History hunter: The new Klondike collection at the University of British Columbia is a historical treasure
While in the Vancouver area recently, I visited a stunning new archival collection in Rare Books and Special Collections at the University of British Columbia (UBC) Library. This event had a direct connection across three generations to the Klondike Gold Rush – and before.
John Griff Lindh made the fateful decision to pan for gold in the Yukon by flipping a coin. In 1894, he arrived at the mining camp at Forty Mile, located about 80 kilometers below the future site of Dawson City on the Yukon River. Within a short time, he moved to Franklin Gulch, a tributary of the Forty Mile River, where he mined for the next two years.
Lind recovered enough gold that, in the early days of the Klondike Stampede, he was able to purchase shares of claims in Bonanza and Eldorado Creeks. He worked hard and kept a low profile, avoiding the temptations of Dawson City, until he left with an undetermined fortune in 1901.
Lind returned to Ontario and later became a partner in a cement company that eventually grew into the country’s largest independent cement supplier. Another investor was a man named Alfred Rogers, whose cousin Ted went on to found the Rogers communications empire. Phil, Johnny Lind’s grandson, became involved with the Ted Roger Project, eventually assuming the position of vice president.
Phil Lind had a love affair with the Klondike, and his grandfather’s remarkable success story. The former led him to become a collector of Klondike memorabilia. In this way our paths crossed in the mid-1990s. I was in Vancouver, where an antique bookseller introduced us. We had dinner, and over the following years we had many friendly encounters, especially when he and his family descended en masse on Dawson during the centennial years of the gold rush. Johnny Lind’s unpublished memoirs led to a newly published account of his experiences in the gold rush.
Earlier this summer, we talked about his grandfather’s connection to the Yukon Pioneer Order. Sadly, Lind passed away in August.
In 1998, we planned a boat trip on the Forty Mile River with my mentor, John Gould, as well as Bill Perry (nephew of Klondike king Clarence Perry), Phil, and his father, Jed Lind. The Lind family was ultimately unable to join us due to health issues, but John and I were able to take Phil on a Chicken Alaska road trip two years later.
Phil Lind’s collection has grown into one of the best in the country, and in 2021, he donated it and a large sum of money to his alma mater, the University of British Columbia. The collection is currently being processed, but there is already an online list of the collection’s contents, which can be accessed at: https://rbsc.library.ubc.ca/2021/05/11/phil-lind-klondike-gold-rush-collection/
The collection consists of more than 500 books, 1,800 photographs, 300 postcards, 70 maps, and many other works of art related to money and stamps.
In addition to the donation, an exhibition based on the Lindh collection is scheduled to open next year. Meanwhile, Lind, with co-author Robert Brehl, produced a richly illustrated volume (with photographs from the Lind collection, of course) entitled, Tales of the unknown sourdoughand is currently available in Yukon retail outlets.
The only drawback I found to my visit to the temporary site of UBC’s Rare Books and Special Collections is the limited visiting hours. The facility is only open between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., putting visitors from Yukon at a disadvantage. However, the service was professional and efficient. You should prepare in advance by registering and specifying what items you want to check when you get there. I picked up some scripts online and when I arrived at 10am, boxes of materials were already waiting for me.
I studied selected items of textual records, which included pamphlets, unpublished manuscripts, photographs, postcards and letters. There was Gold Rush-inspired sheet music: “The King Klondike Two-Step,” “The Chilkoot March,” and “Klondike Rag” are just three of them. Wouldn’t it be nice to hear them play? I wonder: Will it evoke the isolation of the wilderness or is it merely a composition given the Gold Rush title to exploit the growing interest in the Klondike?
There were memoirs written by participants in the gold rush. These can be photographed upon request. One of the documents was the constitution of the Arctic Brotherhood (AB). Since AB has been no longer around for nearly 100 years now, I didn’t feel like an intruder with access to privileged information when I looked at its pages.
One of the unpublished manuscripts was the memoirs written by John Griff Lindh. Browsing through the pages, I found paragraphs that reached Tales of the unknown sourdough.
Two of the books contain photographs taken by photographers in the gold rush days. Some postcard views of Whitehorse and Dawson are new to me, as are some of the photographs, each individually numbered in their own envelopes.
Among the photos was a photo of a row of log cabins along White Horse Street. A wooden walkway passes through the front doors, but the street itself appears unused and overgrown with grass. In front of the nearest cabin, in the middle of the street, there is a pile of wood. This was clearly taken when the White Horse was still in its infancy and there were no cars running on the streets yet. This picture, and others from the Lind collection, were views I had never seen before and left me wondering what other surprises I might find in the collection.
Many envelopes were passed around. A quick glance at its contents did not hold my interest, and there was no time to consider everything. My visit ended too quickly, leaving me hungry for more. A quick review of the online listing when I returned to Whitehorse confirmed that there was a lot of interest. When I have another opportunity to visit Vancouver, I will definitely want to explore this collection further.
Short visiting hours combined with distance from the Yukon present frustrating problems for northern researchers. On the other hand, if the promise of publishing the collection online as part of UBC’s Open Collections is fulfilled, one day soon that collection will be a keyboard away, rather than 2,000 kilometers away.
Meanwhile, this collection is the complete package – archival collection, companion book, gallery, and online access. You’d expect nothing less from the media mogul!
Michael Gates is Yukon’s first story award winner. His latest book, “Hollywood in the Klondike,” is now available in Whitehorse stores. You can contact him at email@example.com