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Main Street, Whitehorse

A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin

    The streets of Whitehorse are paved with stories. Some from yesterday - others from yesteryear. No-one could know them all. But it's nice to be able to share the few I know with others who probably have their own special memories.

    Main Street is a hub of activity in any town. So it is in Whitehorse. Today, it's a pleasant, well kept centre of the city. Centre? That's what Main Street was called on the first town plan back at the turn of the century. Walking the streets of Whitehorse cannot be complete without a walk up and down both sides of Main Street.

    From the White Pass station, not the original station, because the first burned down in 1905, northward to Taylor and Drury's general department store. Inside, in the '40s and '50s, the smell of oiled floors, calcimined walls, the occasional fresh orange, vinyl records and much more - outside, the smell of moccassins mingling with the sweet scent of the decaying wood of a sidewalk in need of repair. Much of Whitehorse was in need of repair in the late '40s.

    Across the street, the White Pass Hotel and Grill served french fries for a quarter, with or without ketchup. A few doors down was the small cramped office of Yukon Electric, where an old gentleman could occasionally be seen planning the next expansion of a badly needed power system. Deacon Phelps, his friends called him. Across the street to the Whitehorse Inn and cafe, where french fries also cost a quarter, with or without ketchup. And the deco booths came equipped with a wall-mounted machine which, for a quarter, would fill the room with three of the latest songs from the hit parade.

    Across Second Avenue on the north side of Main was a bank, where many years before a young clerk wrote through the night at his teller's cage to complete his ballad of love and hate, of rage and sorrow. Earlier that night, he had been in a bar down Main Street, where he heard a bunch of the boys whooping it up. His friends called him Bob (Service, that is).

    Across the street to the south, there was a flashy sign - just like in the big city - and a neon-lit replica of a creature with wings holding a proper cane. The Kee bird beaconed one and all to the men's wear store where the latest in 'outside' fashion hung on racks, amidst the sweet smell of an oil-covered floor.

    Further down on the south side was The Hub, a cafe where only the coolest of Whitehorse teenagers drank coke and coffee while telling lies about all the girls they knew.

    Kittycorner, as they say, to the north side, where an empty field served as the focal point of summer sporting activities. With home plate very near the corner of Fourth and Main, the ball diamond would ring all summer long as the Army battled the Airforce and the YPA. The young people of this small town went head to head with the men of the Legion.

    And across Main Street, to the south, was a small department store, next door to the Bowling Alley. You could hear pins drop as you shopped for the latest gadget or left your black and white films to be sent outside for developing. And beyond the corner of Fourth and Main, to Fifth Avenue, where a stately house was filled with wonders never seen on Strickland Street. Precious items like new furniture and polished walls, and new-fangled gadgets to make cooking and entertaining a joy to behold. The advantage of owning a chain of department stores...

    And across the street lay the open-air ice rink, built by the Mounties so that young hockey players could dress up in their Sears-ordered Maple Leaf sweaters, and play until frost covered the rims of their Maple Leaf toques pulled over their half-frozen eyes.

    And beyond, there was a collection of ramshackle shacks and half-built houses, and beyond that - the clay bluffs - which would ensure that Main Street would never be any longer than it was then, or is today.

Main Street, 1942, with the White Pass & Yukon Route Depot, a warehouse behind it,
and the White Pass Hotel on the right. Yukon Archives. R.A. Cartter fonds, #1553.