|Biographical Sketch or Administrative History
As early as the spring of 1897 business men realized that the requirements of the Klondike Gold Fields and its attendant population could not be met without a permanent and properly organized transportation system. Canadian railway contractor Michael J. Heney teamed up with the London financial house of Close Brothers, who financed the building of a railroad from Skagway, Alaska to Whitehorse, Yukon. Construction began in Skagway in May 1898 and by July 1900 the 110 mile railroad to Whitehorse was complete and regular service began immediately. |
Passing through three territories, the rail system required charters from three different governments: Pacific and Arctic Railway and Navigation Company from the United States; British Columbia - Yukon Railway Company from the Province of British Columbia; and British Yukon Mining, Trading and Transportation Company from the Government of Canada. In 1900 the name of the latter company was changed to simply the British Yukon Railway Company. The charters had been sanctioned in 1897. All concerns would operate under the White Pass and Yukon Railway Company, a holding company chartered in England. The company's whole transportation system was given the "umbrella" name of White Pass and Yukon Route - abbreviated to "WP&YR" - to describe service from Skagway to destinations in Alaska, British Columbia, and the Yukon Territory.
As part of the service, freight and passengers were transferred at Whitehorse onto a Yukon River sternwheeler for the final leg to Dawson City and the gold fields. In the early 1900s, WP&YR held a near monopoly as they bought up most of the steamboat companies operating on the Yukon River and on the Upper Lakes, to control traffic into both the Atlin gold fields and the Klondike gold fields. In 1901, the British Yukon Navigation Company (BYN Co.) was organized to operate the company's steamboat fleet and WP&YR continued to broaden its service base by acquiring the winter stage line of the Canadian Development Co. This allowed WP&YR to operate horse-drawn vehicles between Whitehorse and Dawson City during the closed winter season of river navigation. This operation, known as "The Royal Mail Service", continued until 1921.
Although good passenger and tourist traffic had been sustained through the 1920s and 1930s, the all-important freight traffic was too low to provide more than marginal net revenue. In the early 1940s it was not good times but a grim world-wide conflict that brought WP&YR back to financial health, at least for a five-year period. The construction of the Alaska Highway between Dawson Creek, B.C. and Fairbanks, Alaska required the movement of men and equipment into the interior of the Yukon and WP&YR was the only route that provided a year-round service to Whitehorse. During the peak construction period WP&YR had seventeen trains operating a day.
Until 1951, the four local operating companies which made up WP&YR were subsidiaries of a parent English holding company, the White Pass and Yukon Railway Co. Ltd. As shareholders in this company the English firm of Close Brothers Ltd. held a majority interest in 'A' shares and thus retained a preponderance in voting rights. Since the early 1940s a number of offers and proposals to reorganize the corporate structure by establishing a parent Canadian holding company in place of the English one were under consideration. After lengthy negotiations and delays an acceptable solution was finally arrived at. Rather than elaborate on the complex stock, the White Pass and Yukon Railway Co. Ltd. was liquidated and replaced by a new Canadian holding company, the White Pass and Yukon Corporation Ltd. This new company, incorporated on September 4, 1951, acquired the entire outstanding capital stock of the four local operating companies on November 1, 1951, the day it commenced operations.
A few years later WP&YR introduced the first ship - train - truck containerization scheme in the world. The company already had a thriving highway freight truck line serving the central Yukon, and in 1955 launched the first ship in the world designed for container haulage. Although containers, at 8x8x7 feet, were small by today's standards, the system would later become the major means of international shipping around the globe.
The 1960s saw a further rise in Yukon mining activity, demanding greater freight hauling capacity on the railway. The WP&YR purchased eight new diesel locomotives to meet a contract for hauling concentrates produced by a new open-pit mine at Faro. Business boomed during the 1970s, but a world wide recession was in the offing. Metal prices dropped and as a consequence the Cyprus Anvil mine and concentrator at Faro were shut down in June 1982. Cyprus Anvil had become the railway's major shipper, and without its business WP&YR had no option but to suspend railway operation in October 1982.
In 1988 WP&YR once again began to carry tourists in what has proven to be a successful business venture, that of tourism. Each summer over 200,000 passengers ride WP&YR trains to White Pass Summit, Fraser, B.C., Bennett, B.C., or Carcross, Yukon to experience a ride on a narrow gauge railway through coastal mountains. By 1995 the petroleum and marine interests had been sold off and its trucking operations had closed. In 1998 the remaining railway business was sold to WPT Holdings.