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Down the Yukon River by Raft: A Memoir

As a veteran trapper and guide, Van Bibber toured the likes of Senator Robert Kennedy and former-NHL players Rob and Scott Niedermayer.
Alexander Van Bibber

A year ago the Daily Townsman published a story chronicling Cranbrook resident Lucy Sanderson’s childhood in the Yukon. The story chronicled her trip 400 kilometres down the Yukon river on a raft to get to Dawson City to get to school for the winter. At the helm of that raft was her brother Alexander Van Bibber, 13 at that time. Van Bibber passed away on November 26, 2014, at age 98.

While he spent his life in the Yukon, he had some notable connections to Cranbrook and other parts of Canada and the U.S.

As a veteran trapper and guide, Van Bibber toured the likes of Senator Robert Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and former-NHL players Rob and Scott Niedermayer.

Van Bibber was born April 4, 1916. He was part of a big family, with 13 other siblings.

Van Bibber lived his life in Pelly Crossing in the Yukon. He was known for his skills using the land and, as a hunter and trapper.

He had many accomplishment and medals, including the Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Medals in both gold and silver, the Order of Canada and 125th Anniversary of Confederation of Canada.

Van Bibber served in the Canadian military during World War II and was an active member of the Canadian Rangers from 1947 to present. He was also a founding member of the Assembly of First Nations Veteran Roundtable.

Three of the brothers, including Van Bibber, were in the army, but Sanderson said they didn’t go overseas of the danger of getting sick.

“We lived isolated in the Yukon, we never got the chicken pox and things like that,” Sanderson said. “The only one we got was the German measles.”

Van Bibber also spent a lifetime sharing his skills with students and trappers through his 37 years of work as a trapping instructor for the Yukon government.

In 1965, Van Bibber was part of an expedition to the yet unnamed Mount Kennedy in honour of President John F. Kennedy. That expedition included Robert Kennedy and Sir Edmund Hillary.

Sanderson said Van Bibber taught the other kids many things on the rafting trips. She said when they got to Dawson they would stay in a hostel and apply for boarding school for the fall, then returned on a steamboat. Her father had said there is no use sending them down on a steamboat since the river went that direction anyway. So he was put in charge of getting the children safely down the river.

“Alex was hollering orders as they shoved out and were drifting down,” Sanderson said. “He said if the raft begins to sink, pull into a big log jam and put a log on both sides to keep it up. Apparently they had to do that.”

When they got to Dawson they sold the raft and divided up the money. They sold it for $5 and each took a dollar.

Van Bibber was also appeared in a number of films, including Yukon Safari (1954), Challenge to be Free (1975) and The Last Trapper (2004).

Van Bibber passed away in Calgary at the hospital. A large group of family members flew down when they heard about his condition to spend the last few days with him.