Yukon Nuggets

  • Whiskey Flats - circled. Home to many people prior to government housing or the availabilit of a mortgage - eventually CMHC offered limited funds to build a home.

  • This was the home of SGT Bruce Cameron, Royal Canadian Corps of Signals, and his wife 'Jolly'.

  • Water source was the nearby Yukon River - Jolly Cameron in photo.

  • The interior of the Cameron home.

1964 Yukon Nuggets

Whiskey Flats


"If you could read my mind, love, what a tale my thoughts could tell." Words from a Gordon Lightfoot song that could be applied to a place now long gone and largely forgotten. What tales could Whiskey Flats tell? The once mosquito-infested area is now known as Rotary Park, and a fine place it is. However, it is certainly without the character of old Whiskey Flats, where every house looked like a Jim Robb painting.

In the early days, before the massive clean-up of 1964, Whiskey Flats was home to the Yukon's colourful five percent, and the colourful structures they lived in. These shacks tilted in the wind. They lay helter-skelter across a landscape littered with junk that today would gain a pretty penny or more on the Antiques Road Show. Early photos of the place seem to have been taken after a heavy downpour, or else the drainage was substandard. Likely the latter, and I expect that no one had a basement.

Whiskey Flats was largely home to so-called squatters, a problem that bedeviled town planners for years. Almost every spring brought forth crocuses on the side hills, and the annual Whiskey Flats clean-up brigades. This was a losing battle until the bridge, linking downtown Whitehorse with the new subdivision of Riverdale, was opened.

Now a serious clean-up was needed since it wouldn't do for those wealthy enough to live in Riverdale to drive through a strange place that would never qualify for communities in bloom. However, it wasn't until the spring of 1964, that the town got serious about Whiskey Flats. Its days were numbered. A community effort led by the Chamber of Commerce, and with civic approval, came up with an ingenious scheme to shutdown the Flats.

First, there was an extensive advertizing campaign announcing the annual clean up, coupled with a notice that bona fide residents would not be required to move out.

The committee delivered signs, to permanent residents, that they should nail to their houses, stating that the building was occupied. After several weeks, shacks that did not display these signs on the outside were deemed to be uninhabited. They were either demolished or removed. Thus, non-resident owners or drifters were out of luck. However, the genuine owners could see the writing on the wall. They too were encouraged, but not forced, to move. In the end, it was attrition that sounded the death knell for Whiskey Flats. By 1966, the real clean-up came, as everything on Whiskey Flats was carted away to make room for the SS Klondike.

Today, the magnificently restored river-boat sits where once clapboard shacks dotted the landscape. Green grass grows where mud puddles filled the laneways. Park benches have replaced the back seats of derelict automobiles as a place to rest and watch the river go by. Swings, slides and other trappings of modern childhood have supplanted the cardboard crates we used to hide in. Modern Whitehorse is justly proud of its Rotary Park though, I expect, there are some who long for the old days of Whiskey Flats and the frontier spirit it brought.



But as a philosopher once said: "People seem to get nostalgic about a lot of things they weren't so crazy about the first time around."




A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.

Les McLaughlin

Les McLaughlin

As storyteller, radio man, and music producer, Les proved a passionate preserver of Yukon heritage throughout his life — nowhere more evident than as the author and voice of CKRW’s “Yukon Nuggets,” from its inception until his passing in 2011.