The rise and fall of whiskey flats
THE RISE AND FALL OF WHISKEY FLATS
For over half a century, Whitehorse was a company town. Most of the land was owned by the White Pass & Yukon Route transportation companies. All who camped or settled on the fringes of town were labelled squatters including First Nations people, railway and shipyard workers, and newcomers looking for a temporary inexpensive home. During Alaska Highway construction in 1942, thousands of soldiers and civilian contractors used Whitehorse as a construction base. Yukoners and newcomers flocked to new jobs and opportunities in the wartime town. Housing was non-existent and the riverfront squatter communities boomed with hundreds of cabins, Quonset huts, shacks and outhouses popping up in every available space. In the mid-1950s, 342 people lived in Whiskey Flats - everyone from civil servants and military families to miners and chambermaids.
“We were out of town and when we came back, out house was bulldozed to the ground.” Pat Joe, 2014
Whitehorse became the Yukon’s capital in 1953. With this status came large developments including a bridge to a new suburb across the river. To many, the shacks of Whiskey Flats were unsightly and unsuitable for a modern town. Over the years, there were many efforts to displace the squatters who proved remarkably persistent. While some buildings were relocated, many were destroyed without the owners’ consent. By 1967, the colourful little community had been replaced by a new park and the S.S. Klondike National Historic Site.