The Klondike Defence Force
(Clockwise, top) VICTORY BONDS were sold to raise funds for the fight against Edmonton and their theft of a "Klondike Days" theme for expo '67. Whitehorse Star headline urges Yukoners to fight back (Bottom, right) Crowds gather in front of the Whitehorse Star offices on Main Street to buy Victory Bonds. (Left) Sign held "Yukon is Land Of The Klondike". Bob Erlam/Whitehors Star photo
The following was originally published in Nov. 1986. The occasion was the transfer to the Yukon Foundation of a $9,000 balance in the 20-year-old Yukon Klondike Defence Fund. Now, we publish it again as the historical background to one of the memorable stories of the 1960s.
And ARISE They Did!
The KLONDIKE DEFENCE FORCE - Yukoners take on Edmonton.
by Flo Whyard.
STAR editor 1964 - 1971
Things had been simmering gently on the back burner for some time as Edmonton and its Exhibition Association gradually assumed more and more Klondike characteristics over the protests of Yukoners, who quite naturally, assumed that the Klondike was legitimately theirs.
But at the end of March, 1966, when Edmonton City Council approved spending $200,000 for a Klondike display at Expo 67 in Montreal, all hell popped. The Whitehorse Star protested, in telegrams to Mayor Dantzer, The Exhibition Association AND Expo 67.
But the Edmonton Mayor brushed it off, saying he was “sorry that Yukoners take this attitude that Edmonton is stealing the Klondike theme…we have always attempted to ensure that Edmonton’s Klondike Days represented all of northwestern Canada. In fact, many of our surrounding communities have adopted the same theme for their own celebrations!”
That tore it! The Star came out that day with half-page-deep headlines (the kind reserved, as they say in newspaper offices, for the Second Coming) shouting YUKONERS ARISE! The Yukon Territorial Council set aside all other business to oppose Edmonton’s use of the Klondike theme at EXPO 67.
Mr. Speaker George Shaw of Dawson City urged Members to “Stand up and fight this invasion of our rights.” They had been fired up by Roy Minter, then the special assistant to the president of the White Pass & Yukon Route, who had addressed them earlier, reducing the subject to its simplest terms: It’s a simple marketing problem. We have a product called Klondike and another area is putting out a spurious product under the same name for its own gain.
Mayor Howard Firth and Council of Whitehorse followed suit, and a week later Dawson joined the fight through Mayor Jimmy Mellor and council. So, the Yukon Klondike Defence Force was formed.
The Star donated office space on Main Street, volunteers such as Bea McLeod manned the phones and sold Victory Bonds for any amount from a dollar up. Don Lamont, of the Chamber of Commerce was president.
Yukoners rallied to the cause. Many of them were fed up with Edmonton’s use of and misuse of the Yukon’s history, which had been going on for several years. One cartoon had shown Edmonton’s Klondike Mike (their logo) stomping on an old Yukon prospector and stealing his poke.
The first big rally of the Defence Force down on Main Street brought not only local crowds but CBC/TV camera crews from outside for LIVE coverage.
Commissioner Gordon Cameron, George Shaw and Councilor Don Taylor travelled to Skagway, Haines and the north highway to whip up support; Roy Minter meanwhile, was speaking eloquently in Dawson and Mayo.
The Defence Force printed and distributed to every Edmonton household 100,000 copies of a letter explaining what their officials were doing to Yukoners, and asked for their support. Letters poured into the Star and Defence Force HQ.
Erik Nielsen took the Rape of the Klondike to the floor of the House of Commons, urging then-minister of Northern Affairs Arthur Laing to support Yukoners in their struggle to retain their own history. The Press Gallery picked up the story and Canada-wide support for the Yukon began to appear.
By April 14, just two weeks after the Defence Force was set up, The Star front page headline read “YUKON WINS FIRST ROUND”.
The phones were ringing at Defence Force HQ as Edmontonians lent their support and sent money for Victory Bonds. Edmonton officials were strangely silent.
The Victory Rally on Main Street brought out the Midnight Sun Pipe Band and local entertainers such as Al Oster and Hank Karr. Gordon Tootoosis and Ed Lavallee of the Skookum Jim Centre performed a Cree War Dance.
