1958 Yukon Nuggets
Robert Service Cabin
There's a little cabin, on Eighth Avenue in Dawson City, which was home to the world's most famous Yukoner. Though he never owned it, the cabin was his pride and joy, and inspired some of his most famous poems and a book which became a Hollywood motion picture.
The two-room cabin, set amongst the willows and the alders on the hill-side overlooking Dawson, was built in 1897. The first owner was Mrs. Matilda Day. Later, it was sold to Mrs. Edna Clarke, who rented the cabin to Robert Service in November of 1909. Service had written his most famous poems while working as a bank clerk in Whitehorse. When the Bank of Commerce transferred him to Dawson in the spring of 1908, he quickly discovered that his poems were earning more money than the bank was paying him. He quit the bank, rented the cabin and began his career as a full-time author.
Here he wrote his third volume of poetry called "Rhymes of a Rolling Stone". The collection included such gems as the Trapper's Christmas Eve, Athabaska Dick and Goodbye Little Cabin. He also wrote his one and only novel called the "Trail of '98". In 1929, Metro Goldwin Mayer released it as a movie with the same name. It starred Dolores Del Rio, Ralph Forbes and Karl Dante.
Though there had been previous movies about the Gold Rush, "The Trail of '98" was the first talking picture dealing with the Klondike as its theme. It was acclaimed at the time because the critics all agreed that the depiction of the characters and the plot were true to the Klondike story.
While living in his little cabin, Service was so inspired as a writer that he'd often run out of paper for his little Underwood typewriter. So he'd scrawl his lines on wall-paper using a lead carpenter's pencil. Then he'd pin the stuff on the walls, stand back and read it over to make sure it was right.
Service left Dawson for the last time in June of 1912, telling everyone he was going on one of his periodic trips to meet with his publishers in Toronto and New York. He knew he would never come back, and wrote his soliloquy called "Good-bye Little Cabin".
The poem includes lines such as "your roof is bewhiskered, your floor is aslant ... your walls seem to sag and to swing ... I'm trying to find just your faults, but I can't ... you poor, tired, heart-broken old thing". This clearly shows his deep attachment to the place. Today, the cabin sits in much the same condition as it was left by the bard of the Yukon, a living reminder of the inspiration the cabin on Eighth Avenue gave the Yukon's most famous poet.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.