Whitehorse Daily Star

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Photo by Whitehorse Star

THE EARLY DAYS – A bear pulls a sleigh from the first offices of the Whitehorse Star at 208 Main St. The Star’s first edition was issued from this tent on July 18, 1900. The Star would remain at this address until 1974, when the need for expansion obliged us to move to our current premises at Second Avenue and Strickland Street.

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Photo by Whitehorse Star

THE MID-CENTURY LOOK – This is how the Star’s Main Street quarters appeared in July 1968.

As the Star turns 120, some reflections

In my 48 years at the Whitehorse Star, I have seen six editors and countless reporters, advertising staff members, production personnel and paper boys and girls pass through our doors.

By Jackie Pierce on July 17, 2020

In my 48 years at the Whitehorse Star, I have seen six editors and countless reporters, advertising staff members, production personnel and paper boys and girls pass through our doors.

I’ve been at the Star since 1972, and have gone through a few economic booms and busts over the years. Spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic, this is another one.

As far as surviving goes, it’s been rough, but we’re doing our best under the circumstances, and, during this time, so is everyone else.

I commend all of the employees at the Star for making it possible to stay safe at their jobs while continuing to put the newspaper on the street. They’ve all handled the COVID situation very well.

Even during the bad times, the Whitehorse Star has never missed publishing a newspaper.

Many readers, especially recent arrivals to the territory, may not be aware of the paper’s rich history – much of it as the sole gatherer of the news in the territory.

The Star was founded in 1899 by the publisher of the Bennett Sun, Percy Scharshmidt.

Upon the completion of the White Pass and Yukon Route railway from Carcross to Whitehorse, he was prompted to move to Whitehorse, which became the transportation hub of the North.

Although he published both the Star and the Sun at the same time, the Sun finally ceased to exist.

There’s so much history in the Whitehorse Star’s pages for the last 120 years, I can’t fit it all in here and make it readable, so here’s a brief run down of the major highlights.

In the early days, the news consisted of the construction of the Alaska Highway, ending in 1942, the 1918 sinking of Princess Sophia, the Lost Patrol, the first aircraft, the Queen of the North, commercial flying pioneer Clyde Wann, Yukoners entering the First and Second World Wars, the plane crash of Wiley Post and Will Rogers.

Whitehorse became the capital of the Yukon in 1953, the first city council was elected, and Queen Elizabeth II visited in 1959.

(Not to be outdone, Princess Anne came in 1982; Prince Charles in 2001 and Prince William and Duchess Kate in 2016.)

There was the world-famous airplane crash of Helen Klaben and Ralph Flores, who survived in the bush for 49 days in 1963, and Robert Kennedy’s 1965 climb up Mount Kennedy in honour of his brother John, the assassinated U.S. president.

There was Pierre Trudeau’s visit in 1980, the sternwheelers burning to the ground in the old Shipyards area of Whitehorse in 1974, John Diefenbaker’s visit, the Dempster Highway and the Skagway Roads being built.

We documented the disastrous flood of 1979 in Dawson City.

Several horrifying fires happened in the 1980s and ’90s, including the SS Tutshi sternwheeler in Carcross 30 years ago next Saturday; the SAAN store at Second Avenue and Ogilvy Street in 1991; the historic Trans North hangars’ demise; the Watson Lake forest fire of 1982 that killed a water bomber pilot; and the loss of much of the town’s downtown area to fire in the mid-’90s.

Yukoners lost important leaders in the last several decades, including Indigenous leaders/elders Johnny Johns, Elijah Smith, Harry Allen, Mike Smith, Robert Hager, Ray Jackson, Joe Linklater, Angela Sydney and Johnny Joe.

We also lost former MP Erik Nielsen, ex-mayors Don Branigan and Flo Whyard (a former Star editor), retired mayor and senator Paul Lucier, retired government leaders/premiers Chris Pearson, John Ostashek and Dennis Fentie, and ex-NDP leader Todd Hardy in 2010.

Bishop Tom Lobsinger died in a shocking plane crash north of Whitehorse 20 years ago. And the lives of the legendary Pierre Berton and artist Ted Harrison also passed into the history.

The past was revisited by Klaben and later Flores’ children ... all documented in the Star’s pages.

The federal government gave the territory a new administration building in 1976, and the city’s airport welcomed a new, modern terminal in 1986.

Such major institutions as the old Federal Building and Whitehorse General Hospital were replaced with new structures, as was F.H. Collins Secondary School, whose original campus opened in 1963.

What was once the old Whitehorse Vocational and Technical Training School on the edge of Riverdale 57 years ago is now a full-fledged university – near the acclaimed Yukon Arts Centre.

Dilapidated buildings and shacks gave way to a revitalized waterfront, including the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Centre, and old houses in the downtown area surrendered their ground to a variety of condo towers, forever altering the area’s flavour.

Record rains in the summer of 1988 played havoc with the Alaska Highway in terms of major washouts; in 2012, a washed-out highway near Rancheria left local grocery shelves and freezers bare of perishables as supply trucks were stalled for several days.

We were there when the Haeckel Hill forest fire almost led to the city’s complete evacation in 1991, and for the major Fox Lake-area inferno of 1998.

The Star recorded the turmoil of Sept. 11, 2001 after it was initially feared that a Korean Airlines jet had been hijacked to Whitehorse.

The numbers and sizes of governments have exploded in the last generation, with a vast sector of the territory’s labour force now employed by various levels of government as more responsibilities have been devolved to the North.

Compared to a typical capital budget worth $29 million in the 1980s, the territory now enjoys an annual budget in the $1.6-billion range, sustaining a mere 43,000 people.

