The Yukon Telegraph: Chronology
Establishing reliable communications was an essential part of developing the Yukon. Construction of a telegraph line had begun in 1864-1866 to connect the United States and Russia, but it had never been completed. In August 1897, the Canadian government began planning a line to connect the Klondike gold fields to the outside world.
The events described here are found in Department of Public Work records (Archival #RG11)
- Western Union leases all assets in British Columbia to the Colony. The Dominion government assumes responsibility for the lease and operation of telegraph lines under the terms of B.C.'s entry into confederation.
- F. N. Gisborne inspects the system for the government and recommends purchase of Western Union assets in British Columbia.
- Western Union's assets in British Columbia, installed in 1864-1866 for a Russian Extension, are purchased for $24,000. Included are 429½ miles of land telegraph, 16½ miles of cable and instruments and plant.
- Government Telegraph and Signal Service created under the Department of Public Works. F. N. Gisborne is appointed first Director.
- A programme of limited expansion and renewal of lines is carried out.
- Selected government telegraph lines are sold to C.P.R. Telegraph (not paid for until 1888). As well, C.P.R. is given a maintenance contract for some other lines, including the Cariboo line in British Columbia.
- September: B.C. Board of Trade requests an extension of the Cariboo telegraph line to the Skeena River for use by canneries.
- August: Clifford Sifton, Minister of the Interior, requests that the North West Mounted Police pay for an initial survey by J.F. Richardson of C.P.R. Telegraph to assess the feasibility and cost of a telegraph line from Lynn Canal across either the White Pass or Chilkoot Pass to the Tagish Lake police post. If possible, construction should begin before winter sets in.
- August: Government Telegraph & Signal Service estimates cost of line construction from Quesnelle to Dyea to be $150,000 and from Dyea to Dawson $175,000.
- September: The Alaska Telegraph & Telephone Company applies for the rights to build a telegraph line from Dyea, over the Chilkoot pass, up the Lewes River to Dawson and on to Circle City. The Minister of Public Works replies that the matter will not be decided for some time.
- October: J.F. Richardson reports to Clifford Sifton that either pass is feasible for a telegraph line, but the White Pass is recommended. The U.S. gives Canada permission to build the line across American territory on Lynn Canal. The following month, though, Richardson tells the Montreal Daily Star that a route running from Quesnelle to Telegraph Creek and on to Dawson is preferred.
- February: Government Telegraph & Signal Service sends estimate of telegraph line from Quesnelle to Dawson City: $340,000 plus plant.
- March: Louis Coste of Department of Public Works to make a survey of a line from Teslin Lake to Dawson City.
- July: Alaska Telegraph & Telephone Company granted permission to build a telegraph line from Dyea to Circle City via Canadian territory.
- December: North West Mounted Police urge construction of a line from the summit of the coastal mountains to Dawson to connect newly-erected police posts.
- March: Department of Public Works places J.B. Charleston in charge of construction of a telegraph line to Dawson, and improvement of waterways. As well as a line from Quesnelle to Dawson via Hazelton, Telegraph Creek and Atlin, a branch line is to be built from the head of Lake Bennett, connecting to the White Pass & Yukon Route's telegraph line. Sections of the lines are to be put into operation as quickly as possible, with Bennett and Dawson connected no later than November 1, 1899. Rates are to be $0.50 per 100 miles for ten words. Absolutely no information is to be given to the press about the project.
- April: A protest is received from the Northern Commercial Telegraph Company, claiming that they have a charter to build a telegraph line from Quesnelle to Dawson. The government replied that their charter was non-exclusive.
- June: C.P.R. agents in Vancouver and Victoria are meeting express boats from Skagway to accept telegrams from the Bennett line.
- August: The call for tenders for construction of the Quesnelle-Atlin line is delayed while consideration is given to a cable from Skagway to Vancouver Island. That idea was dropped due to cost, and in September the tender call was issued and the
first materials shipped.
- September 28: J.B. Charleston reports that the Bennett-Dawson line is complete.
- January: J.B. Charleston to start construction of Quesnelle-Atlin line immediately, under the same conditions as in the March 1899 instructions. This section of line is to be completed by November 1900.
- January: Request made for funds to extend the Dawson line to the U.S. border.
- February: Charleston reports that the Ashcroft-Quesnelle line needs work estimated to cost $20,000.
- October: A line from Dawson to the U.S. border is complete. Charleston reports that the Quesnelle-Atlin line still has a gap of 30 miles due to lack of wire. In December, he proposed that dog teams be used to carry messages across that gap, but wet snow made that impractical.
- June: A branch line to the canneries at Port Simpson is complete.
- August: The main line is still not complete - the gap is now reported as 108 miles, not 30. Completion set for September 15.
- September 24: A complete connection between Vancouver and Dawson City is complete. The gap was actually 121 miles. Cost overruns are enormous. The total cost was reported to by $800,000, but 70 offices being maintained.
- October: Rates are set at $0.40 per word, with a press rate of $0.04. Rates were lowered the following year, but maintenance costs were very high in relation to revenue as the Yukon economy slowed.
- U.S. Military Cable System to Alaska further diminishes revenue.
- July: To reduce interruptions in service due to broken wires, experiments are being made using insulated cable laid on the ground. Fifteen miles of it are being laid across some summits in the Skeena and Nass mountains to start.
- Wireless gradually extended and perfected.
- Wireless service prepared to handle traffic Edmonton-Simpson-Dawson.
- March 23: Hazelton-Telegraph Creek line closed to traffic. Protests led to the re-opening of the line on September 1st.
- February: A refuge cabin on the Yukon telegraph line, and then Operator Fred Appleyard at Echo Lake, saved the life of an injured trapper. Read the rest of that story here.
- Wireless installed on Hazelton-Telegraph Creek section. The land line remained until 1936, when spring floods wiped out major portions of the trail.
- Consideration was given to the reopening of the Hazelton-Telegraph Creek line as part of the Alaska military communication system, but no action was taken.
- January 19: The Government Telegraph Office in Whitehorse was closed, by Hugh B. Birch. He came north from Vancouver to work on the telegraph line in February 1910, with Prince Rupert being his first posting.