While stampeders flocked to the Yukon during the gold rush of 1898, other adventurers with long-term vision recognized less risky investments with a guaranteed income. Such visionaries constructed the White Pass & Yukon Route (WP&YR), a narrow-gauge railway engineering feat, which connected the port of Skagway, Alaska, to Carcross on Bennett Lake in the Yukon, and would carry those dreaming of gold into the Yukon wilderness. The Canadian government had required those entering the Yukon to have on hand 1,000 pounds (454 kilos) of supplies, which had to be lugged overland through the steep White Pass.
The line was completed in 1901, in just over two years. The cost of construction was $10 million (in today’s currency, that would be $266 million!). Thousands of men, from every background imaginable, constructed the rail line.
This image was taken by the official photographer of the WP&YR, H.C. Barley. In it, he captures the relentlessness of the work as the men pause to look up, their faces grimy, and expressions seemingly tired and inquisitive. In the upper right, stands a man in a three-piece suit, his watch chain visible, pointing as though giving instructions. He seems an anomaly among the working men.
The caption for the photograph is “Removing the work of a blast”. More than 450 tons (457 tonnes) of explosives were used to create the route, and all of it was cleared and removed by hand by men like those in this photograph.