Dawson City fire 1899
Dawson City hit the big time in May of 1899. The isolated gold-rush mecca was on the North American map. But the news was not…
The White Pass station which now stands on the waterfront at the end of Main Street in Whitehorse is not the original building. It was lost to a fire which destroyed most of the commercial buildings in the new town.
Whitehorse was a new and growing town back in the spring of 1905. From Front Street to Second Avenue, and between Elliott and Steele, stood the hub of a fairly prosperous place. There were at least five hotels, hardware, jewellery and grocery stores, cafes and restaurants, a confectionary, a drug store, a bank - why you could get almost everything you needed in downtown Whitehorse back then.
But on May 23, 1905, all that changed. At about 4 am, a small fire started in the barber shop in the back of the Windsor Hotel on the corner of first and Main. The firehall was just across the street. The single fire engine in town answered the call and seemed to have contained the blaze to the Barber Shop.
Then, as the fire was nearly out, the fire truck ran out of water. The fire in the barber shop flared and soon engulfed the Windsor Hotel. The raging flames leapt across the street and began to consume the Whitney and Peddlar department store. The flames then leapt across First Avenue, and the original White Pass station was set ablaze. The fire roared down First Avenue to Steele Street toward the Post Office on Elliott, and up Main Street to Second Avenue.
The single fire engine sat idle, out of water. Townspeople rushed to the scene carrying small buckets of water. It was a hopeless battle. One of the impromptu firefighters was Robert Service, who, along with many others, managed to save the Bank of Commerce building at Second and Main. The Post Office was spared, as was the Telegraph Office at First and Steele.
When the fire was finally contained, dozens of business establishments were reduced to ashes. The smouldering town was a grim scene to those who had worked so hard to build a business district for a growing town.
Damage totalled more than 300 thousand dollars, which by today's standards, would be in the millions. But the townsfolk were determined to re-build, led by the White Pass, which started construction of a new train station the next day.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.