Yukon historian builds online community

Murray Lundberg – Yukon historian – builds an online community for sharing stories and building a collective memory

When it reached 500 people, Murray Lundberg was satisfied. Then, out of the blue, it jumped to 2,500, then 5,000. Now the “Yukon History and Abandoned Places” Facebook group has more than 11,000 users. And it steadily gains 50 new users each week. “All of a sudden it went nuts and I have no idea why it happened. Just boom—I was getting 1,000 new members a week,” said Lundberg, who administrates the page. “If I could reproduce that I could make a million dollars.” 

Far from a million. In fact, administrating a monster group like that comes with no paycheque at all, but Lundberg treats it like a full-time job. On average he pours 30 hours each week into the conversations and connections he’s built online. For Lundberg, it’s a labour of love. 

“Being able to make connections—that’s what gives me the warm fuzzies,” he said. “For example, I was able to add another name to the Pioneer Cemetery’s lost grave database because a woman saw the Facebook group and got in touch with the name and photograph of her cousin’s daughter’s grave.” “Facebook is not just for posting pictures of your cat and nasty political memes; it can actually produce some great stuff,” said Lundberg with a laugh. 

The group is described as open to “anyone with an interest in any aspect of Yukon history and/or a fascination with abandoned places of all sorts.” Users are invited to post stories or photos, or ask questions. “It’s a pretty cool collective memory we have going on. If one person says something wrong there are 10 people who say ‘no, that’s not how it happened,’” he said. “And the really cool part is that it is a conversation—a two-way dialogue, or, in this case, an 11,000-way dialogue.”

Lundberg’s passion for history runs in the family. His father had a bug for history. Lundberg caught it in 1958, when he was just eight years old. Using his grandfather’s old large format camera, he started taking photographs of the Cariboo Mining District in south-central B.C. “More than 60 years later I am still doing the same thing, I just have better equipment,” he said. He found himself drawn to the Yukon. In 1985, with his own plane and private pilot’s licence, he decided to come up and have a look. He flew all the way to Tuktoyaktuk, then across to Fort Yukon and Fairbanks, and then back down south to Vancouver, stopping in a lot of spots along the way.

“I had always been fascinated by the Yukon, and that flight hooked me,” he said. “It was so incredible—the land, the people and the history.” “The original plan was to write a book about that trip called Rowdy Bars of the North, but it turned out that most of my memories were too fuzzy to actually write down—it was that kind of trip. It was such a hoot.”

Lundberg in 1989 while photographing in the Chilliwack Valley

A few years later he saw a listing in the Vancouver newspaper advertising for tour-bus drivers in Whitehorse. He started driving 10-to 20-day tours of Yukon and Alaska. On these tours, he was expected to be the expert on the places they visited.“All at once I was both a student and a teacher of Yukon history,” he said. “I had a couple of pretty intense years of just cramming and cramming and cramming—I would be driving along with index cards with information tucked under my hip.” He stayed with the job for 23 years because he loved it.

“It got me to some amazing places and I got to meet a lot of incredible people,” he said. “It was a constant learning experience. Each time it would be different. I’ve driven up the Dempster Highway and had a white wolf running beside the bus.”

Though he officially retired in 2008, he still leads one special tour group each year during the Yukon Quest International Dog Sled Race. In 1996, Lundberg wrote his first book, Fractured Veins and Broken Dreams: Montana Mountain and the Windy Arm Stampede. It was an account of the silver mines above Carcross, where he was living at the time.

“It started off when I came across the stone houses on Montana Mountain and no one really knew why they were there. I thought, I have to find out.” A year later, he started his website, Yukon and Alaska History, which expanded into his ExploreNorth site, still online today. “In those days there was no good Yukon history online, so I thought I would do it,” he said. “I look back on the screenshots now and it was pretty basic, but it did what it needed to do.”

Over the years, he’s also collected his own archive of Yukon history books and documents. He has 107 books on the Alaska Highway alone. Currently, Lundberg is working on a second edition of his first book, Fractured Veins and Broken Dreams, and hopes to have a new version on bookstore shelves in May. He’s also continuing to build his online group one post and one conversation at a time.

“Most people never find where they really belong, never mind what they should be doing,” said Lundberg. “This is clearly what I should be doing. It affects a lot of people in positive ways and I love doing it.”

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