Watson Lake has a colourful and unique history, full of interesting characters.
Vic & Katie Johnson
Vic was hired, in person, by Grant McConachie “to open up a base for the airline”. In 1938, he was flown in on a floatplane with only the clothes on his back, a few tools and a couple of days worth of food. The pilot promised to return with food, materials and supplies for the job. The pilot was unable to return for 11 days, and expected to find the man at death’s door. He landed to find a completed dock, a partially finished cabin terminal and Vic in his usual good humor. Vic loved a challenge.
Vic spent the rest of his life on the first soil he touched in the Yukon with the love of his life, Katherine Wills. They met in Grande Prairie Hospital and Vic convinced her to come to Watson Lake in 1945. They made their home near the shores of Watson Lake and began their lifetime together of caring and giving.
Vic and Katie had one daughter born to them, Grace. Their legacy was to provide safety, shelter and love by fostering over 200 children in the area. “There were, at one time, as many as 22 children living in their home. They ranged in age from tiddlers to teens and kept the home in perpetual motion.” All of their children have been a great source of joy to them. The Elementary School was named for them in 1980 and they received the Commissioner’s Award in 1981 for their selfless commitment that “no child was ever turned from their door.” Katie received the Order of Canada in 1993.
After taking his discharge from the army, Morgan took on the position of Master Mechanic for the Alaska Highway. Morgan came to Watson Lake with his wife, Dolan, and 4 children in 1960. Having been a member of the Royal Canadian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, he worked for and retired from the Town Department of Public Works in 1972. He owned and operated the Pioneer Theatre, as well he co-owned the Watson Lake Motors with Wally McCullogh.
Morgan was active in community projects and participated in sports such as hockey, baseball and curling. He was an active member of the Lion’s Club and Community Club. He really enjoyed the hunting, fishing and camping available in this area.
Lena Charlie was born to Maggie and Bill Dick near Ross River. She was the 9th of 14 children. She was raised to respect the traditional ways of life, skills she passed on to her children.
Her mother personally arranged the marriage to husband Pete Charlie. Together they had 14 children. They spent most of their life together near Pelly Crossing and Ross River. She moved closer to Lower Post to remain near her children when they were at Residential School. In 2005, they boasted 94 grandchildren and a family which spanned 5 generations. She was known as a healer and a midwife in this area and helped a lot of prospective mothers through their pregnancies.
Family members remember her ability to relate life lessons through her story telling. Lena loved to play cards and bingo just about as much as she loved her family.
She loved and was loved by her many family members. She was especially fond of her grandchildren and did not show any favorites. She was a very strong woman who passed on all that is good to her family.
John Dickson was born by a campfire on January 20th, near Slate Creek on Pelly River. His parents were Bill Dickson and Aggie Tom, who was the daughter of Shu-wash Tom. According to the records he was born around 1896, but the people that knew him indicated he was a lot older.
Grandpa John married Neso (Mary) Smith, daughter of Pelly Smith and Louise Dease. John and Neso had 11 children. During the 100 years of his life, Grandpa John experienced many changes that took place in the Yukon, some good and some bad. His values and beliefs in life were reflected in his speaking for the Kaska rights to their land and the ways of the Kaska people. We could still hear his voice as he would encourage the young leaders and people to “Speak loud; don’t be afraid to speak for your rights and for your grandchildren.”
John Dickson was a respected Kaska elder and a born story teller who taught himself to read and write. John truly cared for the land and had great concerns for his grandchildren. He held a string belief in the Kaska culture and traditional ways and he loved trapping, fishing and guiding and loved the company of his friends.
John Dickson was called “Grandpa John” by everyone who knew him.
Mida was born at McDame, BC. She lived in the bush, north of Upper Liard near the Francis River, for most of her life. She was active in her youth tending to the daily chores that kept people alive in those times. As a young girl, she watched her mother succumb to the devastating Influenza epidemic. She gave birth to 17 children. Thankfully she saw most of them reach adulthood. She bore the struggles of addiction, which she chose to fight, and survived to become one of the most respected elders in the Yukon. She is a strong voice against global warming and the need for change right now.
She continues to trap seasonally and is known for ability to make traditional medicines. She has continued to tan moose and caribou hide using traditional smoke method. Her skill in making moccasins, mukluks, slippers and gloves, with the intricate patterning and brightly coloured beading has provided her with income, as well as allowed the rest of the world an opportunity to see these traditional crafts and the unique quality of her workmanship.
The legacy she is committed to is passing on… the teaching of the “old ways” and the Kaska language to the generations of her children and her grandchildren, as well as any one interested in learning. She has seen the world develop and evolve around her, “in some good ways and some not so good” and she holds onto the “old ways” dearly.
Born in Riceton, Saskatchewan, Walt learned to fly in the RCAF. He was a member of the “Dambusters” Squadron during WWII and was awarded a DFC and Bar.
