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Page last updated October 24, 2016

© Michael Kluckner

On a late-summer day in 2004, I sat on the fine sward, dotted with the rusty red heads of meadow barley, near the old White Pass & Yukon gazebo and painted the scene overlooking Atlin Lake, eliminating only a minor amount of detritus and recreational vehicles from the left-hand side of the shoreline. 

Characteristically of Atlin, the former Atlin Hospital, now the Glaciological Institute, has a "mobile" past. It began life as one wing of the Atlin Hotel, built in 1916 on the waterfront directly in front of the town (see text and photo below). Six years after the hotel closed in 1936, a wing was dismantled and moved to the north end of town at McBride Boulevard, where it became the Atlin Hospital; however, with the exigencies of wartime, its doctor and two nurses stayed only for a year. It reopened in November, 1952, as a Red Cross Outpost Hospital under the control of Norah Roxborough Smith, R.N., and operated for a dozen years. Sue Morhun, who lived and worked in Atlin in the early 1970s, recalls Norah Smith talking about having to rig umbrellas up over a patient's bed during spring breakup because the roof was in such bad repair.

Subsequently the building became the seasonal base for the Juneau Icefield Research Program. The balance of the old hotel was dismantled in 1970 and provided building materials, especially panelled doors, for many Atlin buildings. [source: Atlin inventory, file N-29 by John Keay, 1987, Provincial Heritage Branch library] The building was moved again, slightly only, in the Fall of 2000. It now sits about 12 feet back from its "original location" on new foundation piers [Kate Fisher].

Watercolour 2004: The Atlin Courthouse – the building with the tower – was erected in 1900 on the east side of Third Street between Trainor and Pearl, and then was moved in 1956 a block west to this location, approximately the same relative position on Second Street. Atlin’s government agency now occupies the original site in a low, modern building. The courthouse, the 1902 school (now the museum – see plans at BC Archives GR-0054 Box 1 File 12), and St. Martin’s Anglican Church (the only one of the three still on its original site) were on the edge of the town core, avoiding Atlin’s catastrophic fires of 1901 and 1914. Other town buildings such as the Moose Hall and St. Joseph’s Catholic Church were skidded the dozen kilometres from Discovery.

The pyramidal house beside the old courthouse is the most unusual of the new buildings in Atlin. Built by Dr. Donald Branigan sometime in the 1970s or 1980s, it was a holistic healing centre, its shape intended to channel the cosmic vibes to earth; the triangular walls are pierced by shed-roofed dormers on all three floors, and a circular wrought-iron staircase occupies the central core of the interior. The house is mentioned once on the web by “Cindy” who was led to it in 1985 by a huge UFO she spotted near Tagish [see].

Dr. Branigan established a clinic in Whitehorse, confusingly referred to sometimes as the Atlin Holistic Centre, in 1985. There, he used “a holistic approach to medicine including Chinese medicine, acupuncture, nutritional counselling, herbal treatments, and energy healing. He is presently using Chondriana and 714X as alternative treatments for cancer.” [see “Bio-Energy Therapy”] His obituary, in the Canadian Medical Association Journal [October 19, 1999], noted that he graduated from the University of Alberta in 1963, was former staff at Whitehorse General Hospital and was elected mayor of Whitehorse four times. “His twin passions were medicine and politics. He embraced holistic medicine and was one of the first Canadian doctors to practise acupuncture. He cofounded the American Holistic Health Association in 1977 and was a controversial physician throughout his career. Died July 7, 1999, aged 66; survived by his wife, Sharon South, and 4 children. ‘Controversy followed him with the sting of a scalpel,’ the National Post commented upon his death. ‘His constituents were not a little taken aback when he suggested using an ultrasonic blaster to treat the city's sewage and when he appeared on national TV to perform “psychic surgery” at his ranch near Carcross. . . . Visionary or madman, he was an intensely sociable man of extravagant generosity. He felt a special affinity for native people, and many told tales of his reaching quietly into his wallet when a helping hand was needed.’”

(Thanks to Leah Taylor for giving me the original info about the house)

Note from Lorna Hancock, 2009: I am the Executive Director and also a founding member of the Health Action Network Society in Burnaby, Don was such a contributor, whom I remember well, and really admired. It surprises me that there is so little said about him on the internet, when he was really such a big part of developing a new attitude toward health and healing in Canada.

