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Street name origins in downtown Whitehorse, Yukon

An Explorer's Guide to Whitehorse, Yukon

Interactive Map of Downtown Whitehorse (opens in a new window)

This article has been adapted from a CKRW Yukon Nugget series of 5 articles by Les McLaughlin.

    Let's take a quick walk down some of the streets of Downtown Whitehorse. There are a lot of memories here and a lot of interesting people whose names appear on the street signs. While this article describes the streets as you would walk them, here's an alphabetical list of all 21 with links that go directly to each street on this page.

Strickland Street

    When I was a boy growing up on Strickland Street, I - like other youngsters of a tender age - had no idea what the name meant. All I knew is that the street offered a safe and quiet haven for our nightly game of street hockey played under the light on a single pole at Sixth Avenue. With age, one needs to know more. Inspector D'Arcy Strickland came to the Yukon in 1894 and helped build Fort Constantine down river from Dawson. Later he commanded the NWMP post at the summit of the White Pass, enforcing as he did the strict rules for anyone who would enter the Yukon on their way to the Klondike.

    The original Whitehorse townsite extended from the waterfront to the clay bluffs and from the alley behind Hawkins Street to the alley behind Strickland, which wasn't a street way back then. The first subdivision of Whitehorse created Strickland Street in 1945, the year my Dad bought a lot and built our small house, which offered much warmth after a hard night's game of street hockey.

Jarvis Street

    The next street to the south is Jarvis. Here, some 30 years ago in the Stratford Motel, I interviewed A.Y. Jackson, the Group of Seven painter who, with his colleagues, immortalized the Canadian wilderness. He told me he loved the Yukon and found it an extreme contrast to his other love, the high Arctic. Jarvis Street is named for Inspector A.M. Jarvis of the NWMP, who was stationed at the Dalton Post customs office in 1898.

Wood Street

    Another Mountie street to the south is Wood. Here, in the mid-'50s, Sammy McClimon built the Yukon Theatre, complete with cinemascope screen and high-tech sound. There we sat in the comfort of this modern marvel and revelled in Hollywood musicals like Brigadoon, Showboat, Oklahoma, the King and I, and more. NWMP Inspector Zachary Wood was in charge of customs duties during the Gold Rush and once went outside carrying 150 thousand dollars in gold - bound for the federal coffers in Victoria.

Steele Street

    The last of the Mountie streets to the south is named after the most famous Mountie ever to work the north. Sam Steele was an original member of the force when it was formed in 1873. Such are his exploits that many articles and books have chronicled his life. He helped supervise police duties during the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway. In January of 1898, he was ordered by the federal government to move quickly north to establish a customs post and a police presence atop the Chilkoot and White Passes. Later that year, Steele moved to Dawson where the potential for crimes of every kind was seething not far under the surface. Steele is credited with setting up the policing and administrative systems which turned Dawson - a potentially lawless town like Skagway - into a relatively peaceful haven in a land of brutal extremes.

    South of Main Street, some of the streets reveal the presence of the White Pass and Yukon Route. When the Close Brothers, a London based financial house, dispatched a survey party to study the feasibility of a railroad from Skagway to Whitehorse in 1897, the news was not encouraging. The four man team, headed by Sir Thomas Tancread, said "forget it". Then fate intervened. While preparing to leave Skagway, Tancread met a Canadian Railway contractor Michael Heney, who had just completed an independent survey. Heney argued long and loud that the railway could - indeed must - be built. Tancread was finally convinced and the rest is history.

Elliott Street

    And that brings us to the streets of Whitehorse south of Main. A small cabin sat on Elliott Street in the '40s and '50s. Today, that cabin sits at the MacBride Museum, a cabin said to be the home of Sam McGee. Elliott Street is named for Frank Elliott, who was lawyer for the White Pass in their Chicago office in 1899. Later he became president of the company.

Lambert Street

    One street south, sat a school - Lambert Street School - where as a youngster I clearly heard the huge outdoor bell call us primary students to class. Lambert is named for Cowley Lambert, who was a director of the White Pass company in England.

Hanson Street

    Next, Hanson Street, where the old Whitehorse hospital was located at the corner of Second Avenue. Hanson is also a White Pass street, named for Edwin Hanson, another company director in England in the early days.

Hawkins Street

    E.C. Hawkins was an engineer who, with Thomas Tancread in 1897, decided the railway could not be built. After being convinced otherwise by Michael Heney, Hawkins became the chief engineer in charge of the entire construction project. He was also general manager of the White Pass company when it began service in 1900. Hawkins Street is named for the man who, luckily, listened to Heney.

Rogers Street

    One day in the early '70s, I had a pleasant interview with an oldtimer who worked with the White Pass as a boy in 1900. He must have been some boy because he became the company's president and held the job from 1940 to 1957. Rogers Street is named for Clifford J. Rogers. The first White Pass container ship, launched in 1955 to run between Skagway and Vancouver, was also named after him.

Wheeler Street

    There is one more White Pass street in downtown Whitehorse, the only one located north of Main. Wheeler Street was named for Herbert Wheeler, the third company president, who kept the rails rolling in spite of the great depression of the dirty '30s.

