Sewell House

Building Location: 

28 Moccasin Flats

Whitehorse, YT N/A

Location Context: 

This area of the waterfront, located between Sleepy Hollow and the Shipyard community contains many buildings, some of historic merit, others simply the homes of those who still choose to live on the waterfront. Refer to the Miller House, the Piercy Cabin, the Pioneer Hotel.


One-storey Tent / Frame Structure

Architectural History: 

The building is a wood frame constructed over tent frame with a gable roof. It has horizontal wood siding and roll asphalt roofing. The approximate size is 12′ by 24′

Cultural History: 

The Sewell cabin is typical of many early Whitehorse structures which began as tent frames, but were later converted to log or wood frame buildings. The framed structure closely follows the original outline of the tent structure: low side walls, gable roof, and low ceiling height. The Sewell cabin is one of the last remaining examples from early Whitehorse history. The structure is believed to have been built by John Sewell in 1904. By 1920, Sewell took over the ownership of a general store on Front Street near the Regina Hotel, occupying the second floor as a residence.

Over the years, the cabin has been occupied by many notable characters including: Frank Slim, a well-known riverboat pilot, and Cat train operator, Louis Irvine.

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. Indigenous 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.

During World War II, the Moccasin Flats area was leased to the US Army Corps of Engineers to establish a float plane base. The Miller house is believed to be the only remaining structure from this brief occupation. Next to it remains the beacon pole that once held a windsock. 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 clay banks 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. On May 11, 2002 the Sewell house was accidentally demolished due to a miscommunication, the building was thought to be a storage house slated for demolition.

Today, the Shipyards and its adjacent areas are the the last vestiges of a once large and characterful community within Whitehorse. The City of Whitehorse has created “Shipyards Park” on the land which still houses the Miller House, the Hatch house and the Pioneer Hotel as well as the Chambers House that was restored and moved to the site in May 2007.

Current Use: Demolished May 11, 2002
Past Use: Residence
Condition: N/A
Foundation/Floor: N/A
Walls: N/A
Windows/Doors: N/A
Roof: N/A