Memories of Life in Dawson

Publishing timelines sometimes just don’t mesh with reality. Ten days ago I could have written three of these advance-notice style columns about the crowded schedule we’re having this week (November 7 to 11).

However, the theme of this column, whenever possible, is to look into the future and there’s not a lot going on 10 days from now.

This is weird. I seem to have been going non-stop ever since I got back from my vacation. Our Dawson editor, who works with me in another capacity at the Klondike Sun, exclaimed at my output last week while we were assembling the latest issue.

That said, I’m taking this slow news week to comment on others’ ruminations about the Klondike’s capital. The subject is memoirs – I’ve read several of them in the last few months.

Ellen Davignon’s The Cinnamon Mine is not a new book, having been originally published back in 1988. But a lovely new 2011 edition from Lost Moose has an improved cover, numerous photographs and a new epilogue.

It’s delightful, but I mention it only because Ellen’s parents spent part of their early-married years in and around Dawson, between here and Sixtymile.

There’s not a lot of Klondike detail in the fifth chapter of the book, but Ellen was born here, and her siblings started school at the old Dawson Public School.

Reaching back to a much earlier time, I have recently finished reading In the Footsteps of My Father (Publication Consultants), a self-published book assembled from the diaries of John Wesley Gebb by his son, Sheldon. It appeared this summer and was launched at the Dawson City Museum.

Sheldon and Barbara spent several years retracing John’s time in the Yukon and Alaska in 1908 and 1909. He came to mine, and did, but it is perhaps more significant in terms of local history that he was one of the surveyors on the Yukon Ditch (or 12 Mile Ditch, as he calls it).

The book gives a pretty fair account – mostly in his own words – of life as it was lived on that project, and also of the winter he and several partners spent trying to prove out a mine down by Gravel Lake.

Another period of our history that has not been well served is the time when our rivers were major highways.

Joann Robertson sought to remedy this in her self-published family memoir, The Yukon Between the Gold Rush & Highways. This book is a rougher product than the Gebb volume, and I was pleased to hear from Joann recently that she is in negotiations with a publisher to bring out a more polished edition.

A generational memoir, it includes writing from her grandfather, who arrived in the Yukon in 1897. Ned Hoggan wanted to be a successful miner, but he made his mark as a riverboat pilot and is remembered at the Yukon’s Transportation Museum.

The family lived all over the territory. Some of their writings are reproduced in the book, but Joann grew up mostly in Bear Creek and her own memories of life there fill in some blanks in Klondike history.

I had the good fortune to interview the Gebbs and Joann Robertson last spring and summer. Their dedication to family history is a further indication that that the Klondike’s past still has many unexplored corners.

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