Hegg’s Klondike Photographs

 

Eric A. Hegg was twenty-nine years old when in 1897 he left his photography studio in New Whatcom (now Bellingham, WA), packed his photographic equipment, and joined the great rush to the gold fields of the Klondike. During the next two years he took hundreds of photographs documenting the stampede north to the Alaskan ports of Dyea and Skagway, inland through the Border Mountains to the upper reaches of the Yukon River, then down the Yukon to Dawson and the Klondike gold fields. Since relatively few of these photographs have survived, I present a selection in seven albums below.

The magnitude of Hegg’s achievements should not be underestimated, for

    1. “He was obliged to heat his developer to keep it from freezing, to filter his water through charcoal, to coat his wet plates with a mixture improvised from herbs and egg albumen, and to work his bulky camera in forty-below weather; but the pictures he made of that strange mountain migration were so effective that when some of them went on exhibit in New York, crowds fought to get a glimpse of them and police had to be called to restore order.” [2, p. 157]

  1. It may seem odd that I should post photographs of the Klondike to a website focused on the history of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia. My justifications are admittedly weak. Charles R. Weddleton of Yarmouth succumbed to the allure of the Klondike Gold Rush, and surely others in the area must have yielded to the temptations of adventure and unimaginable wealth. The Yarmouth County Museum and Archives possesses a copy of Hegg’s book of Klondike photographs [1], which he published himself in 1900. A more personal justification derives from my experiences of studying Hegg’s photographs, researching them, grouping and explaining them, for I couldn’t help but examine how I would have responded to the extreme physical and psychological hardships endured by participants in the Great Gold Rush.

    1. “All my life,” he said, “I have searched for the treasure. I have sought it in the high places, and in the narrow. I have sought it in deep jungles, and at the ends of rivers, and in dark caverns –– and yet have not found it.

    2. “Instead, at the end of every trail, I have found you awaiting me. And now you have become familiar to me, though I cannot say I know you well. Who are you?

    3. And the stranger answered: “Thyself.”

    4. –– From an old tale [2, p. ii]

  2. The albums may be viewed at any time and in any sequence, but their natural order corresponds to a stampeder’s journey to the Klondike: from a west coast city, such as Seattle, north to Dyea or Skagway, AK; inland to Lake Bennett, BC, via any of three routes (Chilkoot Pass, White Pass, White Pass Railway); from Lake Bennett north to Dawson, YT, via the Yukon River; and from Dawson into the nearby gold fields of the Klondike.

References and Notes

    [1] E. A. Hegg (Illustrator), Souvenir of Alaska and Yukon Territory. Skaguay, Alaska, 1900. 104 pp. (Y MS1 645.2, YCMA)

    [2] Pierre Burton, Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush, 1896–1899. Anchor Canada, 1972. xxiv+472 pp.

    [3] I thank Jamie Serran, Archivist at the Yarmouth County Museum and Archives, for providing access to photographs and archival material.

William Day (25 November 2012)