Yukon Nuggets

  • Bishop Stringer.

  • Traditional Inuit clothing of caribou skins at Fort McPherson. Date: 1921. Yukon Archives. Claude & Mary Tidd fonds, #7562.

1909 Yukon Nuggets

Isaac Stringer - The bishop who ate his boots


Isaac Stringer was born in Ontario in April, 1866. In 1888, he enrolled at Wycliffe College to study theology. In 1892, Stringer heard a speech about the need for missionaries in the Arctic. The idea appealed to young Stringer.

In May 1892, Reverend Stringer was ordained and the next day left for Fort McPherson in the Northwest Territories. The journey took a sixty days by train, ox cart, foot, scows, and steamers.

The long career of the famous Bishop began. Stringer's diocese was huge...covering thousands of miles. By the spring of 1909, in addition to his duties in the Yukon Diocese, he became head of the Mackenzie River Diocese.

In September 1909, returning from the Mackenzie Diocese to the Yukon, Bishop Stringer set out from Fort McPherson heading for Dawson City. He was accompanied by Charles Johnson. The 500-mile trek though muskeg, dense bush, and across a steep mountain divide wasn't easy. The two men, dressed in light clothing, carried provisions for eight days though they expected to complete the trip in five.

They were travelling a well known route via the Rat River through McDougall's Pass then to Rampart House on the Porcupine River and finally into Dawson City.

They navigated the Rat River in canoes, but progress was slow as the river began to freeze. Provisions were dwindling, snow was falling, and the weather was rapidly getting colder. After six days, they realized they were making just five miles a day. They then decided to return to Fort McPherson by trekking directly across the mountains, a distance of less than one hundred miles. It was September 24th.

The men desperately looked for a pass through the mountains, their progress hindered by partially frozen rivers, and heavy snows that blocked familiar landmarks. After many days above the tree-line, with no wood for fire, they were still on the west side of the mountains.

It was a nightmare of cold and hunger. Finally, their food supply ran out. But they did have seal skin boots and Bishop Isaac Stringer decided the time had come to eat them. The boots were cut into pieces, boiled and finally roasted. Stringer wrote:

"October 18 - Travelled all day. Ate more pieces of my sealskin boots, Used sole first."

"October 20 - Breakfast from top of boots. Not so good as sole. Very tired."

But on the pair trekked, heading due east. On October 20th, they reached a large river. It was the Peel.

Here they found sled tracks and fresh-cut poplar poles. It had been fifty days since they had left Fort McPherson and now, by some miracle, they had stumbled upon the campsite of three native people.

After a ravenous meal in the camp, dog teams were harnessed and Stringer and Johnson were on their way to Fort McPherson, about twenty miles away.



Two years later, in 1911, Bishop Stringer gave a vivid description of their journey to a large crowd in Dawson City. At the same time, four members of the Royal North West Mounted Police lay dead in the snow in the same general area where he and Johnson had been lost two years before. It became known as "the Lost Patrol".



The Bishop had survived his ordeal largely because he ate his sealskin boots. His story was the inspiration for the celebrated scene in Charlie Chaplin's movie The Gold Rush .


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.