A night in June 1917 found me under one of the brick-piles on the Avion front in a safe little cellar that the Hun had fixed up for himself and then turned over to us. I was seated on some sand-bags set against the wall, with a "capacity house" to hear a Klondike tale. A few candles gave a dim light hazy with thick tobacco smoke, making it easier for fancy to have free course. There were no interruptions except the occasional call from the top of the dug-out stairs for some man to report for duty. The sound of shells and guns came dully to our ears and seemed unheard as, in imagination, we travelled afar to fairer climes and by-gone days. I'll tell you to-night of my first trip to the North and my first attempt to travel with a dog-team on a winter trail.
In 1899 I was a Missionary in the back-woods of Minnesota learning to preach, practising on our American cousins out of consideration for the feelings of my fellow-Canadians! I was quite contented in my work, preaching at little country schoolhouses with long distances to drive between, but getting everywhere the best they had of hospitality.
One day in the winter of 1899-1900 a telegram came to me from Dr. Robertson our Canadian Superintendent of Missions asking me, if agreeable, to report at Winnipeg that week for duty in the Yukon. I couldn't resist "the call of the wild" and I wired acceptance of the appointment. Two weeks later I was on the C.P.R. headed for Vancouver. There I got a berth on a little steamboat named the Cutch, bound for Skagway, Alaska, the great gateway to the "Golden North."
I'll not easily forget that trip. The boat was crowded beyond what seemed possible. Every berth was twice taken, one man sleeping at night the other in the daytime. The floors of the cabins were occupied as berths night and day. They slept under the tables and on them and in the gangways and on the decks. Meals were "on" all day in order to get everyone served. There were some wild times aboard and plenty of discomfort, but the greatest good-feeling generally prevailed for the boat was headed north and every hour brought them nearer to the land where fortunes were made in a day. Amazing stories, and all the more amazing because they were true, had come south telling of the richness of the new gold-fields. Gold-dust and nuggets lay scattered apparently without known limit in the gravels and schist of the creeks. It was a "poor man's diggings" too. A stout back, a pick, a pan, a shovel and a little "grub" were all you needed. After two or three days' work it might be your luck to strike the pay-streak and have your secret dreams of sudden wealth come true. Why not you as well as those other fellows? There was Lippi who had already cleaned up a million out of a part of his 250 feet on Eldorado, Macdonald "the Klondike King," otherwise, "Big Alec the Moose," who had been offered in London five million for his interests, Dick Lowe who owned a 50-foot "fraction" on Bonanza that some said had almost as much gold as dirt in it. Johannsen and Anderson, the "Lucky Swedes" and "Skiff" Mitchell who worked No. 1 on Eldorado. These all had been poor men and there were hundreds of others that had done nearly as well. Besides, the claims were mostly just being opened up and nobody really knew what more marvellous finds might yet be made. Aboard the boat were all sorts of men from all parts of the world but all alike were filled with high hopes. Keen they were to try their luck in this big gamble where such alluring prizes were going to fortune's favorites. So nobody was looking for trouble. They had no lasting grievance against anyone who didn't interfere with their one great object of getting to Dawson. The only growling was at the slow progress the boat made, but an "ocean greyhound" would not have been fast enough to satisfy their eager haste.