This is my dream of Whitehorse...
Robert Service Dreams of the Future
Robert W.Service, the bard of the North - His poems of the early days on the Northern frontier have made him the most famous of poets of the genre. That, many would argue, despite the lack of literary quality of his work. Author Dick North says that "Service's yarns about Sam McGee and Dangerous Dan McGrew are akin to fossils which literary scholars would like to leave buried but the common man keeps dredging up." And dredge they do - from stanzas used in ads of all types, to reprints of many of his books, Robert Service's vivid images of beauty, mystery, adventure and death are seldom far from the sight or hearing of Yukoners or Alaskans.
There is a small body of Service's work, however, that has never been published, and I only recall it being mentioned in the briefest of ways in biographies. Due I'm sure partly to Robert's "thrifty" nature, he would often, when invited to social occasions such as birthday parties, compose a poem for the guest of honour rather than purchase a more conventional gift. Unfortunately, because of their very nature, these poems have almost complely vanished. Yet, judging from the one reproduced here, they have the potential to tell a great deal about everyday life as it was seen by a Whitehorse bank clerk.
"Bob Smart's Dream" seems to have been written for a banquet held upon the resignation of J.P.Rogers, the Superintendent of the White Pass & Yukon Route. It was held on March 19, 1906, and the Whitehorse Star reported that all of Whitehorse's dignitaries were there; many of them feature in Service's poem:
Bob Smart had been the Government Assayer at Whitehorse since 1903;
J.P.Whitney owned one of the two largest general stores in town;
Bob Lowe was the member of the Territorial Council;
Bill Grainger owned a great deal of mining property in the southern Yukon;
Barney McGee had just gone into partnership with Pete Richen in the Commercial Hotel, where the banquet was held;
Bill Clark had been mining around Whitehorse since it was first settled;
the Deacon was the nickname of lawyer Willard Phelps.
The sentiments spelled out in this piece seem to have been typical of the attitudes of the day, when mining at Whitehorse, Windy Arm and the Wheaton Valley was booming. Luckily, much of the progress envisioned never came to pass. There are no stamp mills, no smelter, no 18-storey buildings, no White Pass & Yukon "flyer" to Dawson (or even to Whitehorse any more). The "club" (the North Star Athletic Club) no longer exists, nor does Taylor & Drury's store. And Ear Lake is a gravel pit, not a park. But the steel bridge was built, and "the villas with gardens aflower" are in abundance. All in all, I think that Bob and the Deacon and Barney McGee would be pleased.