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Research Materials

Wires in the Wilderness
The Story of the Yukon Telegraph
Bill Miller
5.5 x 8.5, 336 pp, sc
ISBN 1-894384-58-X
Heritage House
Retail Price $19.95 CA

The Yukon Telegraph is a 1,800-mile telegraph line that was built up through the spine of the province of British Columbia over 100 years ago to connect the goldfields of the Yukon with southern Canada.

Wires in the Wilderness tells the story of the Yukon Telegraph from its con-ception in 1897 to its abandonment in 1952, from the political wrangling and scandal that surrounded the building of the line to the daunting task of stringing the frail network of wires between poles and trees for hun-dreds of desolate miles.

Between 1899 and 1901, work crews suspended nearly 2,000 miles of wire between Dawson City, Yukon, and Ashcroft, B.C. They faced some of the roughest, most isolated terrain imaginable, with barely a three-month working season between the snows of May and June and freeze-up in September.

Bill Miller’s account centres on stories of the linemen who survived the isolation, low pay, scant or mouldy provisions, weather extremes, nearly impassable terrain, and dangerous wildlife encounters. Some of the other characters whom Miller brings to life are:

  • Simon Peter Gunanoot, the Native man who, accused of murder, spent the next 13 years as a fugitive until he turned himself in at Hazelton and was acquitted at trial.
  • Slim Williams, who ran a dog team nearly 3,000 miles from Alaska to the Chicago World’s Fair.
  • Lillian Alling, who walked from New York to Dawson and purportedly attempted to cross the Bering Strait back to her native Russia.