Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 26
by Margaret Archibald
The Great Outfitting Rush, 1897-98
When the soldiers from the east were drafted or at least
So whether it was meat, or molasses for a treat,
We'd evaporated flap-jacks, evaporated tin-tack,
We'd evaporated taters; O, they're the chest inflators!
One tends to think of the impact of the Klondike gold-rush in terms of a sudden discovery of the Yukon by the world at large, and of the development of that territory at the hands of the thousands who flowed north to the goldfields. Even realizing that over $100 million worth of gold was taken from those creeks in the first 10 years after the strike on Bonanza Creek, it is difficult to calculate the impact of the widespread economic boom triggered by the rush. Where did the money go?
This is to be a discussion of one segment of the total bonanza; that is, of the share of the wealth which was staked from the beginning by suppliers and outfitters across the continent, specifically by those on the west coast. They went nowhere near the goldfields nor, in all probability, did they want to. The combined factors of short supplies and exorbitant prices necessitated the purchase of at least a year's supplies before one entered that forbidding country. On this basis, many a harbour wholesale dealer made his fortune.
Examination of the workings of this lucrative supply trade serves to introduce the types of commodities which were initially shipped or carried to Dawson. Once recognized, certain types of goods and specific brands can be traced through many years of the Dawson retail trade. Some, like Borden's "Eagle Brand" milk, were North American favourites even before the rush. Others, like Lamont's crystallized eggs and Agen's tinned butter, while not specifically developed for the north, were popular for their suitability for such Yukon conditions as temperature extremes and extensive periods in transit and storage.
A look at the geographical and economic structure of the general outfitting trade brings to the fore those cities whose locations and existing mechanisms for supplying the frontier served them well in the business of outfitting the northbound hordes of gold seekers. Of these cities Seattle is a fine example, especially since its active Chamber of Commerce lost no time in mounting a highly effective publicity campaign in order to promote its superior facilities. Nor did it suffer from the prevailing misconception that the new goldfields were in American territory. Here was one group whose optimistic belief in the permanency of Klondike wealth proved accurate, for its members realized that once secured, a profitable segment of the outfitting trade was the thin edge of the wedge. By the 1890s distributors knew enough of the techniques of marketing brand-name goods to realize that those brands which established themselves early in a newly opened community could lead to a market as permanent as the community itself.
The largest proportion of goods sold in the outfitting centres was not, in the early stages of the rush, directly intended for any Yukon merchant's shelves, although it seems probable that large quantities of goods were purchased with resale in mind. No matter what his or her intended activities at the goldfields might be, every Klondike-bound fortune hunter would need an outfit a year's supply of everything that one person or party would need to survive. The idea was hardly new to the North American frontier, for 19th-century gold strikes in California, British Columbia and the Canadian northwest as well as activities in logging, fur trading and exploring, had given rise to equipped and knowledgeable groups of traders. It was their business to outfit a man with due consideration to quality of goods, durability in extreme climatic conditions, compactness and weight. All this was based on the general estimate of 1,800 pounds of goods (or its equivalent) per person per year.
To fulfill the most basic requirements of food and shelter, an outfit consisted of provisions, dry goods, tools and gear for transportation and shelter. Faced with a collection of outfit lists from Seattle, Vancouver, Edmonton and Chicago, one is surprised by the lack of regional variation in the staples offered. While there is certainly no "regulation" outfit for the Klondike, it is possible to ascertain more or less what the average goldseeker would have carried north: about 1,000 pounds of food, soap, candles and other groceries; basic cooking equipment; tools for boat- or cabin-building; mining equipment; heavy clothing and boots, and a sleeping bag.2
Of the many published guides which included outfit lists, very few offered the tenderfoot Klondiker any sort of manual which might give him proper advice on nutrition and on the efficient use of this necessarily compact outfit. There were four which did: William Ogilvie's excellent Klondike Official Guide, which was just that; A.E. Ironmonger Sola's Klondike: Truth and Facts of the New El Dorado, the Chicago Records book for goldseekers, and E. Jerome Dyer's The Routes and Mineral Resources of North Western Canada, published for the London Chamber of Mines. A second source of instructive information, and of course a less reliable one, was the advertisement which appeared in some guides, including Ogilvie's, the Alaska Commercial Company's and Charles Lugrin's Yukon Gold Fields, published by the Victoria Colonist.
