Sample Interpretive Tour Program:
Sample Interpretive Tour Program:
Hello, Welcome to Carcross. My name is ________ and I’m with the Caribou Crossing Adventure Company, run out of the Koolseen Centre. This tour will last approximately 25 to 30 minutes and we will walk through the town and look at some of the key historical buildings.
Carcross, like many of the towns of the Yukon, was established during the gold rush. However, area is located on Tagish land, and was known to the Tagish First Nations as Todezzane, “blowing all the time” and to the Tlingit as Naataase Heen, “water running through the narrows”. Just recently, in May of this year, the Carcross Tagish First Nations approved the land claim, so that they will be self-governing rather than an Indian Act band. The C/TFN will also own over 1554 square kilometers of settlement land.
In 1899 the community was officially named Caribou Crossing, referring to the spot where the local woodland caribou herd crossed the narrows. However, due to frequent mail mix-ups with other communities in BC, the Yukon and Alaska with similar names, in 1904 Bishop Bompass, the town’s Anglican Bishop, requested that the name be abbreviated to ‘Carcross”, a change which was approved in 1906.
While originally an outpost for the North West Mounted Police, Carcross continued to grow as it became an important stop for supplies for people involved in the Gold Rush, as gold was found in the Atlin, Bennett and Conrad City. It further becomes a stop along the White Pass and Yukon Route railway in 1900. It was also a minor shipbuilding centre for sternwheelers and for a short time it has the largest sawmill in the territory, owned by Mike King, who also built the boats and scows for the gold rush trade from early 1897.
Carcross is also important in that it was the home of Skookum Jim, from the Tagish First Nation, who was the one to first find gold in Bonanza Creek, spurring the Klondike Gold Rush. Kate Carmack, Dawson Charlie and Patsy Henderson similarly lived in this area.
At the height of the Gold Rush in 1897 it became evident that a more efficient method of crossing the passes of the St. Elias Range from Alaska to Lake Bennett was needed, as the White Pass Trail was difficult to traverse and both it and the Chilkoot Trail were clogged with Stampeders. There were a number of attempts to do this including aerial tramways, and a disastrous attempt by George Brackett to build a wagon road. (Problems included insufficient funds and lack of properly prospecting the route…he only able to complete 8 miles before he ran out of money. After this he left for a year to raise funds, returned and put a toll on the road. However the stampeders refused to pay and Brackett, using his influence in Washington, had the U.S. Army send troops from Dyea to maintain order and keep the roads open.)
The idea for the railroad was born in the early part of 1898, however the first man to survey the mountains for the prospective railroad, named Tancrede, concluded that due to the rugged terrain a railroad was not feasible. Michael Heney (who was known as "Big Mike" or "The Irish Prince") thought differently. After a night of talking in Skagway's St. James Hotel bar, he got Tancrede to agree to begin the project with financing from British backers. They agreed it would be an expensive undertaking, but could be done with tons of equipment, thousands of men and reasonably good weather, items that were all lacking right from the start. However, construction began in April 1898.
(There were several problems building the railways (other than the difficult terrain, weather and lack of materials): it hard to get men working for labour prices considering all the gold they thought was waiting for them in the Klondike. However, men often ended up working with the railroad wither to earn enough money to get to the gold fields, or to return home. Additionally, whenever there was a rumour of gold, the labour for the railroad would rapidly deplete. Other problems included an international dispute over the location of the Canadian/US border and a gang of outlaws operating out of Skagway under the direction of “Soapy Smith” (Jefferson Randolph Smith). The gang robbed new arrivals at Skagway, usually by confidence tricks, and caused trouble at the railroad work camps. But the problem disappeared abruptly on July 9, 1898, when citizens of Skagway organized Vigilantes. One of them, Frank Reid, shot it out with Soapy on the Skagway waterfront wharf of Skagway. Both men were killed.)
While railway construction was under way in 1899, gold was discovered in Atlin and another stampede occurred. As a result, all would-be miners, goods and services destined for Atlin went through Carcross. The town was further established by the WP&YR to maintain the rail line and connect freight and passengers to Atlin and points around the lake via the sternwheelers. Previous to this, the town had consisted only of North West Mounted Police Post and was associated with a reserve on the north side of the narrows and a First Nation community on the south.
