1867 Yukon Nuggets
And there on the marge of Lake Laberge, I cremated Sam MacGee. That lake, made famous around the world by Robert Service was named for a Quebecer.
Like many other place names in the Yukon, Lake Laberge had at least several native names. In 1862, explorer Aurel Krause recorded the Tlinget name as Tahini-wud. In 1883, the American explorer Frederick Schwatka, recorded the Tagish name "Kluk-tas-si".
But it was William Dall, director of the Scientific corp of the Western Union Telegraph expedition, who gave the lake its present day name. He named Lake Laberge after Michael Laberge of Chateauguay, Quebec. Laberge along with Frank Ketchum of New Brunswick, were explorers for the Western Union who came up river from Fort Yukon to Fort Selkirk in 1867. They were looking for a possible route for the Collins Overland Telegraph line being built from New York to Paris.
No-one knows for sure if Michael Laberge ever saw his lake, but it is clear that he had it described to him by native people who lived along the river. The Collins Telegraph line was never built, but the lake went on to become an important part of Yukon history.
It was a major obstacle in spring when the riverboats ran from Whitehorse to Dawson. You see, it didn't melt as quickly as the ice on the river itself. So the White Pass used to spread lampblack on the ice in a channel down the middle. The material would absorb the heat of the spring sun and hasten breakup so the boats could run earlier than otherwise possible.
The famed Taylor and Drury boat, the Thistle, lies at the bottom of Lake Laberge. It sunk here in 1928. Remains of the hull of the riverboat Casca #1 can be seen at Lower Laberge where the lake empties into the Yukon River. There are remains of Mounted Police posts at both Upper and Lower Laberge along with historic native encampments.
So the next time you visit Lake Laberge or recite the poetry of Robert Service, think of Quebecer Michael Laberge who gave his name to this famous Yukon lake.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.