The foodstuffs were unquestionably the most important element of any outfit, though they were unfortunately the bulkiest and heaviest as well. Although experienced firms packed outfits in portable units not larger than 50 pounds (see Appendix L), the fact remained that a single man could be expected to use up 500 pounds of flour and other grains in a year. Other heavy items were the 150 pounds of bacon, 100 pounds of beans and anywhere from 25 to 100 pounds of sugar.3 The heaviest individual elements of the edibles were the fruits and vegetables. By virtue of their weight and perishability, they were frequently excluded from outfits, an omission which had calamitous results. Scurvy was the traditional enemy of the badly supplied miner in the north.
The food industry packing, processing and preserving went through a period of experimentation which was characteristic of the 19th century. One wonders if the throng of outfitted goldseekers would have been a possibility had the Klondike's resources been discovered a century earlier. Indeed the two processes most relied on in providing a grocery outfit for the Klondike were new to the 19th century. Foods were first successfully canned during the Napoleonic Wars, and condensation received its impetus from the American Civil War. By 1897 both methods had been taken over by efficient, mass-producing industries.
The first patent for a "tin cannister" was registered in England in 1810: "an iron can coated with tin and the cover soldered on."4 Even then, spoilage was associated with the process, because (it was believed) of the food's coming into contact with tainted air; therefore early canning processes involved the cooking of food already sealed in cans. By 1860, Louis Pasteur had made known his theory of sealing tins hermetically.5 The contents of any tin can of food were greeted with understandable suspicion in Pasteur's day, for the process was still experimental, crudely done and generally unreliable. It was another 30 years before research was directly allied with the food industry. By that time, the canning industry had sprung up, packing the harvest of market garden and orchard alike into two- and three-pound tins. (The standard Canadian two-pound tin can was 3-1/2 inches in diameter and 4-1/2 inches high.)6 By 1905 there were almost 50 canneries in Ontario.7
Meats and their preservation were also subject to experimentation in search of improvements. Canning, as a method of preserving small quantities of meat without the benefit of salt or cold storage, was ideally suited to expeditions and long voyages. Captain Sir Edward Parry carried canned meats and vegetables with him in the Arctic in 1824.8
One of the major disadvantages associated with packing tinned products on expeditions was their weight. Gail Borden, an inquiring American schoolteacher and surveyor, became interested in the dual problems of bulky and perishable foods. His experiments were directed toward obtaining from a food its concentrated extract. One of the first practical results of his work was his meat biscuit, a concentrated mixture of wheat flour and beef. "Dry, inodorous, flat and brittle,"9 the meat biscuit was perfectly suited to an expeditionary outfit. Coinciding as it did with the California gold-rush of 1849, Borden's discovery sold briskly. Basically his biscuit was not unlike the traditional pemmican.
If Borden's name is even slightly connected with the California gold-rush, then his subsequent discovery ought to have earned his status as an honorary sourdough in the Klondike. For most of the men at the goldfields or on the trail, Borden's "Eagle Brand" was synonymous with condensed milk. This process, discovered by Borden in 1856, condensed the milk by heating it in airtight vacuum pans.10 The liquid so produced was virtually imperishable. From the invention evolved a company, producing Eagle Brand milk and "Peerless" evaporated cream (see Fig. 1). Its foremost Canadian competitor, at least in terms of the Klondike market, seems to have been the Truro Condensed Milk and Canning Company (Figs. 2 and 3). "Reindeer" was their leading brand:
The quantity of gold dust stored in Reindeer Milk tins this season will be enormous. But it will not equal in richness the original contents, for Reindeer Brand assays 1000 fine every time.11
Other dairy products underwent similar adaptation for use on expeditions. Vacuum-packed tinned butter never lost the early popularity it had gained in Dawson. Packed so that it did not touch the tin (presumably by using paper liners) this butter was reputed to withstand the most extreme climatic conditions. J.B. Agens of Seattle and Tacoma held a long-lasting monopoly in canned butter at the goldfields (Fig. 4).
Whole eggs were useless in an outfit for obvious reasons. To this problem the crystallized or powdered egg was the answer. Lamont's crystallized eggs captured the Dawson market by advertising, "No breaking. No Bad Eggs. No shells. No waste."12 Lamont had reduced the equivalent of two dozen eggs to an eight-ounce can; to reconstitute one whole egg one needed only to add 1-1/4 tablespoons of baking powder and 2 tablespoons water or milk.
