1901 Yukon Nuggets
The first mayor, of the newly incorporated city of Skagway, was a Canadian. John Hislop was born in Galt, Ontario, and graduated from McGill University in Montreal as a civil engineer. At one time he taught highschool in Galt.
In April of 1898, Hislop found himself in Skagway, working as an assistant to the White Pass Railway construction engineer, Erastus Hawkins.
Both were there to determine if a railway could be built through the White Pass. When it was decided the railway could be built, Michael Heney became Superintendent of Construction while it was up to Hislop to survey the very treacherous route.
The railroad connected Carcross and Whitehorse in June 1900, and the entire line was completed on July 29, 1900, with a golden spike celebration at Carcross.
By then, Skagway had become the first incorporated city in Alaska, beating out Juneau by one day. The vote for incorporation and the civic election were both held on June 28, 1900 at the "City Hall," a cabin on 5th Avenue. More than twenty residents ran for seven city council seats and the elected council then selected John Hislop, chief surveyor of the White Pass and Yukon Route, as its first mayor.
Hislop was a landed immigrant, born and raised in Canada, but he had worked on American railroads before coming north to help build the White Pass. The local newspaper was enthusiastic.
"The ability that a liberal education and a wide experience of men and large affairs gives to a man eminently fit Mr. Hislop for a wider and more important field of duty, but he accepted the call of the citizens of Skagway to be the president and lent a modest dignity to the position."
With the railway now running and Skagway in good hands of elected officials, Hislop requested a year’s leave of absence from the White Pass. He had toiled long and hard in the mountains and saw the most difficult engineering job through to completion. He also helped Skagway convert from a lawless outpost to a tame town.
In December 1900, he left Skagway, bound for Chicago, to marry his fiancé Mary Young on January 1st, 1901. A month later, Hislop left the home of his brother-in-law to attend a business meeting in downtown Chicago.
He arrived at the Rock Island Line railway station just as the train was pulling out. As he ran forward to catch a coach handrail, his coat caught on a protruding trestle beam. He was yanked from the train and flung under the wheels. John Hislop who had survived the most difficult railway construction project in the mountains of the White Pass, was dead. He was 45.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.