Department of Tourism and Culture

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Personal Name Authority

Hougen, Rolf, b. 1928

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Biographical Sketch or Administrative History 


Rolf B. Hougen (b. 1928) is a long-time Whitehorse, Yukon resident and prominent businessman. His parents, Margrethe (née Blakstad) and Berent Hougen, emigrated from Norway to Canada and settled near the northern British Columbia community of Tatalrose where they lived for 25 years. Berent Hougen had travelled to the Yukon Territory during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898 and the lure of the north and new economic opportunities inspired the Hougens to move to Whitehorse in 1944. Their son Odin had moved to the community in 1941 and taken on the Rawleigh dealership and established a small store at Second and Wood streets. Rolf, the youngest of seven children, was 16 at the time. He worked in the store before and after school and took over its management in 1947 at the age of 19. The store grew to become a large department store on Main Street in downtown Whitehorse.

Rolf Hougen's business interests reflect his ability to see opportunities in his community and the territory as well as across Canada. For a period Hougen's Ltd. sold and serviced Renault cars from France. In 1969 Rolf Hougen and 15 shareholders bought the Ford dealership, Whitehorse Motors, from the Northern Commercial Company (N.C.Co.) which was going out of business. Rolf Hougen was the majority shareholder and overall manager. In 1978 Rolf Hougen bought Yukon Honda with partners Al Castagner and Lloyd Atkinson. Both dealerships also handled recreational vehicles and equipment: Yamaha snowmobiles (Whitehorse Motors) and Mercury motors, a line of boats and canoes, Honda motorbikes, and Ski-Doo snow machines (Yukon Honda).

Rolf Hougen was keen in establishing Hougen stores in other Yukon communities and spent time studying the feasibility of such a plan. In 1969 the mining community of Faro was established by Cyprus Anvil Mining Corporation. The owners approached Rolf Hougen about opening a full service store, including groceries, in the town. The mine closed in 1982 and the store remained open for another three years before it closed also. In 1974 Rolf Hougen purchased the Sands Store in Watson Lake and operated it as Hougen's Ltd. This store was eventually sold to his nephew, Odin Hougen, and today (2016) is called Hougen's Department Store.

In 1955 Rolf Hougen became interested in creating a local cable television station even though the Yukon was a remote location with a small population. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) had opened stations in Toronto and Montreal in 1952 and television was becoming very popular. The community station, WHTV, went on the air in 1958 and by 1964 it was breaking even with 400 customers. In 1965 Rolf Hougen became the principal owner of the business along with a group of friends who had also become investors. By 1977 WHTV had grown to a dozen colour channels. The Hougen Group of Companies sold Northern Television Systems Limited to Northwestel (a northern-based telecommunications company) in 2007.

Following the success of WHTV Rolf Hougen became interested in delivering TV via satellite to the Yukon and parts of northern Canada. He put together a group of broadcasters who jointly applied for a licence to the CRTC to deliver Canadian TV services to northern, remote and under-serviced regions of Canada. Canadian Satellite Communications (Cancom) was granted an exclusive licence for a new radio and television network in April 1981. Within 90 days of receiving the licence Cancom started operation. Cancom succeeded in supplying Canadian programming in the country's many remote areas, and also supported aboriginal broadcasting. By 1999 Cancom was distributing 35 Canadian and U.S. signals to more than 2,500 cable systems across North America and direct to home services.

In 1967 Rolf Hougen decided to establish a commercial radio station in Whitehorse. Following the presentation of a proposal to the Canadian Radio and Television Commission (CRTC) Rolf Hougen and four partners were granted a licence in 1968. CKRW went on the air November 17, 1969. To this day (2016), the radio station reflects the needs and interests of the Yukon listening audience and is still owned by the Hougen family.

Rolf Hougen realized the importance of trade with countries on the Pacific Rim and was interested in cultivating commercial ties. In 1966, following a course of study at the Banff School of Advanced Management, he organized a tour to China with 130 Canadian business people and their families. There was a second visit in 1972. In 1984 the Yukon Government became a charter member of the Asia Pacific Foundation and Rolf Hougen was appointed the delegate from the territory. The foundation focuses on Canada's economic, social and political relations with Asia.

Rolf Hougen has also been active in supporting and promoting the community of Whitehorse and the Yukon Territory. As a teenager in high school he founded the Young People's Association, a youth led organization that was active in sports. In 1945 the first Whitehorse Winter Carnival was held as a fundraising event for the Yukon Labour Party's federal candidate. In the following winters the community of Whitehorse sponsored the event and Rolf Hougen became one of the organizers. Events included gambling, dog sled races, dances, kid's events, and a Queen contest. Following the 1950 event the carnival was not held for 11 years. In 1961 Rolf Hougen lobbied to hold the annual winter carnival again and the first "Yukon Sourdough Rendezvous" was held in February 1962.

