North America / Western Canada / Yukon

“Pic of the Week”, January 24, 2020: Sam Steele, The Lion of the Yukon

05 Whitehorse Street Art (7)

There are times in history when one man can make an enormous difference to the lives of thousands of people.  Sam Steele, known as the “Lion of the Yukon”, was just such a man.  His formal title, in time, was to be Major General Sir Samuel Benfield Steele.

Sam had a distinguished career as a soldier and officer in military and in the Northwest Mounted Police (NWMP),  which today has morphed into Canada’s Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).  Sam was head of the Yukon detachment of the NWMP during the Klondike Goldrush.  What was a sleepy outpost initially turned into a challenging position for Sam and his Mounties.

He established Custom outposts atop the Chilkoot and White Passes, and the Mounties did not allow any prospector to enter Canada from Alaska unless they had a ton of provisions (mostly food).  In so doing, he saved the lives of tens of thousands of people, for there was almost no food to be found at the site of the gold prospecting, especially during the long and frozen winter.  There would have been mass starvation and anarchy without this requirement.

Additionally, Sam kept law and order in Dawson City and the Klondike Gold fields.  Prostitution, some drinking, card playing and such were tolerated.  But rowdy behavior, stealing, fighting or cheating would likely get you put behind bars.  As it turned out, the Klondike Gold Rush was one of the most peaceable in history, largely due to the bigger than life personality of Sam Steele.  And it was very much in direct contrast to the town of Skagway in Alaska, where the villainous Soapy Smith cheated and stole and killed many of the prospectors heading into Canada.

In recognition of his service, this bust sits outside of the RCMP office in Whitehorse.  The man deserves a lot of respect.

(Click on thumbnails to enlarge, right arrow to advance slideshow)



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