    Next, as we continue our tour of the streets of Whitehorse, a collection of famous streets with nothing really to connect them except for the famous names they bear.

    The streets of Whitehorse are paved with stories...stories which go back long before the streets were paved. Those dusty, sometimes muddy, often frozen streets today yield nuggets about Lowe, Hoge, Jeckell, Taylor and Drury.

Lowe Street

    Last time, we walked the White Pass streets of Whitehorse, mostly located south of Main. Robert Lowe's Street is just two blocks long facing, as it does, on Fourth Avenue, the site of the last old ball diamond in the downtown core. The ball diamond where kids of the '50s held their annual spring track meet, and where the boys of summer knew George Kolkind would have the grounds scraped, the stands clean and lines chalked before each and every ball game during the endless summer. Robert Lowe was a businessman and politician at the turn of the century, and the Speaker of the first wholly elected territorial council in 1909.

Hoge Street

    To the south, Hoge Street honours an American general who was the first to command the building of the Alaska Highway. Brigadier General William Hoge soon discovered, in 1942, that this vital highway project was too big for one man, and later became commander of the Northern section out of Whitehorse. In an interview in the '70s, I asked General Hoge for his version of why the highway was so crooked. "Because we didn't have a lot of time for surveying", he told me, "so I'd just order one of my men to walk through the bush, find the tallest tree and give it a good shake. Then I'd tell the bulldozer operators to head for that tree."

Jeckell Street

    George Jeckell came to the Yukon in 1902, to teach in Dawson City. He must have liked the country a lot because he stayed on for 50 years. He was chief executive officer for the Yukon government from 1932 until 1947, and held about as much political power during that time as any unelected public servant ever could. With his teaching background, he oversaw the rapid growth of the Yukon's education system. Jeckell Street, south of Hoge, is named for George, the teacher.

Taylor Street & Drury Street

    The final two streets downtown fittingly join together at Fifth Avenue. Isaac Taylor and William Drury met in Atlin in 1898, when both were heading north to see what kind of business opportunities were available in this bustling land. Before they finished, the pair operated 13 department stores throughout the Yukon, supplied many of them with their own riverboats, and left the Taylor and Drury mark forever stamped on the face of the Yukon.

    Our walk in the historic streets of downtown Whitehorse concludes as we tour the seven streets north of Strickland - a part of the city which came into being with expansion in the late '40s and early '50s.

Alexander Street

    The Governor General of Canada and his wife visited Whitehorse in 1947. A new subdivision was just being created in the growing town. To honour their visit, the new street north of Strickland was named Alexander after Field Marshall Viscount Alexander, who was the Canada's Governor General from 1945 to 1952.

Black Street

    Two politicians, both Yukoners, were honoured the same year when Black Street was named for George and Martha Black. Both had served as Yukon MPs in the House of Commons. George was Speaker of the House from 1930-1935. They had moved from Dawson to Whitehorse in 1946 and left their mark on both communities.

    Wheeler, as we saw earlier in the series, was a White Pass street named for Herb Wheeler, president of the company in the '30s.

Cook Street

    Cook Street has a special place in the memories of Yukon bush pilots and the American military. Les Cook was a bush pilot and fur trader. He once operated a trading post on Sheldon Lake. When the American military began surveying the route for the Alaska Highway, Les Cook was hired to conduct aerial reconnaissance. In the fall of 1942, as Cook took off from the Whitehorse airport, the engine of his small plane stalled. The plane plunged to the ground on Front Street near the Yukon river. Les Cook was killed. In 1944, the American military awarded him the U.S. Air Medal for several mercy flights he had made for them.

Ogilvie Street

    The Yukon's first commissioner was William Ogilvie. He had first come to the Yukon in 1887 as a Dominion Land Surveyor. In 1896, he surveyed the new townsite called Dawson City. Ogilvie Street is named for this Yukon pioneer.

Ray Street

    Ray Street is named for Irwin Ray, a long time Yukon prospector who mined around the Mayo district in the '30s and '40s. With the expansion of Whitehorse, Ray, and his mining partner Ed Barker, bought a piece of land and started Tourist Services, which included a bar, motel rooms, a garage and a restaurant. On a Friday night, after the dance at the YPA Hall, many of the Yukon teenagers of the '50s gathered at Tourist Services for the best toasted western in the Northwest.

Baxter Street

    Our tour of the streets of Whitehorse ends at Baxter. The land here was owned by Charlie Baxter, an American who came north in the '20s and built a place called Baxter's ranch. He rented horses for hunting parties, surveyors, and sometimes for us young riders in the '50s who, if we could scrape up the money, would rent a horse and ride past the old pond to the Yukon River and back. When I think of this short, almost forgotten Whitehorse street, I still think of Baxter's horses and the pleasure they gave us on a still summer Saturday afternoon in Whitehorse.

Aerial view of downtown Whitehorse, September 19, 2018 - Google Earth
Aerial view of downtown Whitehorse, September 19, 2018