The process of concentration was not limited to dairy products. Meat, fruit and vegetables could be reduced to a fraction of their original weight, thereby both lightening the load and preserving the food. Bovril was by far the best-known company engaged in reducing meats and, to a lesser extent, vegetables. "Our object is to supply the maximum amount of nourishment in the minimum of bulk."13 With vast experience behind it, having outfitted prospectors, explorers, surveyors and troops in the far reaches of the empire, the company was up to this latest challenge. Numerous combinations of beef, bacon, cocoa and vegetables in various reduced "cartridge" rations were available (Fig. 5).
Along with "Maggi" and "Vimbo's Fluid Beef," Bovril won itself a permanent niche, not just in the well-packed outfit but behind the counters of Dawson as well (Fig. 6). Libby, McNeill and Libby of Chicago were prolific canners of beef in all its forms, as well as of roast mutton, ham, tongue and soup (Figs. 7, 8). For the Klondike, however, beef extracts had the advantage over canned products. William Ogilvie, with the authority of a veteran surveyor in the territory, personally advised against taking meats in tinned form.14
Evaporated, or simply dried, fruits and vegetables were perfectly suited to the Klondike situation. No outfit was complete without about 100 pounds of fruits and vegetables in this form. Advertisements of the period lead one to believe that there was not a fruit known to man which was not evaporated and packed for sale to the Klondike-bound. Potatoes, sliced and dried, were especially popular. "Lubeck" was a brand of dried potatoes which sold consistently in Dawson, but it is not known whether it was produced initially for the outfit trade or not.
From the point of view of a world accustomed to frozen foods and chemical additives, the number of processes in use at the end of the century to reduce and preserve foods all in the name of lightness and durability is surprising. The prospector's diet was not simply canned; it was evaporated, concentrated, dessicated, compressed, liquified, crystallized and granulated. His beef and sugar (not to mention his lemons, limes, celery and milk) might come in tablets; his coffee and tea in lozenges, his cocoa in cakes. One extremist managed to put together an outfit made up exclusively of such drastically reduced foods as these which, when complete, weighed a mere 69-1/2 pounds.15 In describing this quintessence of gastronomic delight, the author of the publication reported with a remarkable evenness of tone: "Almost everything comes in a powder or a paste, and needs nothing but boiling water and an appetite to make a meal."16 It is easy to imagine the monotony of food in the cabins and on the trail. No doubt the least concentrated and most appetizing goods were consumed first. For the last months in the season, the remaining evaporated delicacies must have exhibited a dreary sameness.
Whether the contents were whole, canned or dried, the trend toward the use of brand-name food products was a significant one. In an age of abundance and expansion in the food processing and packing industry, adulteration had become an established practice. Since there was still little effective legislation enforcing inspection and other controls in either the United States or Canada,17 those brands which guaranteed the purity of their products in their advertising gained respectability in the market. The AC Company, in its promotional Klondike pamphlet, included testimonials from no less an authority than Jack McQuesten for brands considered trustworthy over the years. His support of Eagle Brand milk is indicative of the general trust put in known varieties.
There is nothing more precious, perhaps, to a miner in the Arctic than a can of good condensed milk or cream. This is so well known in Alaska that the Miners there will buy nothing but the "Eagle" brand, but it is the ignorant miner and only the ignorant miner that is fitting out in San Francisco or Seattle who ever allows any other brand to be foisted on him, and he will find out when he reaches Alaska, where the temperature is 80° below zero sometimes, that his cheap, inferior milk is no good. 18
A similar endorsement was given to "Royal" baking powder, the only kind (according to the AC Company) which would with stand climatic conditions "harsher against baking powder than against anything else." Other brands singled out for commendation were "Germea" breakfast cereal (highly concentrated and nutritive, quick-cooking and a preventative of scurvy), Sperry's "Drifted Snow" flour (for its dryness) and Baker's cocoa and chocolate (withstanding extreme conditions, and also preventing scurvy) (Fig. 9).
