In 1950, a group of far-sighted Yukoners dedicated to the preservation of heritage started the Yukon Historical Society, the first organization of its kind in the Territory. Co-founder William MacBride was an employee of the White Pass & Yukon Route Company and was able to salvage outdated transportation equipment for posterity. The Yukon Historical Society (YHS) soon acquired the unoccupied Government Telegraph Office, built in 1900 and still located on its original site. In the 1950s and 60s this building housed the growing collection and was open to the public as a museum during the summer. Volunteers were responsible for all the activities of the YHS and later the MacBride Museum Society until the mid-1980s when the first curator/director was hired.
Who was W.D. MacBride?
W.D. (Bill) MacBride was born into a Montana railroad family on January 29, 1888. Orphaned as a baby, he was raised by relatives Nellie and Frank Miles. MacBride graduated from teaching college in 1907, and taught high school until 1909. After completing a business course at Blair College in Spokane, he went to work for the Idaho & Washington Railway.
In 1912, MacBride was hired as clerk by the Northern Navigation Company and spent the next two summers posted in Alaska. When the White Pass & Yukon Route bought out the NNC in 1914, MacBride transferred to Whitehorse. He married school teacher Eva Teskey in 1919, and they raised three children: Mary, John and Eva. For nearly five decades he was employed by WP&YR as district passenger agent, public relations officer, and general historian.
MacBride single-handedly acquired many books, photographs and artifacts in the Museum’s collections. In addition, he tenaciously recorded details of Yukon history; many of his essays, letters and articles are preserved in our archives. With his limitless passion for the North, he actively promoted both White Pass and the Territory, giving enthusiastic slide shows in southern Canada and the US to attract visitors to Yukon.
On December 20, 1950, a group of 13 men and women, lead by Immigration Officer Fred Arnot and Bill MacBride, founded the Yukon Historical Society. Mr. Arnot was posted outside the Yukon shortly thereafter, leaving MacBride in charge of the YHS. In 1952, with the growing collection displayed in the Old Telegraph Office, Yukon's first museum opened to the public. When the Centennial wing was completed in 1967, the organization was re-named MacBride Museum to acknowledge his role in preserving Yukon heritage.
Due to health reasons, the MacBrides unwillingly left the Yukon in 1961, moving to North Vancouver, where Eva passed away in 1966. Bill continued his efforts to record the history of the Territory until 1973. By all accounts a fine storyteller, his efforts to foster Yukon heritage made him not just a recorder of history but also a key figure in shaping it. White Pass historian Roy Minter wrote this tribute to his friend.
“This fun-loving raconteur aged but never grew old. He spoke with authority and compassion, but never without the joyful touches of humour that were his trademark. Indeed he was a most attractive man whose energy, creativity, and determination were the driving forces behind the early acquisitions of northern documents and artifacts. He was known far and wide outside the Yukon by historians, writers, publishers, and broadcasters, none of whom would think of passing through Whitehorse without contacting Bill MacBride.”
The Yukon owes a huge debt of gratitude to Mr. MacBride for having the foresight to preserve our heritage.