Lucy Sanderson displays family photographs from her childhood growing up in the Yukon territory.

Lucy Sanderson displays family photographs from her childhood growing up in the Yukon territory.

Rafting to school and other Yukon memories

Cranbrook’s Lucy Sanderson recalls her pioneer life near the Arctic Circle

A number of photographs sit on the floor at Cranbrook resident Lucy Sanderson’s house. The photos are black and white portraits of her family with sled pups and sled dogs. Another of the photos shows a group of kids on a raft preparing to make the journey 245 miles down the Yukon River to Dawson. The photo is from 83 years ago.

“Alec on the end there,” she said pointing to the boy captaining the raft, “was 13 and he took them to Dawson, 245 miles. “

She said the boy is now 96, still hunting and trapping and doing everything he ever did.

Every summer Lucy Sanderson makes her way back to the area she was born in to reunite with brothers and sisters in the Yukon. Growing up Sanderson, now 86, and her family lived the pioneer lifestyle in the North in a cabin near Pelly Crossing.

Now most of her family have gone back up there. There are two boys and three girls left out of the 16 family members who once came to the gatherings.

Back then the whole family trapped and lived off the land.

“It was a good life,” Sanderson said. “We raised a huge garden. We worked all summer and took the winter off for just trapping. Of course, it was cold and snowing so you couldn’t do anything else other than hunting and trapping.”

They’d put out big barrels of sauerkraut, rhubarb, and high bush cranberries in great big barrels of food.

On the rafting down the river, she said it was her father’s idea.

“My father said, ‘Well the river’s going that way anyway so why pay the fare on the steamboat?'”

They would take the raft down in the fall to attend school and live at a hostel in Dawson for the winter, then make their way back in the spring. But the year before her turn to start school, a girl passed away from tuberculosis in the hostel and that put an end to sending kids down to school there.

Two of her sisters and four brothers went to the school.

Sanderson was instead schooled by correspondence.

In the winter there was a train that freighted from Whitehorse to Dawson and passed not quite a mile from their home.

“We’d hear the cab coming and we’d all run down to the mailbox and stand and watch the cab go by,” she said. “Later in years I wondered what the passengers thought, these little small kids all by the road in the wilderness.”

At Christmas time they would harness up a dog team to go and fetch the mail in Fort Selkirk.

“I left the Yukon in ’48 and haven’t been back there to live; it’s too cold, she said. “I was about 20, 21 when I left and went to Saskatoon.”

There she took a nurses aid course, but decided it wasn’t something she wanted to do.

So she left for Calgary, went to a business college and then worked in an office until she got married. After nine years in Calgary she and her husband moved to Cranbrook in ’57.

She remembers the day she pulled into town; the seventh of May.

“Coming through the Crowsnest, I thought: ‘If he pulls into one of these old dirty houses there’ll be a divorce right quick,” she said. “So when we came into town, the sun was shining, the grass green. It was just beautiful. I decided to stay in Cranbrook. It’s more like the Yukon; the wilderness. I hunted here and killed moose and elk and lots of deer.”

She says that she doesn’t care for wild meat so much anymore.

“I don’t mind moose, but they’re a limited entry. I can’t eat a whole moose so I quit hunting big game,” she said.

She then started hunting grouse and enjoyed heading up into the hills and sitting in the open meadows watching wildlife pass by.

Her dad told her stories of growing up in West Virginia and travelled with Daniel Boone and other pioneers who would go out and shoot a turkey for Thanksgiving.

“I thought, ‘All I want to do is shoot one and hold it like they did,'” she said.

So she did and that’s the first and last turkey she shot.

“I don’t care to shoot anything anymore,” she said. It’s been three years since she had a fall on a ferry deck and hurt her shoulder.

A couple years ago, she even took a trip to Antarctica, something she wanted to do before turning 80.

She stays busy with activities everyday, including computer lessons at the college, dancing, lapidary, darts, painting and tea. And of course, brunch every Sunday.

“I was always thinking I should just sit around and rest,” she said. “I thought when you got old you just sat in a chair and rested and just faded away.”