William Ogilvie was an experienced and more impartial adviser. Less concerned with specific brands, he offered such general sound advice as the fact that good fatty bacon, oatmeal and good black tea ("the cup that cheers but not inebriates") should all be included in an outfit for their warming qualities. Good medium flour and ordinary brown beans were the most sensible investments in their kinds. Good quality granulated sugar was preferable to brown, which was more apt to freeze in winter.19
Unfortunately, the health of the miner was not the concern to outfitters that it might have been. While some guides included advertisements by wholesale druggists, only about a quarter of the lists collected for this report included a medicine kit usually a $4 or $5 package. One advertisement for a "health regulator" struck at the grim but realistic truth that miners and suppliers, in their mutual haste to strike gold, ignored "Don't kill the goose that lays the golden egg. Your future wealth depends upon your present health. Take care of it in your own interests."20 One reporter for the Chicago Record, who had already made the overland trip, bemoaned the fact that so very little importance was attached to the medical chest. He suggested the following useful items: liniment for sprains and cold on the lungs, tincture of iron to enrich the blood, extract of Jamaica ginger, laudanum, vaseline, carbolic ointment, salts, cough tablets, mustard and adhesive plaster, surgeon's lint, bandages, liver pills, powder for bleeding, absorbent cotton, surgeon's sponge, needles and silk, quinine capsules and toothache drops.21
While scurvy from a poor, unvaried diet was indeed a grim possibility, those miners who listened to any expert advice were clearly aware of the dangers and packed preventatives accordingly. One encouraging feature of this gruesome disease was its amenability to treatment in all but its most advanced stages.22 The well-known role of ascorbic acid in its prevention and cure was acknowledged in many outfits by the inclusion of lime juice or tablets of citrus fruit extract containing the acid. "Montserrat Lime Fruit Juice" and L. Rose and Company's lime juice were both reputable products. While most of the goldseekers were probably unaware of the fact, canned tomatoes also contained the necessary vitamin C.23
An additional worry for the miner was that not every company which put up medicine boxes with their supplies could be trusted to fulfill the task knowledgeably or honestly. Her discovery that certain drugs were missing from her medicine chest drove one Klondike-bound traveller to write angrily that "merchants seem to think that when they outfit you for the Klondike thay can put upon you all the stuff that no one else will take and that they will never hear from you again."24 Given the suddenness of the Klondike phenomenon, the customers' general eagerness and their ignorance, both of their needs and of their suppliers, dishonesty must have been fairly common among the less scrupulous merchants in the trade. The number of reported grievances, even in private papers, is surprisingly low.
The food discussed above made up the basic provisions outfit taken by the wise miner. There were those, of course, whose tastes ran to such portable treats as cake and cookies, pickles, spices, cheese and jellies. Like the treasured tobacco supply, these delicacies were probably consumed before Dawson came into view.25 Such luxuries did have an additional value; they could be used for purposes of barter along the trail. While the intelligent traveller knew that it was sheer folly to weight one's pack more than was absolutely necessary with these extra pots and jars, one with a certain enterprising spirit looked at the situation in a different light. He was almost sure to meet some fellow gold-seeker, desperate in his deprivation, who was willing to pay almost anything for a plug of "Old Chum" or a tin of "Log Cabin" maple syrup.
In the line of clothing, one comes across general types of garments offered by most outfitters rather than specific brand names. The most important items were heavy lined suits of mackinaw (a blanket-like wool, either grey or plaid), wool, tweed, serge, corduroy, khaki or waterproofed cotton duck. Under this went heavy sweaters, woollen socks and knit underwear. The most descriptive selection of Klondike clothing was offered by the T. Eaton Company in a special Klondike section of their fall and winter catalogue for 1898 (see Fig. 10). Items "B" and "C" are Shorey's "Patented Blizzard Resister Suits" and item "G" is the Klondike shirt made by the same company (Fig. 11). These articles were still being distributed through Eaton's long after the gold-rush had subsided.
Several companies offered everything from robes to parkas, pants, hats and mittens in fur. Few goldseekers, however, could afford fur robes and, because of the greater freedom of movement afforded by fabric clothing, the native skins (as they were called in the Yukon) were more attractive to those not actively engaged in mining.26 Instead of fur robes, most buyers would be satisfied with several heavy blankets, available for less than $10, along with an oilcloth cover. The sleeping bag was gaining popularity, as the Eaton's catalogue shows. Usually of oiled, rubbered or plain cotton, it was lined with eiderdown, fur, wool or felt and cost between $10 and $20 (Fig. 12).
