Robinson Roadhouse Historic Site, Yukon
by Murray Lundberg
Robinson Roadhouse Historic Site Rest Area
This Historic Site and Rest Area is located at Km 139.6 of the South Klondike Highway. The roadhouse has been stabilized, but the other buildings have not.
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The Wheaton and Watson district miners came to Robinson siding to pick up freight and mail, and ship out their ore. It was a natural gathering place and, at the peak of the 1906 gold rush, William Grainger and Herman Vance claimed 160 acres on each side of the railway as a townsite. Well-known hotel and restaurant builder and owner Louis Markel constructed the Gold Hill roadhouse and saloon on Grainger’s land.
Mrs. Markel was in charge of the roadhouse in 1909 when Charles McConnell became the postmaster and settled there to establish a ranch. McConnell was born in Prince Edward Island and worked as a fireman in Maine where he was a well-known weight lifter. He came north during the Klondike Gold Rush and worked as a freighter on the Stikine Trail and then a freighter for White Pass & Yukon Route during the railway construction. He was a very strong man in his twenties who entertained visitors by tossing a railway tie.
Many of the miners left the region during the First World War and the post office closed in 1915. Mrs. Markel died in 1917 but McConnell stayed on at Robinson where he managed the roadhouse, operated a saw mill and logging operation and mined for coal in the district.
McConnell would meet visitors at Robinson siding, take them to his roadhouse for tea and cinnamon buns and then taxi them to cottages at Annie Lake or wherever they wanted to go.
Robinson Flag Station
The White Pass & Yukon Route (WP&YR) railway was completed from Skagway to Whitehorse in 1900. A parallel track, or siding, was built in the rail line here to allow trains to pass one another. Robinson siding was a designated "flag station" where the train stopped on an as-need or request basis. During the 1906 Wheaton gold rush a railway box car was parked at Robinson to accommodate waiting passengers.
The Wheaton district miners shipped their ore to Robinson over pack trails or a 1907 wagon road to the mines on Gold Hill. A mine on Carbon Hill shipped ten tons of antimony ore 35 km to Robinson in 1916 and in 1918 the Tally Ho mine brought 14.6 tons of gold/silver/lead ore from Mt. Stevens.
The first wagon road between Whitehorse and Carcross was constructed in 1904 and improved around 1908. The railway was the only means of reaching the coast until the Klondike Highway was completed in 1979.
Robinson remained a flag station until the railway shut down in 1983.
The Robinson siding was named for William “Stikine Bill” Robinson who worked on many railway projects including an ill-fated one from Glenora in the Stikine River area.
Robinson was head of the grading crew during the WP&YR railway construction and then managed the Red Line Transportation Company that brought construction materials, supplies and commercial freight over the 1899 gap in rail service between the White Pass summit and Carcross.
Stikine Bill was a large man, known for his loud snores, amusing stories, creative profanity and accuracy in spitting Black Strap chewing tobacco.
The Wheaton Mining District
Prospectors located silver in the Wheaton River district in 1893 and shipped samples to Juneau, Alaska where they caused some excitement. There were no maps to the strike and none of the prospectors returned so their "lost mine" became legendary. In 1898, W. P. Schnabel located the early workings on Idaho Hill where he and his partners started a mine. They built an aerial tramway and shipped out ten tons of silver ore in 1905.
Overly-optimistic reports from miners on Montana Mountain, south of Carcross, attracted more prospectors to the area in 1906. The discovery of free gold (not mixed with other minerals) led to a staking rush on Gold Hill. More than 700 claims were staked and a few rich pockets of ore were found.
The Wheaton mining district is rich in other minerals as well. The price of antimony, used in batteries and solder, was very high during World War I. White Pass & Yukon Route offered relatively low shipment rates from Robinson to the port at Skagway to encourage development of the region. Silver and stibnite (the natural sulfide of antimony) were mined on Carbon Hill and Chieftain Hill but the deposits were small and too expensive to mine after the war.
Mineral exploration of the region continued with little success until 1981 when the price of gold increased and improved exploration techniques included geochemical prospecting. An underground mine north of Mount Skukum was developed and produced 78,000 ounces of gold between 1986 and 1988.
Traditional Ways and Places
The landscape in this region contains many signs of human occupation from generations past: old camps, hunting blinds, ancient campfires and stone tools. Stories told by Carcross/ Tagish elders provide the link between the past and present.
People travelled mainly by foot although dugout canoes, rafts and skin boats were made and used on all waters but the larger more dangerous lakes.
When the first Euro-Canadians arrived, the Carcross/Tagish people were using a main village on the Tagish River where they stayed at different seasons of the year. They travelled to places like this natural meadow at Robinson to trap or hunt ground squirrels and other small game.
The Carcross/Tagish hunters and fishermen travelled their territory at the headwaters of the Yukon River in small family groups. Their food, clothing, shelter and tools were made from the things they found on the land.
They were skilled hunters using bows and arrows, spears and snares. They built brush fence traps, log deadfall traps, rock hunting blinds and willow fish traps. The remains of their meat drying camps can still be found in less disturbed locations.