Yukon Nuggets

1978 Yukon Nuggets

Joe Clarke


There was always a lot of action at Clarke Stadium in Edmonton when the Eskimos faced their opponents in the CFL. Not surprisingly, the action on the field reflected that of the stadium's namesake, Joe Clarke.

Joe Clarke was born and educated in Ontario. He was not the Joe who at one time was Canada's Prime Minister. No, the Joe Clarke I speak of was a much wilder guy, but no less a politician. Clarke left Ontario in 1892 to join the Northwest Mounted Police in Regina.

He didn't last long as a Mountie, deserting the force and high-tailing it back to Ontario a few months after his initation. The force charged him with desertion and only the fact that his uncle was the magistrate hearing his desertion case prevented jail time. He was fined 100 dollars.

From that episode, it seems Clarke got a quick lesson in law and enrolled at the Osgood Hall law school in Toronto. On graduation, he joined the Klondike Gold Rush. In June 1898, the Yukon was created as a district separate from the Northwest Territories, and politics immediately became a favourite sport of locals - after boxing and hockey, of course.

In 1902, the first election for the Yukon's member of parliament took place. Joe Clarke ran as a Conservative against the Liberal, James Ross, who had been the Yukon's Commissioner.

In his first election attempt, Clarke was supported by a local lawyer, George Black, who would go on in later years to glory in the House of Commons as the Yukon MP, for 22 years. He was not supported, however, by the Whitehorse Star. The paper vilified Clarke for announcing in Whitehorse that he supported a smelter near the town, only to say back in Dawson City that a smelter near Whitehorse was impractical and more likely to succeed "on the moon". In a headline, the Star claimed there were three kinds of liars, and Joe Clarke is the greatest.

Clarke lost the federal election but he was far from finished on the Yukon's political scene. The following year - 1903 - he ran for and won a seat on the first elected Territorial council, and was also admitted to the Yukon bar as a practicing lawyer.

By 1908, Clarke was finished in the Yukon. The Star even hinted that he had been run out of the Territory. His running stopped in Edmonton, where his colourful Yukon past had not changed his political outlook very much.

In 1912, Clarke became an Edmonton City Alderman and quickly earned the title "Fightin' Joe Clarke" because of his quick temper. Always one to fight for the underdog, he was not above using his fists to make a point. On August 6, 1914, he and the Mayor Billy McNamara, rolled down the city hall steps and out onto the street, and eventually battled to a draw.

Fighting didn't seem to deter Joe's electoral chances. He was elected alderman eight times and mayor five. In 1930, Joe was instrumental in getting his long-time friend Prime Minister MacKenzie King to lease the city an old federal penitentiary site for ninety-nine years at a dollar a year, to be used as an athletic park.

In 1937, when a 3000-seat stadium was built on the site, the city called it Clarke Stadium.

The stadium eventually gained Canada-wide renown as home of the Edmonton Eskimos, and when the original Clarke Stadium was torn down and replaced with the ultra-modern Commonwealth Stadium in 1978, the entire area was called Clarke Park.

A fitting memorial to a politician who survived Yukon political woes, at the turn of the century, to enter the history books as one of Edmonton's most popular mayors.


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.