1887 Yukon Nuggets
The White Pass
As early as 1887 it became apparent to the Canadian government that mining activity in the Yukon district was growing. But most of the action was by Americans. Canada needed to know exactly where American territory ended and Canadian land began. The border between Canada and Alaska had long since been agreed upon. But exactly where was that border? In the spring of 1887, Government surveyor William Ogilvie was sent to find out. He and his party arrived in Dyea at the foot of the Chilkoot Pass at the end of May. The Chilkoot was the only publicly known route to the Yukon interior. It was also controlled by the Chilkoot Indians who ran it in a very business-like manner. Pay as you go...or don't go.
Captain William Moore was a member of Ogilvie's survey party. He had been a miner and businessman on the west coast since 1858. Now into his 60s, he could still pack and climb with the best of them. His son Bill had spent the previous year in the Yukon district. In a letter to his father, Bill said he had met a big, strong, Tagish Indian named Skookum Jim. Jim, he said, knew the entire region and often worked as a packer for the Chilkoots. He said Jim told him of another pass - a secret pass - into the interior which had an easier grade and, more importantly, was not controlled by the Chilkoots.
As fate would have it, Skookum Jim was in Dyea when Ogilvie's survey party arrived. Captain Moore told Ogilvie about Jim's knowledge of a secret pass. Ogilvie immediatley decided that Moore and Jim should set about looking for this pass, while the rest of the survey crew would head to the interior from Dyea over the Chilkoot Pass. Skookum Jim knew that the Chilkoots jealously guarded their pass and wanted to ensure that no other route to the interior would be used.
On an early morning in June of 1887, Captain William Moore and Skookum Jim set out by canoe to a bay the Indians called Skagway, meaning 'home of the north wind'. Here, they began a climb up this uncharted pass with instructions to meet up with the Ogilvie party at Lake Lindeman. Moore, an accomplished wagon-road builder of his day, made notes about the terrain.
At the summit, he and Skookum Jim surveyed the scene below. The bay at Skagway was deep...much deeper than the tidal flats at Dyea, five miles to the south. The pass was easier to climb...much easier than the Chilkoot. Moore was excited. He could visualize a deep water port and a wagon-road to the summit. He was sure gold-seekers in their thousands would soon enter the Yukon district. When he and Skookum Jim met up with Ogilvie at Lake Lindeman, Ogilvie incorporated all of Moore's observations in his official survey report. Because his expedition had been authorized by the Honorable Thomas White, the Minister of the Interior, Ogilvie named the new route into the Yukon district, the White Pass.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.