1972 Yukon Nuggets
When I was a school kid growing up on Strickland Street, colourful characters were the norm. It was not unusual to find my Dad and Wigwam Harry sharing a story or two at our kitchen table.
Andy Hooper could be seen hauling another old building to some new lot with this American army lift truck. BuzzSaw Jimmy was always around cutting trees with his homemade wood sawing contraption.
Tuffy Cyr roamed the back alleys collecting the contents of the ubiquitous honey buckets and dumping them into a home-built container made of 45-gallon drums. Characters were...well, to me they were normal. Nothing out of the ordinary.
And at the end of Strickland, near the hill leading to the airport, in a tiny shack, lived an old lady I seldom saw.
Her name was Lucille Hunter. Born in Michigan, she married Charles Hunter when she was just 16. In 1897, when she was 19, the couple joined the Klondike Gold Rush, travelling to the Yukon via the Stikine Trail.
The journey was remarkable for two reasons: she and her husband were among a handful of African-American stampeders who came to the Klondike, and Lucille was nine months pregnant at the time. In Teslin, Mrs. Hunter gave birth to a baby girl whom she named...Teslin.
For the local Native people, the hoard of white prospectors in their midst was an unusual sight, but never before had they seen a black person. Not quite sure what to call the Hunters, they simply described them as "just another kind of white person".
Charles and Lucille travelled by dog team to the Klondike. To undertake this journey in winter, Charles may have had experience as a trapper or miner.
Without survival skills, the young couple would have perished in the -60° temperatures over hundreds of miles of wilderness. They arrived in Bonanza Creek in February 1898, well before the main throng of stampeders arrived. Here they staked three claims. Lucille worked alongside her husband digging for gold, while raising daughter Teslin in extremely primitive conditions.
A few years later, the Hunters moved to Mayo where Charles staked and worked some silver claims. In June 1939, Charles died at age 65, leaving Lucille alone with her grandson, Buster, to carry on mining. Her daughter Teslin had died earlier, leaving Lucille to raiseBuster.
In 1942, when Alaska Highway construction began, Lucille and Buster moved to Whitehorse. Lucille set up a laundry business while Buster made the deliveries around town.
A few years later, Lucille moved to the tiny clapboard house on 8th Avenue, where she lived alone. As kids, we used to ride our toboggans down the nearby hill and we could hear the sound of the radio coming from inside as we slid silently past her home.
Mrs. Hunter had gone blind, but kept up with the world and local affairs through the constant playing of her radio.
The small home, her many visitors said, was filled with stacks of newspapers, magazines, and other flammable stuff stored dangerously close to her wood stove, and friends worried about the danger of fire.
One fateful night the house caught fire. Firefighters had a difficult job breaking through the security locks to rescue Lucille whose clothes were ablaze when she was rescued.
She recovered from minor burns, but her little house on Strickland Street was gone so she moved to a small basement apartment downtown, where she continued to entertain guests with her fascinating stories and, of course, listened to the radio until her death in 1972 at the age of 93.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.