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Yukon/Alaska Chronology

Arctic & Northern History

200,000,000 BP
None of what is now Alaska or southwestern Yukon existed. Since then, dozen of terranes (pieces of the earth's crust) have "docked" against the main body of North America to form the present land.

25,000 - 12,000 BP
Lower sea levels caused by the Ice Age create a land bridge, now known as Beringia, between Asia and North America.

24,000 BP
The first humans arrive from Asia (this is still very much a subject of controversy). According to First Nations legends, Crow created the world, and made people from pieces of poplar tree bark.

12,000 - 9,000 BP
Many of the large mammals in the North die off, including the wooly mammoth, mastodons and giant beavers. Nobody is certain what caused this environmental disaster.

ca. 850 AD
Mount Churchill, a large volcano near the head of the White River in what is now Wrangell/St. Elias National Park, erupts. The ash from the eruption spreads east across most of the Yukon, forcing both the animals and people that survived to flee the southern Yukon for generations. The White River ash layer now provides archaeologists with a convenient, accurate dating layer.

The Little Ice Age caused ice caps and glaciers to expand enormously.

A party of Russian fur hunters led by Semen Dezhnev sail around the Chukotskii Peninsula, proving that Russia and America were not joined by land.

- August: Vitus Jonassen Bering sails through what was later named Bering Strait, separating Asia and North America. St. Lawrence Island becomes the first part of Alaska to be sighted and named by whites.

- August 21: A Russian expedition under surveyor Mikhail Gvozdev sights the Alaska mainland at Cape Prince of Wales.

- July 16: Vitus Bering, on St. Elias Day, sights the Alaskan mainland. In honour of the saint, the most prominent peak was named; this was the first point on the northwest coast named by Europeans.
- December 8: Vitus Bering dies after his ship was wrecked on an island off the Alaskan coast.

- September 25: A Russian fur hunter, Mikhail Nevodchikov, reaches Attu in his search for sea otters.

- July 18-21: Captain Juan Perez discovers Forrester Island and touches the southern coast of Alaska in his search for Russian fur traders who were regarded as intruders in Spanish territory.

Francisco Bodega y Quadra and Francisco Mourelle discover Bucareli Bay and reach the latitude of today's Juneau before returning to Mexico.

- May 12: Captain James Cook enters Prince William Sound. Fourteen days later, he discovered Cook Inlet, near the site of present-day Anchorage. On August 25, he turned back south, having reached Lat. 71 North, Long. 197 West.

Grigori Shelikhov establishes a village on Kodiak Island, and claims the adjoining coast for Russia.

- July: While charting Lituya Bay, 2 small boats are swamped by rip tides, and 21 French sailors drown.

The first church in Alaska is built on Kodiak Island by missionaries from the Valaam Monastery of the Russian Orthodox Church.

- July 8: The Russian American Company is formed by Royal Charter; they were given a 20-year monopoly on trading on the coast from 55 degrees north.

New Archangel, the Russian settlement at present-day Sitka is sacked by Tlingit Indians, and most of the inhabitants killed.

- March: The Russian American Company establishes a post at Fort Ross, California to grow crops for their Alaska operations.

Georg Anton Schäffer obtains fishing rights, livestock, and a land grant to establish a post on Oahu for the Russian American Company.

Great Britain and Russia agree that the 141st meridian shall be the boundary between the interior sections of their territories. This agreement was honoured when Alaska and the Yukon were formed, although the dispute regarding interpretation of the boundary along the coast was not settled until 1903.

Sir John Franklin and his crew become the first white men to see Herschel Island, off the north coast (the only coast) of the Yukon.

The Hudson's Bay Company signs an agreement with the Russian American Company to supply Sitka with provisions. Three years later, the Russian operation at Fort Ross was sold.

The Hudson's Bay Company builds Lapierre House on the Bell River, their first post west of the Richardson Mountains.

- The first American whaling ship, the barque Superior, enters the Bering Sea and discovers the huge population of bowhead and other whales. A maritime "gold rush" followed in 1849, with 154 ships joining the hunt.
- September: The Hudson's Bay Company builds Fort Selkirk, at the confluence of the Pelly and Yukon Rivers.

- August 21: Fort Selkirk is destroyed by a group of Tlingits who objected to the Hudson's Bay Company trying to break the Tlingit monopoly on trade with the interior tribes.

Works starts on Perry McDonough Collins' dream, an Overland Telegraph line joining the United States to Europe, via Siberia. The project collapsed with the completion of a trans-Atlantic telegraph cable in July 1866.

- March 30: The United States buys Alaska from Russia, for $7.2 million. See the Treaty of Cession.
- July 23: Alaska's first post office is authorized, to be opened at Sitka.
- October 18: Official transfer ceremonies at Sitka.

1868 July 27: The Customs Act is amended to include Alaska.
The first salmon saltery in Alaska is built at Klawock, on Prince of Wales Island. The first canneries opened at Klawock and Sitka in 1878.

