1963 Yukon Nuggets
How Ethel Anderson Becker saved the Klondike’s History
One day in 1921, young Ethel Anderson visited Eric Hegg's photography studio in Bellingham, Washington. She wanted his permission to try and gather together his photos of the Klondike that he had taken back in 1898-99.
"It can't be done", said the photographer. "They are scattered far and wide."
Twenty-five years went by. Ethel married a Mr. Becker and raised a family. But she always had in the back of her mind those Klondike photos. Hegg had taken so many on a journey to the Klondike, with her father P.B. Anderson, during the height of the gold rush. Ethel was born in Bellingham, but spent her first six years in a cabin on Eldorado Creek with her parents - one of the few children of the gold rush.
The photos must still exist somewhere, thought Ethel Anderson Becker. Then, like some sort of miracle, she discovered two thousand of Hegg's negatives at Webster and Stevens Photographers in Seattle. The firm had come into possession of the photos from Mrs. Hegg when she and her husband split up a long time ago. Ethel Anderson Becker bought them all.
When she showed them to Eric Hegg in 1946, he was astounded. The old man had not seen them for more than forty years. Hegg told Ethel that there could be many more. He said that when he left Dawson City for Nome in 1899, he left his glass-plate negatives with a photography studio operated by Larrs and Duclos, because he could not carry them.
When Larrs and Duclos closed up shop in Dawson, they decided to hide the large glass negatives behind veneer sheets covering the inside of their log cabin home. There they lay, safely hidden from curious eyes, for many years.
Then, in the Fifties, a young woman, working as a clerk in a Dawson store, bought the Larrs Duclos cabin. One day she reached up to see what made the sawdust drip out of the top over the veneer. To her amazement she pulled out a glass negative showing boats going down Lake Bennett. There were many, many more glass negatives behind the veneer.
Now she could have what she wanted - a greenhouse. However, her employer offered to give her real glass for a greenhouse in exchange for the glass negatives. She agreed.
In 1961, Ethel Becker travelled to Dawson City to refresh her memory for background on a novel she was working on. There she met the person who owned those two thousand glass negatives of Hegg's photos.
Two years later, in 1963, Ethel Becker bought the negatives. She now had about four thousand Hegg photos of the gold rush. The collection was complete. Many of the photos feature the signature of Eric Hegg on the bottom, though some are marked Larrs and Duclos and others, Webster and Stevens. But so far as Mrs. Becker knew, they were almost all taken by Eric Hegg.
Because of her work in tracking down this long-lost photographic treasure, the epic story of the Klondike Gold Rush - from the line of stampeders on the Chilkoot pass to the home-built boats on the lakes, to men mucking for gold in the creeks - remains an unforgettable panorama of the Yukon's colourful history.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.