Walt came to Watson lake in 1960 along with his wife Joyce and their two young girls, Tor and Cindi, as the pilot for Tungsten Mine. He flew Beaver and SuperCub aircraft for three years until the Canada Tungsten road was built. Following this, he worked for B.C. Yukon Airways, servicing mining camps and big game hunters until 1964. Moving to Whitehorse, he then flew for Yukon Airways, continuing the bush pilot work he loved so much.
Walt died suddenly in October 1964, a month before his son John was born.
After serving with the army in Winnipeg as a salvager, cat skinner and truck driver, Johnny came and settled in Watson Lake in the 1940’s. He was very community minded and was involved in many projects around this area. He was the founding coach of the local baseball team. He especially liked being a baseball “ump”. He was known for “standing his ground” on his calls, much to the chagrin of some of the more avid players. Johnny was known to have only one sister.
He partnered with Huey Pete to build, own and operate Watson Lake Motors, where he spent the majority of his days. The other part of his day was usually spent at the Watson Lake Hotel enjoying cool drinks and the lively social atmosphere. Johnny was renowned for his trademark Carling Black Label beer and smoking cigars. He was also, for a time, the town’s self-appointed mortician.
Johnny was among those who saw the most dramatic changes in his world, in a very short period of time, with the upgrading of the highway and the evolution of technology. He was most known for his generous spirit and colourful character.
Wally & Mary McCulloch
Wally was working for K & J Trucking when he decided to move his wife Mary and three children, Sherry, Bobby and Sterling here in 1967. Samantha was born here later. Wally haauled freight to and ore out of Cantung Mine for quite a few years before buying Watson Lake Motors with partner Morgan Chaddock. He ran the Motors on his own for 28 years, after Morgan passed away.
Wally was active in sports, playing ball and hockey. he was a fair and approachable businessman, a mainstay in the community.
Mary stayed at home for most of the children’s formative years doing the books for the Motors. She then became interested in the role of Justice of the Peace. Her natural abilities over the 20+ years of service allowed her to become one of the most respected Territorial JP’s. She also took on the responsibilities of Community Coroner for this time. Mary enjoyed managing Murdoch’s Store for a number of years. She was one of the founding members of the Senior’s Club. Her volunteer work with the Church and Hospital saw many benefits to the community.
Frank & Adela Watson
Adela Stone Watson was born in the area of Muncho Lake. She met Francis Gilbert Watson from Lake Tahoe, California at the Liard Hot Springs in 1908. The moved north and settled in Lower Post, then found their homestead at Windid Lake, which is located just east of Watson Lake.
They were considered the first settlers in this area, although Watson Lake was named Fish Lake at the time. They worked a fish camp on Watson Lake, maintained a trapline in the area, as well as searched for gold on the Liard River. Members of their family still reside at Windid Lake. Everyone remembers them as being generous and helpful to all.
Dr. Stephen Wigby
Dr. Wigby had a great fondness for Watson Lake and its citizens. He was an avid outdoorsman who loved skiing, fishing and his ability as a pilot to fly.
He was available 24/7 to his patients and remained in this area for over 20 years as one of the first long term medical practitioners.
He was a man of conviction and was unmovable when he believed in an issue and when he did not.
He was a very personable man who enjoyed attending church and playing the organ. This picture of him sits on top of the organ in the Anglican church.
Gord & Rose Toole
Gordon began his career in the Department of Transport, Meteorological Division in 1943. Gordon has the distinction of being the officer in charge who recorded the lowest temperature of -82.6F at Snag in February 1947. The morning of the reading he felt “a tinkling as he exhaled; his breath, frozen instantly in the cold, fell as white powder to the ground below as he went to check the temperature at 7:20 am”.
Rose and Gordon came to Watson Lake in 1949. They raised a family of 4 boys and 2 girls. Gordon continued to work for the Dept. of Transport until 1971. During his tenure with the government, Gordon trapped during the winters from 1965 to 1997. Rose was able to go to the bush with Gordon for the last 12 years, and has just finished publishing 3 books on their adventures. During different periods of time, they successfully ran an outfitting company at Ceasar Lake, owned and operated a farm, and built a lodge at Stewart Lake. Gordon also served for many years as Justice of the Peace and Community Coroner for the Watson lake area.
In 2003, Rose and Gordon had the pleasure to be recognized as Mr. & Mrs. Yukon.
Don came to the Yukon in 1949. He got to know the country, people and issues in this area. He was elected for 6 consecutive terms as MLA for this area, and served as Speaker of the House in the Yukon Legislature for 11 of those years.
Don has taken on an advocacy role for different causes that he believes are needed for Yukoners, especially for Watson Lake. He has been a member of the Watson Lake Lions Club, Whitehorse Lodge #46, AF & AM and a member of the Yukon Shrine’s Club. He served as a Director for the Yukon Chamber of Mines.
He is known for his “bush” radio work, flightwatching, forest fire coordination in this area, as well as his daily “sched” calls to all the trappers and inhabitants of the bush through the winter. His home and heart reside in Stewart lake, just a 20 minute fly-in from Watson Lake.
Don passed away in Watson Lake on October 7th, 2012 at the age of 79.