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Dr. Alexander John Gillis, Yukon Pioneer


    Alexander John Gillis was born in Nova Scotia in 1865. His parents were John W. Gillis and Ann Gillis, formerly McPherson. In 1885, after completing a four year course at Upper North Grant School in Antigonish County, Nova Scotia, he was awarded a Grade 'B' Provincial Teachers License.

    In 1892 he graduated from the Pennsylvania Dental College in Philadelphia, and in 1894 he received his Medical Degree from the Philadelphia Medical School.

Dr. Alexander John Gillis in Dawson City, Yukon     When news of the Klondike Gold Rush resounded throughout the world press, Dr. Gillis, like so many others, started out for Dawson. Unlike so many others, he actually made it. Fortunately for us, he was an amateur photographer of considerable skill.

    In April 1898, he and his companions reached Bennett via the trail from Skagway over the White Pass Summit. From Bennett, head of the water transportation route to Dawson, he proceeded to the 'City of Gold', arriving that summer. Initially, he mined along the creeks, primarily on Dominion, in the vicinity of No. 4 Above Lower Discovery.

Mrs. Frances Gillis in Dawson City, Yukon     It was in the Yukon that Dr. Gillis met his future wife, Frances Donley. Born in 1872 in Ontario, her parents were Joshua Donley and Eliza Jane Donley (Bond). On March 18, 1902, they were married in Dawson by Andrew S. Grant, Rector of St. Andrews Presbyterian Church. They lived in a rather comfortable home on the east side of Seventh (?) Avenue. On July 17, 1916, their first and only child, Alexandria Jane, was born.

    Dr. Gillis expanded his professional practice, becoming a recognized member of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the N.W.T. in 1906. Subsequently, in 1911, he was certified to practice medicine in Dawson, and in 1920 he qualified as a member of the Dominion Dental Council.

Mrs. Frances Gillis at a hunting camp near Dawson City, Yukon     During their residence in Dawson, they enjoyed hunting and fishing excursions and participated in community life. Dr. Gillis was an active member of the local chapter of the Masonic Lodge. Over the years they developed a number of close and lasting freindships; among their more prominent friends were Dr. Alfred Thompson and Robert W. Service.

    Dr. Gillis was also involved in politics; from 1912-14 he was the Conservative Member for South Dawson and Speaker of the Territorial Legislative Council. He supported Robert Borden's Unionist Federal Government during WWI, and as can be expected, was critical of Laurier and his Liberals.

    Around 1918, Dr. and Mrs. Gillis left the Yukon, but Dr. Gillis returned each summer up until the mid 1920s to maintain his practice. By then, the population of Dawson had dwindled to the point where his services were not needed. They eventually settled in Victoria, British Columbia, and later moved to Seattle.

Biography and photographs courtesy of the Yukon Archives