closebrothers-140-digital-172x240-v14 - Page 6



enters the story, because if gold prospector
George Carmack had called ‘heads’ in 1896
rather than ‘tails’, the history of Close Brothers
would have been altogether different.
everything had to be imported, including
20,000 men from the USA and 450 tonnes of
explosives to push the railroad to the top of a
seemingly impregnable barrier.
In 1897, WB Close
paid £10,000 to the US
government for the right
to build a railway from
Skagway on the Pacific
coast of Alaska into
the Yukon.
In spite of the inhospitable conditions,
construction was achieved at an impressive
rate. The railway, which climbed 2,885 feet
in 21 miles, reached Bennett on 6 July 1899.
Days later, construction started further
north from Carcross to Whitehorse. The
construction crews working from Bennett
along a difficult lakeshore reached Carcross
the next year, connecting the Skagway–
Carcross section to the Carcross–Whitehorse
track. Service started on 1 August 1900.
That coin toss in Fort Selkirk, a remote trading
post on the Yukon River, determined that
Carmack would head south down the river
rather than north. Within a few weeks, he had
discovered gold in Bonanza Creek. His find
was modest – barely enough to fill the spent
cartridge of a Winchester rifle – but it was
enough to trigger an incredible stampede for
riches: the Klondike Gold Rush.
Although the Gold Rush slowed to an
early halt, the importance of the railway
showed no signs of abating. By 1910, it
operated 12 locomotives and more than
200 freight cars, as it formed the basis of
a modern trade network linking Alaska, the
Yukon and Northern British Columbia.
WB was caught up in the excitement – not
by the thrill of the hunt, but by the prospect
of providing access to the remote goldfields
of north-east Canada from Alaska’s Pacific
coast. In 1897, he paid £10,000 to the US
government for the right to build a railway
from Skagway, on the Pacific coast of
Alaska, into the Yukon. Within a year, a
route into the country had been decided
on – the White Pass & Yukon route – and
construction had begun on a narrow
gauge railroad from Skagway to Bennett,
British Columbia.
The obstacles facing the builders were
almost unprecedented: enormous
mountains, freezing temperatures and
sheer cliffs that rose for hundreds of feet.
There were no surveys to work from, no
rolling stock and precious little material with
which to begin the work. As a result, almost
Almost everything
had to be imported,
including 20,000 men
from the USA and 450
tonnes of explosives to
push the railroad to the
top of a seemingly
impregnable barrier.
The railway, engineered by WB Close,
brought new goods and services to the
area, spurred the creation of mineral
mines and fostered the establishment of
new communities. During the Second World
War, it supplied materials and labour for
the US Army building the Alaska Highway.
Close Brothers finally sold it in 1947 to
Canadian investors.





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