Victory Bonds were sold to “Regain and Restore” the real Klondike. Ottawa-based northern artist Maurice Haycock donated a 20” by 25” oil painting to help raise funds. A Yukon delegation went to Ottawa and Montreal working up support, stressing it was a two level battle…fought on ethical and economic grounds.
By April 28th, Edmonton had retreated. They decided to use their Old Fort Edmonton theme at Expo 67 instead of the phony Klondike.
In May, Bud Fisher (Mr. Yukon) with Don Taylor and Al Oster went down to Calgary’s Old Fashion Days celebration to tell the story and sell Klondike Victory Bonds. LIFE Magazine ran a feature by Rusty Erlam and Flo Whyard, rallying support across America. NORTH Magazine, The ALASKA SPORTSMAN, Yellowknife NEWS OF THE NORTH, were all giving valuable space to the cause. Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous Queen Linda Kunze and her chaperone Nora Corbett sold Victory Bonds during their official visits to Vancouver and Victoria.
Nine weeks after organizing, the Defence Force volunteers had four scrapbooks filled with clippings, had sent out 214,603 letters to Edmonton and elsewhere; circulated 11 press releases, sponsored a rally, a dance, sale of bonds, delegated speakers to Calgary, Ottawa, Montreal and elsewhere, and had the issue raised in Parliament.
At the end of June, Yukon Administrator Frank Fingland (filling in after Commissioner Cameron had left) gave legal notice that use of the word KLONDIKE “is the official mark of the Commissioner of Yukon Territory for authorized services.” Failing in their attempts to copyright the use of the term Klondike, the Yukon officials had gone through the Trademarks Act.
Then the Territorial Council took what was for them a bold step indeed! They approved curtailment of government purchases from the suppliers in the City of Edmonton; private citizens and businesses followed suit. It was probably the first economic boycott launched from the north!
Speaking at an R.C.A.F. reunion in Edmonton, Walter Dinsdale, P.C., M.P. and former Minister of Northern Affairs, referred to the battle of the Klondike, declaring it was a phony spirit in Edmonton, and “the real spirit of the Klondike, in the Yukon, will last.”
By the end of July the Edmonton JOURNAL in its report on the performance of the Edmonton Exhibition, headed the story “Time for Fresh Thinking”.
Noting that attendance at their Klondike Days was only half that of the Calgary Stampede, the article stated: It was the same tired old basic formula overlaid with a gilding of Klondike Days. Much more imagination is needed.”
And the STAR editorialized: “The Klondike false face just doesn’t fit those honest prairie types.”
Late in August, even Frank Hutton’s column in the Edmonton JOURNAL extolled the scenery and hospitality of the Yukon. It was pretty well over.
Aside from the great fun Yukoners had, working together against a common enemy, and the impressive united front they presented to the outside world, one great and lasting result emerged from the Yukon Defence Force. It is found in the slogan: Regain and Restore the real Klondike.
As one Edmonton critic pointed out, Yukoners hadn’t done much to save or promote their Klondike heritage up until then. But the threat of losing it to another part of Canada certainly gave impetus to a whole new series of projects at every level of government.
The ill-fated Dawson Gold Rush Festival which ran into a federal election campaign and all kinds of financial problems, had been the start in federal restoration of historic buildings in Dawson.
In the two decades since, Yukoners have watched with appreciation and pleasure the continuing of this process, the addition of historic sites such as the S.S. KLONDIKE at Whitehorse, the opening of new parks and more and more tourist attractions, not the least of which are clean, comfortable accommodations.
Perhaps all this would have come about in any event, but its safe to assume that it would have taken a lot longer without the national publicity and, resulting from that, widespread tax support for Yukon projects.
What other event in recent times here has generated so much fun, volunteer effort, excitement, publicity and money as the organizing of the Yukon Klondike Defence Force?
Now, 20 years later, some $9000.00 from sale of Klondike Victory bonds is safely ensconced in the funds of the Yukon Foundation, to benefit the Yukon people and projects in the years to come.
Yukoners really owe Edmonton and their phony Klondike Days a hearty vote of thanks.