The Force in the North

Fort Selkirk

Before Fort Selkirk was built, the area had long been the trading grounds of the Northern Tutchone people and the coastal Chilkat people who came inland to trade. In 1848, Hudson Bay Company trader Robert Campbell built a trading post at Selkirk. This angered the Chilkats, who destroyed the post in 1852, convincing the Hudson Bay Company to pull out. In 1889, Arthur Harper opened a new post and the Tutchone people started to spend time at Selkirk. The Anglican Church started a mission there in 1892.

All of these developments were followed closely by the arrival of the North-West Mounted Police in 1898. The NWMP were monitoring traffic on the Yukon River to ensure the safe passage of gold seekers to Dawson City. That year, the Canadian government also dispatched the Yukon Field Force (YFF) to the Yukon Territory. This special force, consisting of 200 officers and men from various Canadian army regiments, was deployed to help the NWMP maintain order during the Klondike Gold Rush and to help assert Canadian sovereignty among the mining population, which was largely American. The soldiers travelled north through Canada via the Stikine River, overland along the Telegraph Trail to Teslin Lake and down the Teslin and Yukon Rivers. It was an arduous journey. Five women joined the YFF on this trip, including Faith Fenton, a Toronto newspaper reporter, and four members of the Victoria Order of Nurses.

The YFF set up their headquarters at Fort Selkirk. As the settlement was centrally located between Whitehorse and Dawson, it was briefly considered as a potential capital for the new Yukon Territory. By the following spring, however, all the soldiers had either moved to Dawson or had left the territory. Their legacy was a skeleton of buildings and the basalt cliffs, riddled with holes from their target practices.

Fort Selkirk remained a small detachment until it closed in 1911. The detachment re-opened in 1932 and was manned by G.I. Cameron from 1935 until 1949, when the detachment closed for good. Cameron and his wife Martha raised their daughter, Ione, at Fort Selkirk. G.I. was the NWMP and Martha was the community nurse. Cameron patrolled up and down the river from Dawson almost to Whitehorse and along the Pelly River, serving as the agent of government for most of central Yukon.

Attached clips of an interview with Ione Christensen illustrate their life at Fort Selkirk.