Two sternwheelers, the 'Whitehorse' and 'Casca', were the last riverboats remaining in the Whitehorse shipyards by 1973. Rolf Hougen formed a committee to save the boats and with a grant of $40,000 they cleared away debris, installed new decking, completed minor repairs, painted each boat, and installed a metal fence around the site. Rolf Hougen felt the historical boats could play a role in the future tourism of the city but he was unable to convince the Whitehorse City Council to purchase the boats from the owner, White Pass and Yukon Route. On June 21, 1974 the boats burned to the ground due to a fire set by trespassers.

In 1980 Rolf Hougen conceived of the idea to create a foundation which offers financial support to worthy projects and scholarships. He and 16 long-time Yukoners donated $100 each and became the founding members of the "Yukon Foundation". By 2010 the foundation was administering 140 different funds and had 6 million dollars in its holdings. Financial aid is available to individuals and organizations for education and research which will enhance human knowledge and projects which will benefit the Yukon and its residents.

In the fall of 1982 the Yukon and White Pass Route Railway which carried people and freight between Skagway, Alaska and Whitehorse shut down due to loss of revenue. After a few years when it became apparent that the line would not resume operating Rolf Hougen spearheaded a drive to open it in the summer as a tourism operation and pulled together a group of investors with the knowledge and skills to operate the line. Based in part on the feasibility study the group had conducted and the on-going promotion of the plan the WP&YR decided to re-open the line on May 12, 1988 as a summer-only tourist operation.

Long-time supporters of the arts, Rolf Hougen and his wife Margaret donated a large space in the lower level of the Hougen Centre and financial support to the Yukon arts community in 2004. "Arts Underground" is operated by the Yukon Arts Society, a non-profit society with 150 members who are primarily artists. Arts Underground has retail space for its members to sell their products, exhibit space for art shows, a small shop with art supplies, and a large studio for classes including pottery and painting. One section in Arts Underground is called the "Hougen Heritage Gallery". This area, co-managed by the Friends of the Yukon Archives Society and the MacBride Museum, displays rotating exhibits showcasing themes found in collections held by the two institutions.

Erik Nielsen was the Yukon's Member of Parliament from 1957 to 1987. Rolf Hougen worked on all of Nielsen's campaigns; his focus was in the advertising and public relations of the candidate. He also served as vice-president for the Progressive Conservation Party of Canada.

Rolf Hougen was also President and founding member, Whitehorse Board of Trade (in 1964 its name was changed to Whitehorse Chamber of Commerce); Secretary, Yukon Fish and Game Association; Treasurer, Whitehorse Merchants Hockey Club; Treasurer, Yukon Ski Runner; and Member, Yukon Science Institute. He has also been a director on the boards of Finning Ltd., Alberta Power Ltd. and Yukon Electrical Co. Ltd., Cominco Ltd., Northwestel, Northwestel Cable Inc., and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. In 1987 Rolf Hougen was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada, and in 1992 was awarded Officer, Ordre Nationale du Merite in France. He served as honorary Consul for France in Yukon from 1980 to 1999, when he was succeeded by his son Erik, and was Chancellor, Yukon College 2009 to 2013. In June 2015 Rolf Hougen received the 2015 Transportation Person of the Year Award sponsored by the Yukon Transportation Museum, Northern Air Transport Association and the Government of Yukon. The award was in recognition of his contribution to the transportation industry when he initiated the drive to open the WP&YR Railway as a seasonal tourist operation. Rolf Hougen was also the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Yukon Chamber of Commerce, in June 2016, for his life-long commitment to the development of business in the Yukon. Over the years Rolf Hougen has been on many more boards, volunteered his time for a variety of events and activities, and achieved recognition for his contributions to Yukon development and preservation.

Rolf Hougen is also an avid photographer and amateur filmmaker. He began taking photographs at the age of 10 and since then has taken thousands of images documenting community events, sports, parades, weddings, and daily life. In later years, the Hougens had a darkroom in their home, and he took some photographs for commercial clients and sold others in the family store. He also has a personal interest in preserving Yukon history and understands the importance of the work of other photographers. In 1949, Rolf Hougen came into possession of over 1,100 glass plate negatives created and acquired by well-known Whitehorse photographer E.J. Hamacher. The collection of photographs, which Rolf Hougen donated to the Yukon Archives in 2002, depict many scenes and activities in Whitehorse as well as other Yukon communities and Skagway, Alaska from circa 1898 to 1935. In the early 1950s Rolf Hougen started taking home movies with a 16 mm Bolex motion picture camera. He captured events of importance, such as the visits to the territory of HRH Prince Philip the Duke of Edinburgh, United States Senator Robert F. Kennedy, and Prime Ministers John Diefenbaker, Pierre Trudeau and Joe Clark. He filmed his travels throughout the Yukon and Alaska, as well as business trips to Japan and China. Many of Rolf Hougen's films capture the activities and special events of his wife and family.

In 1955 Rolf Hougen married Margaret Van Dyke and they have six children, Craig, Kelly, Karen, Erik, Greta and Maureen, and 18 grandchildren. Avid travellers, the Hougen family spent a year in France, leaving Canada in July 1977, in order to learn French and experience the cultures of Europe.

For more biographical information on Rolf Hougen and his family consult the Hougens' website at

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  Rolf and Margaret Hougen fonds (Fonds)


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