Anonymous photo showing the courthouse on its original site, with St. Martin's Anglican church in the background

The courthouse, built 1900 with “local hands and materials,” was designed by stampeder and architect Edward Garden. Total building and furniture costs: $9248.22 as reported in Public Accounts 30 June 1901. [See BC Archives GR-0054 Box 28 File 442 “Atlin government office plans,” undated] Its main floor has four rooms, two on each side of a central hallway. One side is Judge’s Chambers and the Court Room, the other was the Mining Recorder’s office and Gold Commissioner’s office (now used for the community library). Upstairs, the private residence of the gold commissioner was converted in 1988 and is now used by Northern Lights College. The courtroom was in use from 1900-1956, at which time the courthouse was moved to its present location. Empty for a decade, it was purchased for $3500 in 1967 and became a private residence and gallery; the Atlin Historical Society bought it in 1973 for $10,000, and then used BC Heritage Trust funding of about $110,000 to restore and renovate it. Since 1976, a circuit court judge has visited Atlin about every two months and uses the historic courtroom.


Watercolour from 2004: Jeweller Jules Eggert, who arrived in Atlin in 1899, opened his store on First Street in 1902; it burned in the 1914 fire, leaving only its concrete vault standing (in which, it is said, his wife’s butter survived without melting). The new store, now Atlin’s post office, has pressed-metal “stonework” on its facade, as has the building across the street, to give it a more substantial look than the board and shingle boomtown-fronted buildings elsewhere in town (old photographs show that a number of the early owners favored brick-patterned panels, probably tar-impregnated paper like modern Duroid shingles). Eggert’s town clock has been on the street since 1921, and tells the correct time twice a day at 10:20. The little cabin in the foreground is the Discovery Jail, erected in Discovery in 1902, had two jail cells and solid walls consisting of 2 x 6s laid flat atop each other; following its move to Atlin in the 1920s, it was used as a residence for many years.


Anonymous photographer, c. 1920. The towers of the Anglican church and the government building/couthouse are clearly visible in the left distance.

According to an interpretive plaque on Atlin’s waterfront, beginning with the 1917 season, “Stunning scenery, glaciers and wildlife made Atlin a natural destination, and there was more. Guests played tennis and golf, enjoyed short walks or hikes, and sampled the local mineral water. They visited the gold mines and the Warm Springs in McLaughlin-Buick touring cars. They shopped for Tlingit crafts, thick furs and gold nugget jewellery in Atlin stores. Many enjoyed romantic midnight cruises to the glacier and islands down the lake aboard the Atlinto. They danced away the summer nights to music by the Atlin orchestra.” The Tarahne, assembled at Atlin and initially 25 metres long, was designed as an excursion boat with an observation deck lined with wicker viewing chairs. Tourists took tours of Atlin Lake, viewing the Llewellyn Glacier, Torres Channel and Cathedral Mountain beneath the flag of the British-Yukon Navigation Company, the White Pass & Yukon Route’s river division. To make it more commodious and capacious, the company cut the boat in two during the winter of 1927-8, and added another 10 metres of deck.

However, by 1936, after several years of economic Depression, tourism had declined to such a point that the White Pass company closed the Inn and beached the Tarahne, where it remains today. Atlin slipped back into an isolation only relieved in 1949 by the spur road connecting it to the Alaska Highway. [source: Diane Solie Smith, local historian.] Today, the stores, supermarkets and airport of Whitehorse are about an hour and a half away; Atlin has a post office, a cafe, and a variety of other businesses.

Sources: Atlin Museum. A Guide to Atlin’s Historic Buildings, Diane Solie Smith. Atlin Historical Society, 2003.

Anonymous photographer. Note the brick-patterned veneer on the boomtown fronts. A couple of the town's buildings on Second Street have pressed-metal "stone" facades.

The home (above) is called the Pillman House.

From Michael Lovell, 2016: I have this wonderful edition of Historic Atlin that has 12 pages of beautiful Prints of old Atlin by artist Jan Harvey. Any information or links you might know of would be greatly appreciated.

From Tom Grant, 2015: I tho't that you may be interested in what happened to the house since you were there. I got to know the people who bought the house and who have been restoring it. They have done wonderful work and the house is an antique delight with present day livability. The owners' blog chronicles their project.

