Yukon Nuggets

  • Sled dogs. Date: 1926. Yukon Archives. Claude & Mary Tidd fonds, #7851.

  • An open WP&YR train as it approaches Bennett.Date: August 22, 1899. Yukon Archives. H.C. Barley fonds, #5343.

  • WP&YR station at the summit of White Pass. Date: June 1900. Yukon Archives. H.C. Barley fonds, #5477.

1909 Yukon Nuggets



July 1909. The dog days of summer were upon Yukon once more. Jeff didn't have much to do since his work was usually done in the winter. So, in the heat of the mid-July sun, Jeff was usually found lying in the grass beside the White Pass sheds. He loved basking in the sun while enjoying the cooling breeze from the nearby river.

There he could watch the men loading the river boats and listen as the steam whistle signaled another journey downstream to Dawson. He had tried to make friends with the few tourists who disembarked from the White Pass train from Skagway.

However, they seemed more interested in shopping at the local Taylor and Drury store, or getting a haircut and an ear full of local gossip from Joe the Barber in his tiny shop at the White Pass hotel. Some seemed interested in that poet fellow, Robert Service, but were told they'd have to take the boat to Dawson if they wanted to meet him.

Jeff wasn't interested in any of that stuff. He'd seen it all. He was here when they first started to make a fuss over Service a few years back. Now it was all old hat. Yes, summer was down time for a lifer like Jeff.

On July 2nd, Jeff decided he needed a change of go somewhere. The easiest thing to do was to jump on the train. Jeff was broke, but that didn't matter. When no one was looking, he hopped into the baggage car.

As the whistle filled the still, hot Yukon air and the train lurched forward, Jeff settled down between two large trunks. The clickety clack of the rail track was a soothing sound and soon he fell into a blissful sleep.

When the train stopped at Bennett, the trainman spotted Jeff as he peered out from the open door of the baggage car. Highly irregular, said the trainman, but having come this far without a ticket, Jeff was allowed to continue the journey to Skagway with only a warning that he'd better not pull this stunt again.

In Skagway, Jeff roamed the streets taking in the new sights and sounds. The buildings and the alleyways looked pretty much like they did in Whitehorse. After a week had passed, Jeff decided that Skagway - in the dead of summer - was no more exciting than Whitehorse.

So once again, when no one was looking, he headed for the open door of the White Pass baggage car. The whistle blew and the train lurched down Broadway, bound for the 110-mile day trip to Whitehorse. This time, when the train stopped at Bennett, Jeff stayed hidden behind the suitcases, boxes and trunks. It would do him no good to get thrown off the train now, when he was halfway home.

It was another hot July afternoon in the tiny town of Whitehorse as the train screeched to a stop in front of the station. When the baggage door opened, Jeff leapt out and hightailed it up Main Street. He scurried around the corner at Second Avenue and made a beeline for a small pine log cabin near the old log church.

Jack Phelps was standing at the door. "Where've you been, he yelled at Jeff? Haven't seen you for a week!"

Jeff wagged his tail and licked Jack's hand. He wanted to tell Jack of his great adventure. Of what he saw and did in Skagway. Of the spectacular scenery the train passed through. But he couldn't.

You see, Jeff was Jack's sled dog.

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.