The Transportation Museum

Whitehorse, YT, Canada

August 25th, 2002

Our last outing in the wonderful town of Whitehorse in the Yukon was to one of the town's newest attractions. This was a double dose of history, in the form of two museums sharing the same parking lot. Unrelated in material or approach, this turned out to be a lot of fun. As we drove into the parking lot, the building on the left had a long high front, like a barracks or warehouse. The whole front of the building was a gigantic mural depicting methods of transportation in the Yukon from the first dogsled to the last car. Now what transportation museum could start out with anything but a massive model train display with all kinds of tracks, buildings, trees, cars and just about everything you could imagine? Whitehorse for a time was the center of the Yukon railroad. From here, in the waning years of the gold rush, prospectors arrived from Skagway. No longer required to walk the arduous trek over the passes from Skagway. In winter the river froze over and stampeeders were stuck in Whitehorse awaiting the spring thaw when the ferryboats would once again transport goods and people to the gold fields of the Klondike. The museum featured several famous personalities out of the past, such as Martha Louise Manger who was born in 1866 in Chicago, Illinois to wealthy parents. She was educated to become a "proper" lady and at the age of 21, she married Will Purdy. They subsequently ran off to Alaska, where Purdy left her. She continued on to the Klondike with her brother and searched for gold. She became one of the first women prospectors in the area. In 1902 Martha met lawyer George Black who proposed marriage after two weeks (which was quite normal given the time and place). Divorced from Will Purdy, she married George two years later. They shared a love of nature and with the boys, spent many happy hours together outdoors. George turned out to be quite likable and got into politics. He finally ended up in the Canadian Parliament where he served until becoming ill. At the age of 70 Martha ran in his place and became only the second women to have acquired a seat in Parliament. All this is contained in a wonderful book of her autobiography "My Seventy Years". Although not in the Whitehorse area, there was a good representation of the infamous "Chilkoot Pass, featured on the Alaskan license plate, and made immortal by a single old photograph picturing a long line of walkers up a seemingly impossible hill in deep snow, trying to get their required supplies to the top of White Pass. The reason for the walk was that Canada, on the second year of the gold rush, required some 1200 lbs of goods to be included with every entry into the Yukon Territory. Six Royal Canadian Mounties stood guard at the border and rigorously inspected all those who would cross. Steps were carved into the steep ice slopes of the Chilkoot pass by prospectors on their way to the Klondike. The steps referred to as the
Golden Stairway, saw each traveler make as many as 30 trips to transport the minimum requirement of 1200 lbs of gear per man to the summit. Later Chilkoot Indians found employment as professional packers during the early part of the gold rush stampede. Carrying loads of 100 lbs and more up the steep slopes to the summit at a charge of 12 cents per lb. was a strenuous but lucrative profession. Most of this employment ended when the first tram was opened in May of 1898 offering freight charges of 7.5 cents per lb. There were all kinds of other interesting means of transportations. The methods of transportation in this area reflected the harsh weather conditions during the long winter season.  Dog sleds, specially equipped tractors, and other vehicles.  At one point I even got Laura to mount a snowmobile for a memorable photo shot.  Whitehorse was the end of the railroad and the beginning of the Alcan highway.  There was a good representation of the vehicles used in the construction of that monumental roadway.  The other museum, just across the parking lot was quite a surprise.  With all the traveling we had done, I was pretty sure I was familiar with all the areas of North America.  Boy was I in for an education, but that is next week's story.

***THE END ***