As for boots, the miner would have to be outfitted with two distinct types. Winter definitely called for "native boots" or mukluks, which could be purchased in the north.27 For the spring mud along the creeks, rubber boots were essential. Several pairs of snag-proof, unlined hip-waders were advisable. This was one area of the clothing outfit where brand names did emerge. The AC Company stood behind the patented snag-proof and crack-proof "Gold Seal" products of the Goodyear Rubber Company of San Francisco. In Vancouver, "English K-boots" ("guaranteed absolutely waterproof, snagproof gum boots") were advertised,28 while the Canadian Rubber Company of Montreal offered the "Alaska Mining Boot" (Fig. 13). Waterproof rawhide boots were popular; they were more suitable for the arduous trails than for the final muddy destination. George T. Slater and Sons of Montreal produced a boot for $8 that remained a well-known brand in Dawson (Fig. 14).
Completing the clothing outfit were heavy wool socks, called arctic socks or often "German wool socks," underclothing (Jaeger flannel was common), mosquito netting and snow goggles. Depending on the season in which one started north, one of the last two items would be essential to one's travelling comfort. Again, the brand names made popular by the strike remained so in Dawson stores.
The hardware list in the outfits sold by McDougall and Secord was much like the one recommended by Ogilvie himself.29 In addition to the tools and utensils which must have been familiar to all woodsmen and explorers, certain items were particularly adapted to the life and survival of the Klondike miner. The gold pan and scales were obvious inclusions, as were pick and shovel. In the hands of a resourceful miner, the pan could be used both as wash basin and bread pan.
A more significant addition was the collapsible camp stove. Often called the Yukon stove or Klondike camp stove, this article was considered to be a unique northern adaptation. Its origin was claimed by the city of Seattle.30 Its worth can be attributed to its collapsibility. The sides of the box-like stove folded, and the pipe telescoped into four or five pieces (Fig. 15). It could be carried easily, although it was, after all, made of sheet-iron. (One model was advertised as weighing a mere 17 pounds.)31 It was a compact piece of work, about 9 inches by 12 inches by 24 inches, and its design was such that "even on the coldest days it could keep a properly chinked and roofed cabin uncomfortably warm."32 Often the tank of the stove was divided between fire box and oven. While the box-shaped model might have from two to five lids, there was a half-barrel and a cylindrical shape as well which served only as heater and oven. Since it was both absolutely necessary as well as relatively simple to construct, this article was soon manufactured right in Dawson.33
Another peculiarity of the Klondike outfit, intended for those miners crossing the passes, was the inclusion of tools and materials (other than lumber) necessary to build a craft to descend from the head of Bennett Lake to Dawson City. These included a whipsaw, crosscut saw, pitch, oakum, caulking iron, hammer and nails, jack plane, chisel, brace and bits, knife and rope. For those who wished to avoid the delay of having to build a boat, portable sectional canoes were sold.34
The problems encountered by the miner who discovered too late that his outfit contained useless quantities of goods have already been mentioned. In the case of an excess of hardware or food, the packs were either jettisoned or traded off, depending on the relative demand for the product.35 In this way booths stocked with the leavings of disheartened goldseekers became a familiar feature along the Trail of '98. For those who ran them, this was often the first step to a lifetime's work of merchandizing in the north.
The sudden demand for nearly a ton of supplies for each of tens of thousands of adventurers was an unexpected shot in the arm for the food supply industry across the continent. The news of the Klondike gold finds which had arrived in July of 1897 with the first nugget-laden ships, Excelsior and Portland, must have excited astute wholesale dealers along the steamship routes. It opened the possibility not only of profiting from the outfitting trade, but of eventually earning a share of the market at the gold fields for as long as the capricious paystreak would support one.
Of the west coast cities in competition for the outfitting trade San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Tacoma, Victoria and Vancouver all had some experience in the business. San Francisco, of course, had the edge on the rest of them, being the supply depot and port for the pioneer AC Company. During the previous 20 years, however, Seattle had begun to catch up; her productive hinterland had been greatly expanded by the arrival of the Northern Pacific Railway at her back doorstep in 1885.36 By the early 1890s she had gained a secure monopoly of the trade to Juneau, the commercial centre for the hard-rock gold mining operations conducted on the Alaskan panhandle since 1880,37 and in 1897 had been an outfitting base for some of the first Klondikers over the passes.38 The feather in Seattle's cap, and an event which launched her into serious competition with San Francisco, was the decision of the newly formed NAT&T Company to use Seattle as its Pacific coast entrepôt.39
The Canadian ports of Victoria and Vancouver had both earned admirable reputations as wholesale supply and outfitting centres. With 50 years of experience under their belts in servicing the Cariboo, Cassiar and Kootenay gold-rushes, they were recommended by William Ogilvie in his Klondike Official Guide for the outstanding usefulness of their goods.40
Also experienced, but in a less favourable location, were the northwest centres of Edmonton, Calgary and Prince Albert. Undaunted, these towns publicized the overland route (via the Mackenzie watershed).41 While Edmonton merchants did indeed manage to profit from the gold-rush,42 they could hardly continue shipping goods along the impossible and tortuous wilderness route which they had once urged the goldseekers to follow.
