Pioneer Hotel

Building Location: 

Whitehorse Waterfront; Moccasin Flats

Whitehorse, YT

Location Context: 

Located nearby, also in Moccasin Flats, is the other remaining portion of the former Pioneer Hotel. Refer to the Eldon House; the Piercy Cabin; the Sewell House; and the Miller House


One-storey Log / Frame Structure

Architectural History: 

The building is a one-storey log structure with a gable roof and a frame false facade. The foundation is a log sill construction. Roll asphalt covers both the roof and exterior siding. 

The additions to the original building include a shed roof frame structures to west and east end facades. The approximate size is 23′ by 34′.

Cultural History: 

A portion of this building and another dwelling located nearby may constitute the oldest standing structures in the Whitehorse area. The Pioneer Hotel was originally located on the east bank of the Yukon River under the name of the Savoy Hotel. It was built and run by Edward Algernon Dixon, an ex-NWMP officer who had piloted boats through the Whitehorse Rapids in 1898 and 1899. 

In 1900, the building was moved to Front Street and renamed the Pioneer Hotel. It was possibly the first building in the new townsite of Whitehorse. Dixon sold the hotel to ex-NWMP Sergeant Pringle. He ran it for six months before selling it to James Smart, who had assisted Dixon in its construction. Pringle went on to open Pringle’s Stables on Main Street. The hotel had various subsequent owners under the name The Pioneer Rooms. 

By the 1950’s the hotel was purchased by Max Kushner, dismantled, moved to Moccasin Flats, and divided into three pieces. One of the cabins was destroyed by fire. This portion of the original hotel building contains the original false facade which fronted onto First Avenue. 

The Moccasin Flats began as an area occupied by tents and small structures belonging to shipyard carpenters and employees, and newcomers to Whitehorse. Among them were John Sewell and James Richards, better known as “Buzzsaw Jimmy”, who leased a portion of this area in 1910 to operate a sawmill–a venture which lasted for a five years before running into financial difficulty. First Nations people also resided in the area while employed by White Pass in the summer, or while in town to load up on supplies and visit friends. 

Today the Moccasin Flats and adjacent areas remain the last vestiges of a once large and characterful community within Whitehorse. 

The nature of employment with BYN Co. in the shipyards and on the boats dictated a seasonal lifestyle. Living near their sources of employment, on land they weren’t required to purchase, was ideal for many shipyard residents. Many occupied the area in the summer months when work was available, and departed in the autumn to find work elsewhere. Living on BYN Co. land was tolerated because these individuals were essential to the operation and well being of the company. 

After incorporation as a city in 1950, Whitehorse administrators began to look disfavourably on the waterfront area and its over 700 residents. This was a time when Whitehorse was experiencing a severe housing shortage, and the waterfront did provide some alternative to the privately owned, and unavailable, housing in town. 

In 1957, the government amended the Territorial Lands Act, thus allowing for squatter removal from all waterfront and escarpment areas. This proved a difficult and inappropriate undertaking. In the1960’s alternative sites were offered to the squatters, along with the costs of relocating their dwellings to these leased or private lots. The sites were located in Porter Creek, Crestview, Lot 19 (near the claybanks at the south end of town) and along the Alaska Highway. Most often, they were not viable locations for those squatters who could not afford to lease or purchase a lot. The option of Lot 19 failed to materialize altogether when Whitehorse voters defeated its proposal in 1961/62 plebiscites. 

Many squatters opted for these sites, or were removed from the area. The city created a “Transient Area” in the Marwell Industrial area as a “temporary” location for squatters’ buildings which were below standards for relocation in the proposed subdivisions, but many houses remained here well into the 1970’s. 

In 1987, a squatter policy was enacted, which outlined the rights of waterfront residents to pursue ownership of the land on which their dwellings were located. Squatters were offered life-long leases, pending the settlement of land claims negotiations.