The Carcross area is a part of Tagish First Nation’s Land, and Skookum Jim, of the First Nation, having gained fame for his role as the one who discovered gold in the Klondike, was the one to make a deal with the railway. He game permission for the railway to build across his land in exchange for jobs for the people in his community. So in 1899 J.H. Brownlee surveyed the town site for the White Pass & Yukon Route.
The first train ran the 40 miles from Skagway to Lake Bennett on July 6, 1899 while other crews started working south from Whitehorse. At this point freight could now be sent by train to Lake Bennett, put on lake steamers to Caribou Crossing and then hauled to Whitehorse on wagons or by rail as the roadbed construction progressed. The railroad connected Carcross and Whitehorse in June 1900, and the entire line was completed on July 29, 1900, with a golden spike celebration at Carcross, Yukon Territory. Many dignitaries attended this ceremony in which a real golden spike was placed on a rail. There were many attempts were made to drive it in with no avail. The spike ended up a twisted piece of gold.
It took 27 months to build this 110-mile rail line: A very long time for a short distance. But considering the terrain, weather, manpower and machinery problems that the builders had to contend with, it is a tribute to their persistence and dedication that the railroad was completed at all. Carcross was a major depot for the WP&YR, running from 1900 until the railway ceased operations during the recession of 1982
The White Pass and Yukon Route railroad depot was built in 1910. It is a designated Canadian Heritage Railway Station and operates as the Visitor Reception Centre. The Koolseen centre, the warehouse behind the Visitor Reception center was used for freight storage during the later years. It is named the Koolseen centre after Patsy Henderson (Koolseen), who also played a role in the discovery of gold at Bonanza Creek with Skookum Him. He used to stand outside of the train station, greeting tourists with public lectures, explaining traditional ways by describing traditional traps and how to light fires without matches, doing various animal calls and telling the story of the finding gold in the Klondike.
The Caribou Hotel most likely started its life as the Yukon Hotel in Bennett and was transported from Bennett to Carcross on a scow by the owner W.A. Anderson. At this time William Walmsley’s ‘Caribou House’ was the only operating hotel in town. Anderson opened the hotel as the ‘Anderson Hotel’ in May 1901.
In 1903 Anderson’s bar, hotel and store were bought for $9000 by Dawson Charlie, one of the discoverers of gold in the Klondike along with Skookum Jim and George Carmack. Dawson Charlie had to give up his status in order to both own the hotel and to be able to drink at the bar.
After Dawson Charlie’s death on January 26, 1908, Edwin W. and Bessie Gideon rented it from his estate. The hotel prospered until it burned to the ground in the fire of December 24, 1909. The temporary hotel was moved to Colonel Conrad’s house until, Gideon built a new hotel on the same spot in 1910 using material from a building in Conrad City.
The famed Polly the Parrot moved into the hotel in 1918, when Captain James Alexander asked the Gideon's to take care of him while he and his wife went on a trip; they were subsequently killed on the wreck of the Princess Sophia. Polly resided at the Caribou Hotel for more than 50 years, gaining international fame for singing opera and for shocking unsuspecting hotel guests with colourful profanity. He died in 1972 at the age of 126 and his grave is marked with a fine bronze marker.
Bessie Gideon, the owner’s wife, died in the hotel in 1933, and the hotel has been reported to be haunted by her ghost, a shy spirit who resides on the third floor.
In addition to being a minor boat-building centre, Caribou Crossing was also a station for the Royal Mail and the Dominion Telegraph Line, and it served as a communications point on the Yukon River.
Conrad's most ambitious and extravagant undertaking was construction of a tramline to carry the ore down from his mine on Montana Mountain--then the longest aerial tram in the world. It rose 3,700 feet, extended for four miles and cost $75,000 to build at a time when the average miner was earning $3.50 a day. The sternwheeler Gleaner provided steamer service between Conrad and Carcross twice a week, and a telephone line linked the mines, Conrad and Carcross. Luck ran out however when the world price for silver dropped in 1914 and the mines were discovered not to be as extensive as previously thought. The mines were closed and the town was abandoned.
