An Enterprising Adventurer

The lure of the Yukon brought many enterprising people north.  Togo Takamatsu was one of them.

He was born in Chojumura, Japan on February 10, 1875 and immigrated to Vancouver in 1907. In the spring of 1920 he arrived in Carcross becoming one of 20 Asian people living in the Yukon according to the census. He became a naturalized Canadian citizen in 1921.

Togo, who went by the name Tommy, found work as a section hand on the White Pass & Yukon Route railway. He was able to buy a house and small boat and also had a cabin at Ten Mile.

When he was in his fifties, he married Jessie Jim, the daughter of Tagish Jim and Jennie. They had four children, Baby Larry who died at the age of three, Vera, Randall and Larry, named after their first child.

Language was a barrier making communication difficult and they eventually separated. Togo moved to his cabin. However, he continued to provide for his family, visited regularly and supplied them with vegetables from his large garden. They were never short of potatoes, turnips and carrots.

Tragedy struck in 1935 when the Casey car carrying him and three other men was hit by the company track car transporting White Pass & Yukon Route manager Wheeler to Carcross. Togo was badly hurt with broken ribs and other injuries and spent several months in the Whitehorse hospital. The company paid his salary and medical costs for a year and then offered him a job as a track walker. He refused because of his injuries and was considered to be disabled. Togo sued the railroad company for compensation and received an out of court settlement of $1,000, which would be worth about $17,000 today. Not a large settlement especially in the days before social assistance and medicare.

Togo remained in Carcross and did not let his injuries stop him. He earned a living cutting wood for the nearby Choutla School. Since there were woodstoves in every classroom and the winters were long and harsh, this would have been a lot of hard work for a man in his sixties with disabilities. Although he spoke limited English, his daughter Vera remembers that Tommy was popular in Carcross, counting Matthew Watson, owner of the general store, and Reverend Grant among his friends. He partnered with Johnnie Johns to raise chickens and supplied fresh eggs to the local residents. Vera remembers him as a sober person.

Life must not have been easy for the children and Togo during the war years with the fear of a Japanese invasion in Alaska and the construction of the Alaska Highway. During World War II, when the sternwheeler the SS Tutshi docked at Carcross in the summer, the Japanese stewards and cooks visited with him, bringing him biscuits and exchanging news in Japanese.

Togo’s wife, Jessie, was raised in the rich traditions of her Tagish and Tlingit ancestors. Her uncle, Skookum Jim, was a key discoverer of the gold that sparked the Klondike gold rush. Perhaps this was one of the stories that inspired Togo to venture north. Vera remembers her mother as a good provider, always busy preparing food and sewing moccasins for the children who lived with her in Carcross.

Togo died at his wood camp in 1942, leaving just a few modest possessions to his family. He had lived a simple life, carrying on despite the difficulties life presented him. After his death, Jessie moved to Whitehorse to establish a new home and Vera and Randall went to the Baptist Indian Mission School. Today, Vera lives in Fort St. John, BC with her daughter and grandchildren. Togo and Jessie’s great-grandson, Justin Ferby, lives in the Yukon and carries on the entrepreneurial spirit of his Japanese and First Nation ancestors.

May is Asian Heritage Month. Look for displays at the Whitehorse Public Library and listen to CBC radio for the CBC book panel with Dave White reviewing For Today I am Boy by Kim Fu and The Hungry Ghosts by Shyam Selvadurai.

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