People Who Made the Yukon

People Who Made the Yukon
Yukon has its share of noteworthy characters.

Over the years, a lot of people have left their mark on the Yukon and quite a few Yukoners have left their mark on the world. Browse our list of local luminaries.


The Bard of Yukon. Robert Service's cabin in Dawson City is a National Historic Site. Every summer a resident actor recreating his life and persona brings the drama of Service's poetry to life, including the classic Cremation of Sam McGee.


Martha Black's first husband left her in 1897 while they were en route to the Klondike. Undaunted, she hiked over the Chilkoot Pass in July of 1898 and came down the Yukon River in a homemade boat. Upon her arrival in Dawson, she realized she was pregnant and later bore her child alone in a log cabin on the hills above Dawson. Martha raised money, bought a sawmill, and bossed 16 men on a mining claim. Later, she married George Black, a lawyer who eventually became Commissioner of the Yukon Territory. In 1935, when she was almost 70, Martha Black became the Yukon's first, and Canada's second, woman Member of Parliament


In March 1965, U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy was the first person to climb the Canadian mountain named after his brother, J.F. Kennedy. Mount Kennedy is in the St. Elias Mountains in Kluane National Park. At 4,172 metres (13,905 ft.), it was the highest unclimbed mountain in the range. Robert Kennedy had no experience in mountaineering, but in the company of veteran climbers, he had no problem making the ascent.


Pierre Berton was a celebrated Canadian historian who spent his childhood years in the Yukon. His book, Klondike, is a fascinating historical account of the Klondike Gold Rush. His mother's book, I married the Klondike, is a first-hand narrative of her experiences living in Dawson at the turn of the century following the great Gold Rush.


Edith Josie's trademark is her introduction, Here are the News. Her community column on Old Crow (the most northerly community in Yukon) was reprinted in the Edmonton Journal and the Toronto Telegram and was translated into German, Italian and Spanish. Edith Josie's captivating style attracted fans from as far away as New Zealand, Texas, Florida and the Philippines. Everyone wants to know whether there is enough caribou to eat and whether plane or boat come, bring fresh stuff without break down.


The Yukon had a powerful impact on writer Jack London, author of classic tales of the Klondike like Call of the Wild and White Fang. Shortly after returning to Oakland, California, from the Klondike, London began his habit of writing 1,000 words a day. He was to continue at this pace until his death at the age of 40, some 18 years later. During this time he wrote 50 books and hundreds of short stories. Half of London's original Klondike log cabin is open from May to September at Jack London Centre in Dawson City. The other half of the cabin is the heart of an attraction at Jack London Square in Oakland.


Angela Sydney was one of the few remaining speakers of the Tagish language. She dedicated herself to preserving the traditions and culture of her language, recording the First Nations names for local sites and transcribing the oral history of her people so it would not be lost. Her efforts and inspiration helped restore her people's pride, made her a Member of the Order of Canada and led to the creation of the Yukon International Storytelling Festival.


Diamond Tooth Gertie (a.k.a. Gertie Lovejoy) was a bona fide Yukon dance-hall queen, named for the sparkling diamond she wedged between her two front teeth. Gertie made a fortune relieving miners of their gold nuggets. She once commented, "The poor ginks have just gotta spend it, they're that scared they'll die before they have it all out of the ground." Fittingly, there's a casino and music hall named after Gertie in Dawson City.


Joe Boyle is a Klondike legend and stories of his incredible life would fill a book. Boyle organized boxing matches in Dawson, ran the three largest gold dredges and the power company, and personally managed the Dawson hockey team. He organized and financed a battalion of Dawson men to fight in the First World War. In 1917, he was dispatched to Russia as a member of the British Railway Mission where, wearing glittering nugget badges and a jacket with Yukon embroidered on it, Boyle feuded with Grand Duke Alexander and fought bare-fisted with a mob on the steps of the Czar's palace. During his life, the adventurer was awarded seven foreign decorations, including the British D.S.O. and O.B.E.


The climate and conditions of the North give birth to incredible sagas of human determination and strength. The Iron Man of the North, Percy de Wolfe, was one of these larger than life figures. Every winter, de Wolfe carried the mail from Dawson to Eagle, Alaska by boat, canoe, horse sleigh or dog team. He made this trip three times a month through snow, blizzards and 50 below. When the river ice was breaking, he would jump from chunk to chunk with the mail on his back. Once, when his sleigh broke through the ice, de Wolfe stood waist deep in the sinking box and pulled 22 sacks of mail from the wagon before it sank.

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