The spoils, in terms of continuing trade with the Yukon, were divided, therefore, among those cities on the Pacific water routes. It was to Seattle that the greatest number of Klondikers thronged. This was the hard-earned fruit of a publicity campaign run by the Seattle Chamber of Commerce, whereby advertising was carried on through mayors, postmasters, public libraries, railways and newspapers across the nation.43 In terms of an intense, immediate and far-reaching reaction to the news of gold, no city was able to match it. By the time other cities tried to adopt Seattle's methods, that city's initial monopoly had been established.44 The first year's reward for Seattle merchants was an estimated $10 million.45
During the previous decade of commercial success, several Seattle firms had begun to flourish in the general grocery and wholesale hardware line. The well-known wholesalers included the Schwabacher Brothers, Seattle Trading Company, Harrington and Smith (bought out by A.E. MacCulsky in 1893) and Fischer Brothers.46 As for the food processing industry, the farming country around the city produced quantities of raw materials for the much-needed staples condensed milk, evaporated or dried fruits and vegetables and food extracts. A look at various lists of outfits shows that, while Canadian firms were competitive on some counts (flour, bacon and some fresh produce, for example), for the most part Seattle could pack provisions more cheaply. To market these products in the form of outfits, a new type of wholesale firm emerged that dealt mainly in groceries.47 The dealers, supported by the Klondike trade, could handle the large demands in provisions and could outfit prospecting parties. Individual consumers had to buy from large retailers who could handle the range of single orders for the Klondike. An example of such a foods broker was the firm of Frank and May, which in 1895 advertised as manufacturers' agents. Various small industries had recently grown between railhead and port. In combination with the existing lumbering industry, these had also converted Seattle into a strong hardware-producing centre.48
One significant feature of Seattle's successful outfitting business was the organizaton that pervaded the trade early in the game. The descriptive article which follows appeared in the Toronto Globe in February 1898.
[The Seattle merchants] began to see not lists of goods in various lines but outfits. They prepared and packed complete outfits containing every thing necessary for the trip and a year's sojourning in the arctic placers. Intending Klondikers were not obliged to inquire of experts regarding their future needs and to hunt about among a number of stores to obtain supplies. They could find their hardware, groceries, furs, clothing, tools, cooking utensils, etc. all ready packed and ticketed as to weight and price at the outfitter's store. An outfit for one, two, three or four persons could be obtained without delay and without the risk of overlooking anything essential. This trade was fully established in Seattle while the British Columbia merchants were still adhering to their own lines of supplies and causing their customers to go from store to store when buying outfits.49
Seattle's other advantage lay in the official realm of customs regulations. As long as there were no Canadian customs officers at the summits of the passes (that is, at the international border) Americans could bring in their supplies duty-free, avoiding the tariff that, for the commodities in question, ran between 25 and 30 per cent on the average. Although this loophole was plugged by the Canadian government by August 1897,50 Seattle's "duty-free" reputation had been established. Ironically, it was still the Canadian-based Klondiker who suffered at the border. Until May 1898, American bonding regulations on Canadian goods were so severe and convoying fees across the panhandle so high that it was simpler to pay American duties at Dyea.51
As in Seattle, it was the wholesale dealer in Canadian centres who was most prepared to outfit. As the Globe article quoted above indicates, however, trade in Victoria and Vancouver was handled to a larger degree by specialists. In Vancouver, for instance, there were over twice as many wholesale grocers as either hardware or dry goods firms advertising in the "Holiday Klondike Edition." Lugrin's Yukon Gold Fields shows a preponderance of clothing merchants in Victoria. In tools and hardware, the name McLennan, McFeely and Company is irrevocably attached to any reference to Vancouver's role in the gold-rush.
