1959 Yukon Nuggets
Whitehorse - Mayo Road
Mining has been a crucial element in Yukon development since the gold rush. In the mid-1940s, mining men were reviewing the old Treadwell Yukon’s silver workings on Galena Hill near Mayo. What geologists found led to the opening of United Keno Hill Mines in 1947. As lead, silver and zinc prices skyrocketed by the mid-fifties, shipping the ore by the river boats from Mayo to Whitehorse and then by train to Skagway was hopelessly obsolete.
The mine was big. It could employ many Yukoners directly and even more in an indirect way. Thus the Federal and Territorial governments began a project that would put the river boats out of business. But it would create jobs even for a lowly high school student like me. A road from Whitehorse to Mayo was going to be built to help deliver Keno Hill ore to the White Pass Railway by truck. To do so would require three major bridges to cross the Yukon, the Stewart and the Pelly Rivers.
There was already a road of sorts to Mayo and Dawson but it relied on ferries and that would never do for a modern mining operation.
Thus work began on building the three bridges in 1958. By the summer of 1959, all were nearing completion and that’s where I come into the picture. The bridges needed to be painted. A Whitehorse contractor named Weldon Gorham got the contract. Since he knew my family, I was in line for a very good summer job. So for the summer of 1959, after graduating from Grade 12, I painted the Carmacks bridge. To be sure, I was not alone.
There were seven or eight of us teenagers - all acting like mountain goats dangling over the edge of the steel bridge, staring down into the fast flowing Yukon river many metres below. No safety gear. No rescue boats. No nothing except a paint can, a brush and orders to get the job done quickly,
But it paid fairly well and by end of the summer, the bridges were handling traffic even though the last of the three was not officially opened until September of 1960.
The Whitehorse-Mayo Road, the Yukon's original Highway 2, extended from Whitehorse to Stewart Crossing then turned northeast to Mayo, Elsa and Keno City.
Yukon's original Highway 3, the Dawson-Mayo Road, was opened in September 1955 between Stewart Crossing and Dawson City. The Dawson-Mayo Road became part of Highway 2 in 1978 and was named the Klondike Highway, while the road northeast from Stewart Crossing became Highway 11, and was later named the Silver Trail.
The Whitehorse – Mayo - Dawson roads and the bridges that crossed the rivers were built because of mining and they were instrumental in expanding the economy of the Yukon in the turbulent sixties.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.