1918 Yukon Nuggets
John Zaccarelli was born in 1881 in Pravia, Italy. At a young age, his family moved to Vancouver Island, near Nanaimo. He was just 16 years old when he heard about the arrival of the ship the Excelsior in Seattle carrying a ton of gold. Young John booked passage for Skagway on the steamship, the SS Islander which left Vancouver on July 28, 1897.
He arrived in Dawson City in 1898 and eventually opened a store in downtown Dawson. John Zaccarelli would call the Klondike city his home for the next twenty years. In 1901 was hailed in a promotion about the gold rush mecca which said: "Mr. Zaccarelli, a Yukon Pioneer of ‘98, has made a host of friends and stands high in the esteem of his business associates."
The Zaccarelli store on King Street between First and Second Avenue carried everything from books to bananas including a complete stock of stationary, fruits, and vegetables, imported cigars and confectionary. In 1903, he married Elizabeth Dooley and the couple had two boys - Thomas and Ralph.
John Zaccarelli became one of Dawson’s biggest boosters. He produced post cards of Yukon scenes for sale to the tourists and in 1908, he published a fascinating book called Zaccarelli’s "Pictorial Souvenir Book of the Golden Northland."
Along with an extensive and glowing text about the Yukon’s present and future, the book contained 192 original photographs of life in the Klondike — everything from stunning portraits of Moosehide native people, to snow-covered cabins in the wilderness to scenes of downtown Dawson.
By the fall of 1918, Zaccarelli had wound up his affairs in Dawson, sold out and was ready to move to Oakland, California. Mrs. Zaccarelli and the two boys had gone ahead to a place that John had selected for the family to live on a trip there in the 1917.
On October 13, 1918, John closed his store for the last time, boarded the paddle-wheeler the Whitehorse to connect with the White Pass train to Skagway. On the evening of October 23rd, 1918, he boarded the CPR ship, the SS Sophia along with 343 other passengers - most of whom were leaving the Yukon after their summer’s work and with the intent of returning in the spring.
On the voyage through the inside passage in a blinding snowstorm, the SS Sophia ran aground on Vanderbilt Reef. It sat high and dry for two days while the company decided how best to remove the passengers and crew. On the second night on the reef, a fierce gale drove the Sophia off the reef and into the frigid waters of the Lynn Canal.
All on board, including John Zaccarelli were drowned. Mrs. Zaccarelli decided not to stay in Oakland and returned to Dawson in 1919 with her sons’ Tom and Ralph. Tom eventually moved to Oakland while Ralph moved his young family first to Mayo and then to Whitehorse in 1964 where his son Ralph Zaccarelli Jr., grandson of John Zaccarelli, still lives.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.