It appeared at first that Seattle's main source of competition would come from the active British Columbia port of Victoria. Indeed, the Victoria Daily Colonist's first Klondike outfitting advertisement for miner's clothing outfits from Marks' appeared on 20 July 1897, only a few days after the news brought by the Excelsior and Portland had burst on the world. Victoria's campaign gained momentum throughout that first month and rose to an early peak with the publication of the pamphlet Yukon Gold Fields by Charles Lugrin, the Colonist's editor. Heavily supported by local merchant advertising, the publication sold well in eastern Canada, where the Victoria Board of Trade intended to focus its advertising resources.52
Bypassed by Klondike-bound steamers from both Seattle and Victoria,53 Vancouver had a poor position in the opening lineup. Not until the new year, when two CPR steamers were transferred to the Vancouver-Skagway run, were Vancouver's inadequate shipping facilities increased to the point where it could compete as a point of departure.54 Consequently, the reaction of Vancouver's business sector to the rush past its door was a belated one. Sporadic Klondike advertising in the Vancouver Daily World was not replaced by impressive and consistent daily copy until after the "Holiday Klondike Edition" came out on 31 December 1897. Once fully mobilized, however, the Vancouver outfitting trade reached its peak between February and June 1898.
The notable exception to specialized outfitting on the Canadian west coast was the Hudson's Bay Company, the most seasoned provider of them all. While the company's advertising was kept to a low-keyed minimum, they announced in the spring of 1898 that they were unable to keep abreast of orders.55 One can easily appreciate the pace of their business in Vancouver in March 1898:
It is like a trip from Paris to Siberia to take the elevator from the fashionable lower floors of their block to the uppermost storey where piles of every conceivable supply for an arctic zone from dessicated potatoes to moosehide moccasins are scattered around while the busy clerks sell, pack and shift the goods away. 56
Another account of outfitting in that city, in February 1898, maintains that, in those grocery and hardware stores doing the most roaring business, shelves were completely empty by nightfall. This report singles out druggists as a third group to profit greatly from the rush, "furnishing men and women with different medications to fight scurvy, and especially unguents to discourage black flies and mosquitoes."57
The initial outfitting rush was short-lived; it lasted only until the end of the 1898 season.58 By the fall of that year, Vancouver and Victoria merchants alike were plagued by overstocked shelves.59 The battle between Seattle and Vancouver continued, but from then on it was to be fought over the long-term privilege of supplying Dawson retailers. While Victoria had originally seemed the most likely rival to the American port, her position was in fact taken over by Vancouver. Once the two cities' shipping was equalized, Vancouver's rail connections with the east earned her a more advantageous position from which to deal with incoming goods and goldseekers.
One very significant outcome of the outfitting rush was the keen and continuing interest in the Yukon trade which was generated by the outfitting experience of several Vancouver merchants. The Oppenheimer Brothers, commission merchants, importers and wholesale dealers in groceries, provisions, cigars, tobaccos and so forth, were leading participants in the Vancouver Board of Trade's campaign to wrest the Yukon trade monopoly from Seattle.60 McLennan, McFeely and Company lost no time in establishing one of the earliest hardware and tinsmithing businesses in Dawson61 (Figs. 16 and 17). McLennan himself moved north to manage the outlet, becoming Dawson's mayor in 1903. Thomas Dunn and Company, another wholesale hardware firm, made a long-lasting contact as one of the largest single suppliers of the Dawson Hardware Company. Kelly Douglas (in wholesale grocery supplies) remains to this day as familiar a name in the Yukon merchant's vocabulary as "Mc & Mc."
Calgary, Edmonton and Prince Albert were all recognized as experienced outfitting centres,62 and enjoyed in addition the reputation of being the gates to the only all-Canadian route to the Klondike. Despite the rigours of the long overland haul along the Athabasca and Mackenzie rivers, it was a much-promoted route. Not the least enthusiastic of its promoters were the Toronto and Montreal suppliers who stood to profit directly from extensive outfitting in the northwest.63 To the disappointment of all business interests concerned, the all-Canadian route never became a major shipping route to the Yukon.
While the outfits offered in these centres were complete in all areas, the prices were higher than on the coast (with the exception of those for flour and bacon).64 Along with the Hudson's Bay Company, which had branches in Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton, the firms of McDougall and Secord and of Larue and Picard offered complete outfitting services in Edmonton. In Prince Albert, the majority of establishments were the experienced type of "general merchants and Indian traders...in the north for 15 years" who could outfit a man with everything from picks to packaged potatoes.65
While at first glance it seems that the spoils of the Klondike rush went to Pacific coast merchants, Montreal and Toronto enjoyed a steady growth in the areas of importing, processing, manufacturing and distribution which permanently expanded their lucrative western market. It is worth noting at this point that the Toronto Board of Trade believed itself to have been influential in securing bonding privileges in Alaska more suitable to the entry of greater volumes of Canadian products.66 While the names of Seattle and Vancouver distributors became bywords to the thousands of Klondikers they supplied, eastern manufacturers immediately understood the potential profit in establishing their brands in the north through these agents.