2006 (below): This is a house at the corner of First and Watson, which I mistakenly labelled as the Pillman House (thanks to Carolyn Moore for the correction).

Thanks to Brent Slobodin for taking me from Whitehorse to Atlin in 2004! And further thanks to Sue Morhun and Kate Fisher for vetting the copy and adding information. With all the correspondence below and the network of Atlin expats, it's reminding a little of North Bend in the Fraser Canyon, except there's a lot more of Atlin left to be explored.


From Heather Guest, 2014: Was wondering if anybody remembers a Ernie and Vickie Clarke? Vickie arrived in Atlin 1936 and met/married Ernie there.  She worked in the hotel as a waitress.

From Linda Fraser-Lundquist, 2011: My mother's family name was Mattson, her brothers, Alan, Ture and David had claims on Spruce and Discovery Creek for about 40 years.  They  were raised in Smithers from l925 on.   My Uncle Alan died in his cabin on Spruce or Discovery Creek in the l970's.

My mother, Esther and Gunnar Lundquist worked in Atlin with her brothers in the mining industry for a couple of years during the l930's before I was born...My mother was a cook at the Atlin Hotel and my dad worked in the mining.

I have many photos from family albums and some stories that I would like to share and have put in the archives in the Atlin Museum.  I am in the process of contacting them now..

Unfortunately, I have never been to Atlin, but hope to get there soon.

I am currently involved with the Bulkley Valley Museum, working with Fergus Tomlin who is the Director of the Museum for the past 4 years.  He has a passion for preserving the history of that Valley and has accomplished an unbelievable amount in a short period of time.  Because my Swedish family has been in Smithers since l924, I have a lot of knowledge of the people and history, and also a passion for history.  I have been gathering stories and photos whenever I get to Smithers of the Valley pioneers for the archives in Smithers.  Fergus has give me a big title, of Narrative Curator, but of course no pay...ha ha...

From Joyce Yardley, 2010: I was born and raised in Whitehorse, Yukon. Married Gordon Yardley when I was a 16 year old. We went from Carcross to Atlin on our honeymoon , on a boat named the 'Lou-Ann', in 1942. George Rose was the engineer on that boat. Ted Smyth met us at Scotia Bay and took us across Atlin Lake in his motorboat. 

I put the odd submission in a newsletter for Yukoners, called the Moccasin Telegraph, which has over 400 members now, sending their memories into the bi-monthly newsletter. There is no fee for joining, although those who just read, and don't contribute stories, have been sending a small donation to the gal who does all the work, and sends out the stories after much research so she gets the facts straight. She's dedicated to bringing people together. You have to be a 'Yukoner' (or Atlinite) to join, or an ex-Yukoner or Atlinite. My memory is quite good for one in my age group, except for one thing 'NAMES.' I am an author with two books published on 'true life adventure' and another one to be on the book shelves this month, my publisher tells me.

But my purpose in contacting you is strictly to ask a few questions about some Atlin folks in the late 1940s. Possibly your information doesn't go back that far, but I'll send you an excerpt of my submission to the MocTel and hopefully you can help me with some details or suggest someone who may be interested in doing so. Here is the submission:

"I knew a very nice and well respected native girl who used to live in Atlin in the 40s and early 50s. (if I think of her name I'll let you know.) She ran a general store there ,practically single-handed, for a businessman, (whose name I have also forgotten; maybe someone in MocTel could refresh my memory - (was it Louis Schultz's store?) Everyone liked her and marveled at how well she ran the store and what a hard worker she was. She eventually married (in Atlin) and later she and her husband moved to Teslin, Yukon, and built a very nice log motel there. She did all the baking, and in her spare time produced wonderful landscape oil paintings. Funny, I can still see those paintings in my mind, but can't think of her name -- so frustrating! They eventually sold the lodge and moved to somewhere in the Okanagan, I believe."

Note from Mark Connor, Habitat Biologist, Taku River Tlingit First Nation, 2010: I work with a Tlingit elder in Atlin (Jackie Williams ) and he provided this info :
The woman's name is Lena Rudolph. Apparently she is still alive. She married a fellow named Ralph. He built the big cafe in Teslin.

