Seattle, Canada, and the Klondike Gold Rush

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Prospectors ascending the Chilcoot Pass, 1898, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 

100,000 prospectors joined the Klondike Gold Rush stampede between 1896 and 1899, most of them, embarking either from Seattle or San Francisco. They followed either the Chilcoot or White Pass trails to reach the Yukon River and wait for the ice to melt before they navigated the Klondike River to reach the gold fields.

Canadian authorities required the prospectors to bring a year’s supply of food, or they would have starved. Most of them spent the winter carrying their supplies, weighing close to a ton, in several trips over the passes themselves. Some, who fell, just careened back down the mountain.

My father, Hans Pederson, a pioneer Danish immigrant, was one of the 30,000 who actually reached the Yukon. After a bout of pneumonia, he did make it back to Seattle, although with empty pockets. He later bought stock in the Alaska Reindeer Company, and today I have several of his worthless stock certificates His partner, who was in more of a hurry to leave the Yukon,  abandoned Pederson and drowned when his ship sank on the way back to Seattle.

Immigrants and Prejudice

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A Homesteader, courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My mother’s family immigrated as Ukrainian homesteaders to the Alberta plains in 1898. Mom was the first in her family to go to school since Canada offered schooling only to English-speaking children. Her older siblings never learned to speak English well. Her younger siblings, Helen and Alex, followed her in school.

When Mom grew up, she left the farm about 1925 and headed to Edmonton to study nursing. Soon her sister Helen and brother Alex joined her as they studied to become teachers. Her brother’s friend also moved in “to help make ends meet.” The guys ate them out of house and home. One time my mother said they were down to their last quarter. So they bought a quart of strawberries and some cream and feasted on the luscious fresh fruit —so expensive in Northern Canada.

Mother obtained her nursing degree at Edmonton Hospital in 1928. She followed her mother’s advice and left for Seattle — just as the depression was about to hit. Four years later she married my father, Hans Pederson, a Danish immigrant who rose to become one of Seattle’s largest early 20th century contractors.

Her reticence  about both my father and her Canadian upbringing launched me into detective work after her death. I was already  more than seventy, but family secrets only bring more curiosity.

Mother’s siblings, Alex and Helen, returned to Andrew, Alberta where Helen taught and Alex became principal of the Andrew School. Even though Andrew was their home town and their school, Canadians continued to harbor such prejudice against the Ukrainian community that a generation later, college-educated descendants of Ukrainian immigrants could find jobs only in Ukrainian schools.

A Maine Immigrant Scourge

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Congregational Church, Yarmouth Maine courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 

The transcontinental railroads brought both of my parents to North America — my father from Denmark to Seattle, and my mother’s parents to Alberta, Canada from Ukraine. North America has always offered new lives to immigrants.

But not always without conflict. Long before they came, by the 1790s, early American churches were losing parishioners. Delancey Place’s January 6, 2017 blog features excerpts from the book, Taming Lust by Doron S. Ben-Atar and Richard D. Brown. Church ministers believed that the loss was due to the influence of Godless  “European immigrants … convicts of the worst kind, guilty of murder and rape.”

The mixture of politics and religion led to explosive rhetoric. Fears of Christian decline blended with partisan warnings about  revolutionary radicalism.

the New England elite feared European radicals might possibly turn the U.S. into New World France. A reporter noted that “Most European immigrants were convicts of the worst kind, guilty of murder, rape, and sodomy.” It was felt that the French Revolution had generated “‘evils’, which without experience, cannot be known.” Immigration had to be checked because ‘the fortune of every community must depend upon the character and conduct of its members.”

Senator Uriah Tracy stated that “these immigrants must never flood into New England because they posed political, cultural, and sexual threats.”

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