Outfitting was not a recent tradition in eastern centres. Estimates of the extent of individual outfitting in Montreal and Toronto as opposed to other cities are based on sketchy information. While there are few personal accounts which relate experiences of eastern outfitting, advertising in the Globe was considerable, and articles early in the 1898 season made much of Toronto's advantages as a starting point for the Klondike. One could outfit as early as possible, prices were lower, superior goods were assured and through freight rates were available.67 Montreal in that period is reported to have had the exclusive privilege of outfitting British goldseekers entering Canada at that port.68
It was the newly stimulated food processing industry that was to earn outfitting prominence for these cities. The sudden flourishing of advertisements for suppliers and their jobbers, geared toward the Klondike outfitter, was a salient feature of the Canadian Grocer trade magazine early in 1898. One of its first issues that year states that "quantities of evaporated vegetables, carrots, onions etc., are being put upon the market in concentrated and convenient form for the Klondyke trade."69 The Tillson Company of Tillsonburg, Ontario (split peas, kiln-dried), the Acme Dried Vegetable Company and the Kerr Vegetable Evaporating Company all focused their energies on supplying the Klondike through grocery jobbers and agents.70
The canning industry was another to benefit from the suddenly increased west coast demand. W. Boulter and Sons of Picton, Ontario, shipped two CPR carloads of "Lion" brand canned corn to Vancouver and San Francisco. By June of 1898, 3,500 cases of the upcoming pack of tomatoes and corn were reported ready to follow.71 While rumours of spectacular deals between eastern firms and Yukon trading companies continued to fly,72 actual market reports of unusually brisk trade in wholesale canned goods gave backing to the optimistic speculation.73
Importers, especially those in Montreal, gained the agency for several Klondike-bound British products. Bovril, Vimbo's Fluid Beef and E. Lozenby and Son's soup squares were all British products sold through such Montreal dealers as A.P. Tippet and Company of Montreal and Toronto.74 One unnamed German manufacturer was allegedly doing well on the west coast and among eastern wholesalers, selling a product which had known 15 years of consistently slack markets.75 Demand for his line of assorted evaporated vegetables reached dizzying proportions, thanks to the Klondike.
The commercial link between Ontario food packers and British Columbia outfitters was firmly maintained throughout the gold-rush and beyond by a relatively small and secure group of food wholesalers that jobbed (that is, distributed) the manufacturers' goods among western retailers. W.H. Seyler and Company, Eby, Blain and Company, Warren Brothers, and Davidson and Hays, all of Toronto, furthered their reputations as reliable distributors and thereby profited greatly, albeit indirectly, from the great discovery of 1896.
As the rush of individual goldseekers over the passes was a phenomenon of the winter and spring of 1898, the frenetic attempt to provide necessities to these men faded when their goal was reached. During the summer of 1898, once the mass of goldseekers had reached Dawson, a new supply system took over. The simplest statement that one can make about the fascinating mercantile mosaic of that summer is that trade was largely a matter of reselling the tens of thousands of tons of goods which arrived at the waterfront. This activity resulted in acute shortages in certain areas, exorbitant prices and uncertain quality of goods. These elements of unpredictability made for a chaotic, if picturesque, throng of companies, storekeepers, jobbers, pedlars and simple dealers.
As the shipping season closed, after the faint-hearted had sold out their outfits and gone home, it became clear that "starvation" winters, at least, were a thing of the past. Since few would venture into the Yukon valley before the next spring, the outfitting trade suffered a predictable slump. As such, the end of the 1898 shipping season marks a point of transition. For many outfitters, contact with the wealth of the Klondike would be limited to the early enthusiasms of 1897-98. For the larger, more experienced and more persistent companies, the initial rush would turn out to be more than a flash in the pan. Klondike gold was indeed going to hold out, and since their foundations had been successfully laid in the previous year or before, these companies would be the ones to reap the benefits of the new trade patterns by becoming steady wholesale suppliers to the Dawson merchants. To extend their bonanza, they had only to come to grips with the combined problems of distance, terrain and climate in order to supply the motley Dawson market with whatever it wanted for as long as gold held out.