With foresight about a project which would become one of the wonders of the world, the President of the White Pass Railway, Samuel Graves, hired Barley as the company photographer in the spring of 1898. Graves instructed Barley to illustrate the nature of the pass, the difficulties the builders faced and their high standard of work. Graves needed this documentation to satisfy his financial bankers in London, England.

During the next two years from his studio in Skagway, Barley documented the incredible construction job and chronicled the early operation of the 110-mile narrow-gauge railway. Barley was an adventuresome soul. He had to be to get the stunning photos of the work being done in the mountains of the White Pass. He was known for his daring and often risked his life to get the perfect photograph.

His huge box camera, tripod, and heavy case of glass plate negatives were a familiar site along the grade. But his demand that all work freeze while he peered through the camera lens sometimes infuriated the foreman.


There were times when crews refused to work when Barley was taking photographs because of the risks he took. Barley once said: "Put me close enough to the blast and I'll stuff the echo." In one of the first accidents at the Rocky Point blasting site, Barley was struck by a small flying rock from a dynamite blast and couldn’t walk for a week. His camera was shattered by a larger boulder.


But he kept working from his photography studio on Fourth Avenue in Skagway. Active in civic politics, he was elected to the Skagway Town Council and was a member of the Skagway Elks Lodge. He then moved to California where he died of tuberculosis in San Francisco on November 22, 1909. He was survived by a wife and a daughter.


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.