From Harry Gairns, 2011: I noted mention of Lena on your website.
Lena and I were classmates in the Atlin School.  She is 1/2 native her father was white.  Lena and I were the only ones in our grade.  I left in 1942 when my family moved to Vancouver but have been back to Atlin about 17 times since.  Lena was a talented artist even in school.  She and her husband Rolf Strang, moved to Costa Rica when they sold the café, motel and gas station in Telling.  They moved back to Kelowna for their children to get better education and Rolf died there a few years ago.  Lena is still there - I spoke with her last summer.
Lena worked for Ross Peebler who had a store down near the RV campground (a building on the lake side of the street painted green and white and for sale the last time I was there).  Later he moved the store to the building that houses the Food Basket.  Lena worked like a Trojan and looked after Peebler as well.  When my family drove back to Atlin for a holiday in the summer of 1950, Lena had us all for dinner and it was elegantly served with nice china and had all the extras that you would find in a fine restaurant.
Another friend from my days in Atlin is Herb Gaensbauer who now lives in Peterborough.  He and I have spent quite a lot of time looking up others and getting opinions on the names of the students in a photo of most of the Atlin school children at Christmas time on the stage at Pillman's Hall (now back to its original name as the Globe Theatre).  I have attached a photo (in two parts) and list of the names of the students as close as we have been able to determine them.
Herb and my brother and I used to go around town and ring a big bell to let everyone know when Pillman had received a movie to show.  Most of the town would show up to see any movie but many times it was a frustrating evening because Pillman drank a bit too much and would run the reels backwards if they were not rewound before he received them - other times the second reel would play before the first one or there would be no sound except for the hooting and hollering of the audience trying to get Pillman to fix it - he was deaf so nothing usually happened for quite a while.  I noticed your write-up of Pillman. He also ran a drug sore of sorts and was the only place in town where you could buy an ice cream cone.  Without electricity, everyone shared blocks of ice from the ice house where it was stored in sawdust during the winter for use by all the townspeople over the next summer.  We used to turn the crank on the  ice-cream maker at the Royal Hotel for the cook - a Mr. Okata.  In return we got to lick the ice cream off the paddles.

Below: The Atlin class of 1941: 1 Harry Gairns; 2 Jimmy Skelle; 3 Elsie Okata; 4 Margaret Graham; 5 Ruth Gaensbauer; 6 Alice Epton; 7 Lilly Ann Rudolph; 8 Ted Matson; 9 Ken Roxborough; 10 Ronnie Turner; 11 Herb Gaensbauer; 12 Katzumani Okata; 13 Ruth Clarke; 14 Maxine Tatten; 15 Lizzie Rudolph; 16 Shirley Roxborough; 17 Sheila Nelson; 18 Norah Roxborough; 19 Miriam Henning; 20 June Roxborough; 21 Virginia White; 22 Myoko Okata; 23 Joan Roxborough; 24 Billy Knutson; 25 Younger Epton girl; 26 Dorothy Okata; 27 Audrey Wright; 28 Bobby Roxborough; 29 Lena Rudolph; 30 Dave Gairns. 

From Judy Vaughan, 2006: I was raised in Atlin. My grandmother's name was Gunderson. We lived over by the liquor store. I can remember making ice cream, visiting the post office. My friends name there was Charlene. Can't remember the last name. My grandmother had a home on the top of the hill just as you entered Atlin from Whitehorse. I can remember a yard full of rhubarb and a beautiful yellow wood stove in her kitchen, a rocking chair and clothes hung from the ceiling to dry. As kids we would go to the center of town and get some of the mineral water and take it every day to a couple of ladies who couldn't get there. The water would burn your tongue. Wonderful memories. Someone from work said, Judy you don't want to do that on Xmas eve. I can also remember (faintly) going to that hospital where my mom would have tea with someone there. We have relatives with the last name of Smith. We made out own root beer in Atlin. Have never forgotten the taste of real root beer. There was also a flat area (it was yellow) and we were never allowed to go down there. I'm wondering if it was quicksand. My dad also mined up in the hills. I remember a rainbow lake and going up the side of a mountain. We had a cabin at the top. I can still remember a toy watch I left there on top of the cupboard. My dad would have to shut the water in the creek off to get across and use the phone. My mom used to say she could never put us out to play alone because of the eagles. They would swoop down and try to grab us.

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Artwork and text ©Michael Kluckner, 2001, 2002, 2003