Kohklux, chief of the Chilkat Indian village of Klukwan, meets American scientist George Davidson, who is on the Chilkat River to view a total eclipse of the sun. When Davidson's prediction that the sun would disappear on October 7 came true, Kohklux was so impressed that he drew him an incredibly detailed map of a vast part of the interior of the Yukon and Alaska.

- September: Of the 41 whaling ships hunting in the Bering Sea, 32 are trapped by early ice; all of the 1,200 people on the ships escaped, but 31 of the ships were destroyed the following spring.

As gold prospectors continue to head further and further north, a discovery is made near Dease Lake, in northern British Columbia. The Cassiar gold rush, though erratic, brought several hundred prospectors to the edge of the Yukon and Alaska.

- August: Twelve whaling ships are trapped by ice near Point Barrow; 50 men die attempting to reach safety.

The first major discovery of gold in Alaska is made by Joe Juneau and Richard Harris, near what would become the city of Juneau.
- October 18: A 160-acre townsite is staked at Juneau by Richard Harris and Joseph Juneau.

- The first American census of Alaska, conducted by Ivan Petroff, left many areas of the territory still unexplored.

- The first Alaskan tourist cruises are offered; in 1883, the first cruise into Glacier Bay attracted attention from around the world.
- July 2: George Krause becomes the first white man allowed to cross the Chilkat Pass to the interior.

- Lieutenant Frederick A. Schwatka conducts the first survey of the entire length of the Yukon River.

- The first "Organic Act" is passed by Congress, giving the District of Alaska a Governor, and a legal system using the laws of Oregon.

- Rocky Mountain Park (later renamed Banff) is created as Canada's first national park.

- The discovery of rich gold deposits on the upper reaches of the Fortymile River prompts the first large rush into the interior.

- Anglican missionary William Duncan moves most of his Tsimshian parishioners from British Columbia to Metlakatla, on Annette Island.

- May 7: Hunting and trapping in US national parks is banned by the Yellowstone National Park Protection Act
- May 26: A resolution of the Privy Council authorizes the North-West Mounted Police into the Yukon "in the interests of peace and good government, in the interests also of the public revenue." By June 26, Inspector Charles Constantine and Staff-Sergeant Charles Brown were at Juneau, heading for the goldfields of the British Yukon.

- October 2, 1895: The North-west Territories is divided into the Districts of Franklin, Mackenzie, Ungava and Yukon.

- The first oil is discovered in Alaska, at the mouth of the Copper River. The field went into production in 1902.
- August 16: Gold is discovered on Rabbit Creek by a party consisting of George Carmack, his wife Kate, Skookum Jim, Tagish Charlie and Patsy Henderson.
- August 17: Carmack et al stake their claims, renaming Rabbit Creek Bonanza Creek.

- July 14: The Excelsior reaches San Francisco with the first large shipment of Klondike gold. When the Portland reached Seattle on the 17th, the stampede north was on.

- The Klondike Gold Rush turns Dawson into the largest city north of San Francisco and west of Winnipeg.
- May 28: Construction of the White Pass & Yukon Route railway from Skagway to Whitehorse begins. The 112 miles were completed on July 29, 1900.
- May 28/29: The ice breaks on Lake Bennett; within the next few weeks, 7,080 boats carrying 28,000 people pass the NWMP post at Tagish.
- June 13: Creation of the Yukon Territory.
- September: Gold is discovered near the future site of Nome, triggering a stampede.

- May 26: Congress authorizes a massive telegraph construction project in Alaska.

- Alaska's first producing oil well comes in at Katalla.
- Alaska's brown bears are protected by law.
- July 22: Felice Pedroni ("Felix Pedro") discovers gold in the Tanana Hills, causing a stampede which resulted in the founding of Fairbanks.

- The dispute regarding the location of the border between Alaska and the Yukon and British Columbia is finally settled.
- A submarine telegraph cable is laid between Seattle and Sitka.

- May: The first commercial wireless communication facility in the U.S. is opened, between Nome and St.Michael.

- May 7: The Alaska Delegate Act passed by Congress, giving the territory's 40,000 people the right to elect a non-voting delegate to Congress.
- July 19: The capital of Alaska is moved from Sitka to Juneau.

The hunting of sea otters in Alaskan waters is banned.

The hunting of sea otters and fur seals is controlled by legislation signed by Britain, Russia, Japan and the United States.

- August 24: The Alaska Territorial Act is passed by Congress.

- Women are given the right to vote in Alaska, 7 years ahead of federal enfranchisement.
- July 3: the first airplane in Alaska makes a demonstration flight at Fairbanks, piloted by James V. Lilly.

- March 12: A bill authorizing the construction of the government-financed Alaska Railroad is signed by President Wilson. Construction started in 1915, and some sections were opened as they were completed, but the entire line, running from Seward to Fairbanks, was not completed until July 15, 1923.

An old-age pension plan is established in Alaska.

Mount McKinley National Park is established.

