McQuesten’s Diary a Historic Treasures in a Box

I have been told the “winner writes history.” Taking this idea a bit further and you might think history is all about battles, economic or ecological, or just about power. But history is much more than that.

I recently had an opportunity to touch history. To look at and study a wonderful collection given to the Yukon Archives by Ralph Troberg from Dawson City.

The collection belonged to his father, Ralph Earl Troberg. When Ralph Troberg senior passed away in 1985 Ralph Troberg juniour placed boxes in storage. Recently Troberg juniour decided to look at the collection. He wasn’t sure what all was there, but he thought it was time to donate it. The Yukon Archives was the place to honour his dad and the collection.

A much thumbed journal was included. It wasn’t clear at first whose journal it was. It soon became evident that it is the original journal of Leroy N. “Jack” McQuesten – who is often thought of as the Father of the Yukon.

McQuesten came to the Yukon in 1871. Originally from New Hampshire, he traveled and lived in different parts of North America before coming north. He founded a trading post at Fort Reliance (10 km from what is now Dawson City). He worked alongside Arthur Harper and Al Mayo to develop Yukon’s early trading and mining industries.

Another one of his legacies is that McQuesten helped organize the Yukon Order of Pioneers (YOOP). The honest and hardworking YOOP members adopted “do unto others as you would be done by” as a motto, and McQuesten was elected its first president.

In the mid 1950’s Troberg was the Yukon Order of Pioneers’ Grand Historian. He had a sense of historical documents being taken out of Dawson – especially when the capital city status left Dawson City and Whitehorse became the capital. Troberg wanted to keep Dawson’s history in Dawson, so he started collecting documents and other artifacts. Troberg kept things; the extraordinary collector.

It’s amazing that McQuesten’s journal survived; it was believed to have burned in a Dawson City fire.

Pam Brown, a student at the Yukon College, transcribed and typed the journal.

As I read the transcribed copy wonderful details jump off the page.

The journal begins:

“How we came to go to the Yukon

in 1871 there was three of us wintering

on the head waters of Hay River

Trapping and trading with the Indians.”

And pages later:

“There was a meating [sic] called to make laws

governing the size of placer claims

and watter [sic] right so that everyone

new what he was in titled [sic] to in case

any thing was struck…

and I was elected recorder.”

The book is not a daily journal and it skips ahead sometimes, but it is a unique picture into McQuesten’s life in the Klondike.

In addition to McQuesten’s diary, the Troberg collection includes founding documents and the membership book from the early YOOP era. Each member’s page indicated when they arrived in Yukon, when they were initiated into YOOP, a ledger of dues paid and often a death date. To look at, and touch, those incredible pages was an honour for me.

The Troberg collection also contains some family photos. Jennifer Roberts, private records archivist with the Yukon Archives, will oversee the cataloguing, arranging and describing of the collection. In some cases photos will be digitized; all will be numbered and described. The collection will be available to the public.

History is so much more than a list of dates, agreements signed, or who won or lost any particular skirmish. History comes alive with documents, pictures, people’s thoughts and ideas. Ralph E. Troberg and his son saved an incredible piece of Yukon history. The donation allows all Yukoners to view and cherish our past.

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