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AVAILABLE
ISBN 13: 978-1-55017-394-9
ISBN 10: 1-55017-394-4
Paperback
60 B & W photos
6 x 9 - 320 pp
June 2006
CAD$26.95 • USD$26.95

Hills of Silver

The Yukon’s Mighty Keno Hill Mine
"Keno City embraces more of the early-day spirit of the North country than any other spot in the North. Here is a glowing little city where miners and prospectors, visitors and transients alike, may have a taste of the typical life of a real frontier town.”
—A.A. Gillespie, c. 1930

Book Description

The Yukon is famous for its Klondike gold rush, but it was the site of another major mineral discovery in 1918 that touched off its own stampede of sourdoughs and eventually produced more paydirt than the Klondike. This was the fabulously rich Keno Hill silver deposit, which made the Yukon one of the world’s leading silver producers and backstopped the territorial economy for decades.

And as the Klondike strike gave rise to the boom town of Dawson, the Keno strike fostered feisty Keno City, the last of the wild west mining towns: "Down in shacks by Lightning Creek, vintners and vendors of moonshine and the sporting girls catered to the miners on weekends amid scratching gramophone melodies. At that time Keno was a really lively town of 800 men, very few women and much hard drinking. Some of the boys had an old car called the Rum Runner that took cases of booze up to the camps every evening. At first both camps had the same second Sunday off but with two crews in, there was not enough of everything desirable to go around and a running donnybrook would break out. After a few wholesale brawls, which inevitably led to more drinking and absenteeism on Mondays, the companies alternated their Sundays off." At the top of the social order was the puritanical mine boss, Livingstone Wernecke, who never stopped inveighing against vice, "but Wernecke found that he did not run Keno; it ran itself."

The story of Keno’s discovery, development and decline is one of the great adventures of the north, and it is told here by one of the Yukon’s legendary mining personalities, Dr. Aaro Aho. Dr. Aho’s authoritative voice on mining matters is nicely offset by his taste for juicy gossip, as he fills the book with delightful portraits of such characters as Arthur Hester (aka Whiskey Jack), a dishevelled former engraver to Queen Victoria of whom the Wernecke said, "Never give Hester anything but meat or grease or he will find some way of turning it into alcohol." Hester, who could dash off a passable likeness in trade for a drink no matter how drunk, kept well oiled nonetheless. Or Nora, the tough prostitute who went about town dressed in nothing but toenail paint. When a customer once asked why her foot was covered in blood she explained she had killed a rabbit for dinner by kicking it. Or Marie, a pretty young woman who did very well as a "girl on the line" bought two houses, started a restaurant and taxi business, but lost her mind and was seen wading through deep snow placing handfuls of jewellery in people’s mail boxes before disappearing into the wilderness.

Aho extends his account to cover the mining history of the entire Stewart River basin, which in addition to its wealth of silver, was a major producer of lead, zinc and gold. Hills of Silver is not just the colourful story of Keno Hill, but an important addition to the history of Canadian mining.