The wonderful and sometimes wild women of the Yukon and Whitehorse
WHITEHORSE - One of the great joys of checking out the MacBride Museum of Yukon History is reading up on the wonderful and colourful women who have made their mark on the territory and on this bustling city.
One of the most notorious, if you will, females was Kathleen Rockwell, an American also known as Klondike Kate. She came to the Yukon during the Gold Rush of 1897 and is said to have made $30,000 her first year in Dawson City, and I'm guessing it wasn't all just from her dancing but I could be wrong.
One night she is said to have worn a $1,500 gown from Paris, which moved the boys in Dawson to dub her Queen of the Yukon. According to the exhibit at the museum, the miners fashioned a crown from a tin can and stuck lit candles on the jagged points.
"The boys went wild as Kate danced with wax dripping into her hair.”
Yeah, I guess they would.
Other women's stories also stand out. Lucille Hunter is said to have been one of the first black women in Yukon. The story goes that she came here pregnant from the U.S. at age 19 in 1897 with her husband, Charles, and took the difficult Stikine Trail. She stopped at Teslin Lake and had a daughter, which she named Teslin.
According to government archives, "the family continued on to Dawson, arriving there well before most of the stampeders. They staked a claim on Bonanza Creek in February 1898 and lived for a time at Grand Forks, at the confluence of Bonanza and Eldorado creeks.
After Charles died in 1939 Lucille continued to operate gold claims in Dawson and silver claims near Mayo. Every year she walked more than 200 km from Mayo to Dawson and back again. In 1943 she moved to Whitehorse, where she operated a laundry. Although she was completely blind in her later years she continued to be fiercely independent.
She died June 10, 1972 at the age of 93."
The final story I spotted was about Martha Louise Black. She apparently was a wealthy woman from Chicago who left her sons behind in the U.S. and came here with her brother over the Chilkoot Trail. She is said to have divorced her first husband in 1901 and then married a New Brunswick lawyer, who was Commissioner of the Yukon.
Her husband, George Black, decided to help the war effort in England and she insisted on going with him in 1916. Martha set up a fund to comfort Yukon soldiers in the war and did a lot of wonderful work in England before returning home. She also was made a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society for her work with Yukon flora.
The story goes that her husband became sick and ran for public office in his place and was elected at age 70.
The Canadian Encyclopedia says she campaigned the vast Yukon constituency - often on foot - to become the second woman ever elected to the Canadian Parliament.
"Martha Black had style and spirit; northerners appreciated these qualities and made her a legend," the encylcopedia report says.
A Whitehorse resident told me women still play a huge role in town. Ione Christensen, I believe, was the first woman mayor of Whitehorse and later served as a member of the Canadian Senate. Christensen is said to be in her 70's and still lives in Whitehorsem and I was told she can still climb the Chilkoot Pass.
Great women. Great stories.