- October 25: The coastal steamer Princess Sophia sinks near Juneau, killing 463 people, about 10% of the Yukon's white population.

- April 3: The Yukon finally allows women to vote in Territorial elections. Manitoba had been the first province to enfranchise women, in 1916, and federal enfranchisement was passed in May 1918.
- July 10: Louis Beauvette stakes the first silver claim at Keno Hill, in the central Yukon; by 1930 this district was producing 14% of all the silver mined in Canada.

- July 25: Four US Army Air Service DH-4B aircraft designed by Geoffrey de Havilland leave New York City for Nome, Alaska. The "Black Wolf Squadron" took 40 days, 4,502 miles, and 50 flying hours to reach Nome. Leaving Nome on the last day of August, the aircraft arrived back at Mitchel Field on October 20.

- Commercial air service is started between Seattle and Ketchikan, by Roy F. Jones.

- February 24: Carl Ben Eielson makes Alaska's first Air Mail flight.
- July: The first round-the-world flight is made by the U.S. Army Air Corps; many stops were made at points in the Yukon and Alaska.
- The first scheduled air service in Alaska is started at Fairbanks by Noel Wien.

- Alaska begins a huge airfield contruction program, by diverting 1/6 of the Territorial road construction budget.
- Alaska's first game laws are enacted, and the Alaska Game Commission is formed.

- Marvel Crosson becomes the first woman to earn a pilot's license in Alaska.

- The International Whaling Commission establishes regulations for whale hunting, and gives protection to gray and right whales.

- February 11: The Alaska Military Highway project receives Presidential approval. See our Alaska Highway Chronology for much more detail about events along the route, from 1787 until 2012.
- June 3: A large carrier-based Japanese force attacks Dutch Harbour
- June 7: The Japanese land almost 2,500 troops on the Aleutian islands of Attu and Kiska. It took a huge Allied force until August 15, 1943 to regain control - the final invasion force numbered 34,426 troops.
- September 24: Soldiers of the 36th Regiment from the south and the 340th Regiment from the north met at Contact Creek, completing the southern section of the highway.
- November 20: The Alaska Highway is officially opened to military traffic as the first truck makes the trek from Whitehorse to Fairbanks. A widely-broadcast ceremony at Soldiers Summit overlooking Kluane Lake is part of a wartime propaganda effort. In reality, work on the road will continue.

- February 16: Final weld on the Canol pipeline laid on by Bob Shivel, 20 months after the project began.

- April 1: Alaska Highway turned over to Canada, in a ceremony at Whitehorse.

- February 3: the coldest temperature ever recorded in North America, -81.4°F (-62.8°C) occurred at Snag, Yukon Territory.
Alaska Highway opened to civilian traffic.

- March 12: After 3 years of rumours, the federal government approves moving the capital of the Yukon from Dawson City to Whitehorse. A new Federal Building was constructed in 1952, and the Territorial Council chambers were moved the following year. Whitehorse officially became the capital on April 1st, 1953.

- Hunting of bald eagles in Alaska is banned - it had been banned in the rest of the United States since 1940.

- January 3: Alaska becomes the 49th State.

- March 27 (Good Friday): An earthquake with a magnitude of 9.2 on the Richter Scale hits the Anchorage area, killing 115 people and destroying hundreds of homes.

- November 6: Jean Gordon, the Yukon's first female member of the Territorial Council, takes her seat.

- July: The oil riches of Alaska's North Slope, first reported almost 100 years ago, are confirmed by a drilling program at Prudhoe Bay. The following year, a total of $990,220,590 was bid in a one-day lease sale of those properties.

- January 23: The temperature at Prospect Creek, Alaska, dropped to 80 degrees below zero, the lowest temperature ever recorded in the United States.
- December 18: The Alaska Native Claim Settlement Act (ANCSA) is signed into law by the President. Among the major provisions were the transfer of title to 40 million acres of land to native corporations, and a cash payment of $962.5 million.

- February 14: The Yukon Native Brotherhood presents a Statement of Claim to the federal government, stating their position on land claims, self-goverment and other issues which had been published in January in "Together Today For Our Children Tomorrow".

- March 27: The first section of pipe for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez is laid. By August, 21,600 people were working on the project. The first oil was put through the 800-mile line on June 20, 1977.

The Dempster Highway from Dawson to Inuvik, NWT is completed, after being under construction since 1958.

The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act is passed, giving subsistence harvesting preference to rural residents - this became a very controversial issue.

- February 3: PL 100-241, the Alaska Native Claim Settlement Act Amendments, are signed by President Reagan. The amendments gave more flexibilty to the corporations managing Settlement lands.

- March 24: The Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound.

- May 29: The Umbrella Final Agreement is signed by representatives of the Council for Yukon Indians and the Yukon and federal governemnts, establishing the basic format for all 14 Yukon First Nations land claims agreements.

- March 27: the Yukon Act changes the name of the Yukon Territory to Yukon.