Historical headline: ‘Beatrice Day saw Yukon gold rush days’

Such was the headline in the Colonist magazine section, 40 years ago. Some 70 years after she went to the Yukon, scene of the fabled Klondike gold rush, Beatrice Day was again a resident of Duncan.

Reason for her being in the North, 1906-13, was because her husband Athel, the government assayer, was stationed in Dawson City. There, much to her astonishment, as she told interviewer E. Blanche Norcross, she immediately regretted not having packed, of all things, her evening gowns.

It hadn’t occurred to her that Dawson would have an active social life, with government galas and champagne, the ladies wearing white kid gloves and Parisian dresses. "The dances always finished promptly at midnight," she recalled. "Then we went to one another’s houses and had refreshments."

That was after an evening of almost non-stop dancing for the ladies who, outnumbered by unattached males, had no end of partners. A notable exception was a young bank clerk and aspiring poet who didn’t dance. She’d known Robert Service in Duncan when they both participated in amateur theatrical productions. Upon publication of his bestselling Ballads of a Cheechako in 1913, he gave her an autographed copy with a cover photo of him sporting a beard. Beatrice, who’d never known him to be unshaven, thought that the publisher probably thought the beard better suited the image of someone writing about the Klondike gold rush.

With a chuckle she told how Dundas Thwaites, a clerk who lived in the bank, had almost ended Service’s writing career before it began. Service often used the bank’s typewriter after hours by entering with his own key. One night, Thwaites heard someone moving downstairs and, convinced it was an intruder, almost opened fire before he recognized him.

She noted that Dawson was known for the fact that the Bank of North America employed "Scots boys" and the Bank of Commerce favoured "mainly Canadian boys."

During her husband’s many absences on business, she could count on these young, single and far-from-home bankers, or a Royal North West Mounted Police constable, to take her out for dinner, in return for Sunday afternoon tea.

Sometimes the Days rented a house in Whitehorse, requiring that Athel commute to Dawson by horse team in mid-winter and that Beatrice follow with their baby daughter by river steamer in June – if the ice had broken up. She recalled the high cost of living in the far north where meat cost two and a-half times as much as in the south, eggs sold for an outrageous dollar a dozen, and the smallest coin in the territory was a quarter.

Dawson City had peaked by the time of the Days’ hitch in the Yukon. But it had been a great seven years, filled with social activities and their participating in and observing firsthand the throes of the Klondike gold rush, one of the greatest in history. By 1913, with two young children, she and Athel decided it was time to return to civilization. But not for long; after operating the Buena Vista Hotel at Cowichan Bay for a time, Athel returned to assaying which required his moving about the province and that Beatrice, their two sons and daughter accompany him.

Perhaps life on the northern frontier wasn’t that great a departure for Beatrice, daughter of William Penn Jaynes, pioneer Cowichan merchant and postmaster. At the time of her interview, a month short of her 91st birthday, widowed and visually impaired, her hearing also failing, she lived with her son.


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