Carcross however, benefited from this when a major fire destroyed the downtown core in 1909, as over the year’s buildings from Conrad City, Bennett City (abandoned after 1900) and other abandoned mining communities in the area were relocated to Carcross.
Interestingly, the homeowners along Bennett Ave and the Bennett Lake beachfront were considered “squatters” until the regulations changed in 1983, allowing these properties to be titled.
Skookum Jim’s House (not on route, can point in direction)
After spending time in the Whitehorse hospital with kidney problems in his old age, he returned back to Carcross until his death. Four years after Skookum Jim died, the Anglican Church disposed of the property. Johnny Johns bought the house in 1920 in trust for the wolf clan who gradually paid him back. Johns never lived in the house, which is owned by the Wolf (Daklaweidi) People. Joe Schinkel largely reconstructed the Skookum Jim House after a fire that occurred around 1967.
History of Schools
The regular Carcross School had burned down in July 1936, spreading from a fire originating in the old Scott Hotel. The entire school was demolished in only forty minutes. While some of the school equipment was saved, many of Patsy Henderson’s relics of the North, and items used in connection with his lectures-, which were often given out of the hotel-, were lost.
The town of Carcross has an interesting history of schooling. There were two sets of schools, the day schools, found in town and for white children, and the residential boarding school, found just out of town on Tagish road, for the First Nation children.
In 1903, the Anglican Church, under Bishop Bompas, opened the Indian Boarding School, later to become known as the Choutla Indian Residential School (Choutla meaning “laughing water”). In 1911, the Canadian Government Department of Indian Affairs, funded the construction of a new school building, which was placed at the disposal of the Church of England. A new building was built after a fire in 1939 and classes were held in various temporary locations until 1954 when a new building was built to accommodate 160 students. By the late 1960s the Canadian government had changed its policy of assimilation of native people into mainstream society and residential schools were phased out. The school was closed in the early 1970s. After being used as a private school for a couple of years, it was demolished in the mid-1980s.
This school, like most residential schools of this era, often forcibly removed children from their families, keeping them apart for months or years at a time. This caused problems as the children were cut off from their own culture, but at the same time were not accepted by white society. Many of the children left the school before graduation, but faced enormous problems in the traumatic transition adapting to life back in their home communities. The residential school system in effect left these children “potential outcasts of their own people and not quite up to the standards of white intellect”.
(A 1931 pamphlet of the Choutla school notes “The main object of this School is to send boys and girls back to their own people not Europeanized, and contemptuous of their old surroundings, but able to stand along, living sober, well-instructed, high-principled Christian lives, and there gather others around them by daily exhibition of a standard of truth and goodness never known before” (6).)
The school's academic program was limited to basic writing and arithmetic, and it promoted loyalty to Christianity and the British Empire. Indian culture and traditions were considered irrelevant and students were forbidden to speak their native languages. They also suffered physical, emotional and sexual abuse. (During construction of the Alaska Highway in 1942, two black American soldiers entered the girls' dormitory of Choutla School. The two soldiers were later found guilty of having sex with under-age girls and were fined $24 and $20 each by an American military court. In 2001, other lawsuits were filed against the Anglican Church and others for abuses against the students in the 1950s and 1960s)
St. John the Baptist Catholic Church
St. Saviour’s Anglican Church (not on route, can tie into talk about St. John the Baptist Church)
Bishop Bompas’ House (not on route)
They rented this Canadian Development Co. bunkhouse and purchased it shortly thereafter. At that time the building was much larger and T shaped, extending back into the bank. School and church services were held here until separate facilities were built for the mission school and church in 1903/04.
Bishop Ridley of Caledonia, visiting Carcross in 1903 gave his description of the Bishop’s house noting that the "Bishop's house (was) built of logs, on the sand. The flooring boards were half an inch apart; so shrunken were they that it would be easy to rip them up and lay them down close together. Then the roof; it was papered, with battens across the paper. I was anxious to see inside less of the light of heaven through the rents. Ventilation is carried to excess. Everything around is as simple as indifference to creature comforts can make it, excepting the books, which are numerous, up to date, and as choice as any two excellent scholars could wish.”
The Grant family lived here in the 1940s and the Baptist Church used it in 1980 for services given by Mr. Dickie.
The Carcross Barracks