With heavy hearts, we reported on the shocking 2012 deaths of five people in their rented home on Centennial Street after they were slowly poisoned by the heating system.

Many anniversaries were attended in the ’80s and ’90s, including the Alaska Highway (1992), the City of Whitehorse, the White Pass and Yukon Route (2000), the RCMP, and the Yukon pavilion at Expo 86 in Vancouver.

The first Yukon Quest began in 1984, the Yukon’s Audrey McLaughlin became the leader of the federal NDP in 1989 and historic land claims agreements were signed in 1993.

The Cyprus Anvil Mining Corp. mine shut down in 1982, along with the Whitehorse Copper Mine, the United Keno Hill silver mines, and White Pass service between Whitehorse and Skagway.

The economy went with it, and the Star went from daily to three times a week.

But in 1985, with new equipment, the Star went daily again for the subsequent 35 years.

In 2019, the economy forced us to go to three times a week again.

The memories I’ve shared in this limited space would amount to pouring a thimble of ink into a veritable barrel. No doubt, readers will recall many other important events.

There have been many ups and downs throughout the years. The Star has seen them all – and never missed a publication day.

On Saturday, we will officially turn 120 years old.

I extend our many thanks to our readers and advertisers who have made it possible through the years, decades, generations and three numerical centuries for the Star to continue to be here.

Editor Jim Butler, a 39-year Star employee, provided some of the content for this article.

Star Publisher

Comments (15)

Up 0 Down 0

Rolf on Jul 10, 2023 at 9:29 pm

Thanks for mentioning me Wilf.

Up 12 Down 2

Christopher Wheeler on Nov 12, 2020 at 2:50 pm

Congratulations on an awesome milestone for a remarkable newspaper. Having worked at the Star in the Production Department, I can say that I was always impressed by the passion and hard work that characterized both the organization, and the people who worked there. I remember my time at The Star with fondness, and I wish you all the best for the future! Whitehorse would be the poorer without such a fine paper!

Up 11 Down 2

Jim Palmateer on Aug 1, 2020 at 1:16 pm

After 45 years in journalism, over half at the community level, I am always in awe of the hard work and sacrifice made to make sure a community remains vibrant and informed. Congratulations to The Star and a hope for many more years. BTW my wife, also a newspaper person, and I were in Whitehorse two years ago, loved the city and thought we should apply for jobs.

Up 16 Down 2

Paul Erlam on Jul 26, 2020 at 7:23 am

Congratulations Jackie on the Star’s 120 year anniversary.
And congratulations also to Vince Fedoroff for his fine “ Whitehorse Star photo by . . .” pics over the years. We used to share the Star darkroom - way back when. Happy memories!

Up 10 Down 4

Juniper Jackson on Jul 23, 2020 at 2:07 pm

Grats Star! You never "let the bastards get you down". I was sitting at the old Yukon Inn, there was a Chinese restaurant in the middle of what is now the parking lot.. Herbie Lee's place.. when someone told me what the star motto was. And you still don't.. That in itself is a huge success.

Up 18 Down 0

Yukoner ‘71 on Jul 22, 2020 at 7:13 pm

Wow, you started at the Whitehorse Star just after I was born at what back then was the Faro hospital. Some of the stories you’ve mentioned going back to the late 40’s I remember being told about by family members who were here since that time, and others from the mid 70’s onwards I remember clearly myself like they happened yesterday. Congratulations Star on the 120 years and to you Jackie Pierce on your 48 years. It’s like a different territory in so many ways compared to back when you started and I was born. I don’t mind saying I miss how it used to be here.

Up 13 Down 1

Elizabeth Hendley on Jul 22, 2020 at 6:10 pm

As a child growing up in the Yukon, the Whitehorse Star did a few articles covering some of my accomplishments . Coming from a very small community, it created a sense of pride. Thank you.

Up 12 Down 4

Pinnochio’s Ass on Jul 22, 2020 at 3:03 pm

Brad K - wow, you purchased the very first issue 120 yeas ago. Well done sir. Fantastic! Now go take a long lie down and your meds will be along soon .

Up 15 Down 1

Max Mack on Jul 22, 2020 at 9:37 am

120 years! Wow!
Congratulations to all at Whitehorse Star!

Up 9 Down 9

Brad K. on Jul 21, 2020 at 4:41 pm

I remember when the first issue came out. Everybody in town was quite keen to obtain a copy. I still have mine.

Up 22 Down 10

Groucho d'North on Jul 21, 2020 at 11:37 am

Since my arrival here in 1977 I have purchased every single paper edition printed on your presses, both my sons delivered the Star introducing them to the working life.
Each edition is part of our unending history and I thank you for chronicling our progress in both directions. I hope the Star shines bright for another 120 years, and it should given its management has the right perspective to operate such a publication: Illegitimi non carborundum

Up 29 Down 0

Rick VanSickle on Jul 21, 2020 at 11:07 am

Congratulations Jackie, Jim and all the current staff still putting out that great paper. As an on again, off again employee over many years, I always felt like family working there. Many fond memories printing the paper and reporting. It remains the best job I ever had. To another 120 years! Cheers. Rick

Up 32 Down 1

Ruth Montgomery on Jul 20, 2020 at 12:12 pm

Thanks for such a thoughtful and extensive report on the history of the Whitehorse Star, woven with the history of the Yukon.
First class job !
Your paper fills an essential role and need to continue. Much appreciated.

Up 29 Down 2

Rob Guzyk on Jul 20, 2020 at 12:03 pm

Congratulations, Jackie and Jim!
Always think fondly of my time at The Star!
Rob Guzyk

Up 26 Down 3

Wilf Carter on Jul 17, 2020 at 10:33 pm

To the next 120 years when they talk about the greatness of the Yukon people.

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