The Northern Tutchone who now live at Pelly Crossing traditionally led a semi-nomadic life in the lower Pelly River area.
When Robert Campbell built Fort Selkirk, the site was already a meeting place for trading with the coastal Tlingit. The Huchá Hudän, “people of the flat country,” started to settle there on a seasonal basis after Arthur Harper set up a trading post in 1892. The First Nations were drawn by the facilities and jobs at nearby wood camps and on the paddlewheelers. A solitary post grew to a thriving community.
The original homestead at Pelly Crossing was Ira and Eliza Van Bibber’s family homestead. A road was constructed north from Whitehorse in the early 1950s and Pelly Crossing was established as a ferry crossing and a Klondike Highway construction camp. With the completion of the road, Fort Selkirk was virtually abandoned and the Selkirk First Nation re-settled first at Minto and then at Pelly Crossing.
The Selkirk First Nation Council administers Pelly Crossing. Their Final Land Claim and Self-Government agreements were signed at Minto in 1997.
Travel on the Pelly River
In 1840, Hudson’s Bay Company trader Robert Campbell came into the Yukon from the south east to explore the country and expand the company’s territory. When party reached the headwaters of the river before you, Campbell named it after Sir John Henry Pelly, a governor of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Campbell and his companions travelled down the Yukon rivers in birchbark freighter canoes. First Nations travellers along the Pelly River traditionally used dug-out canoes, wooden rafts or moose skin boats with wooden frames. Canoes and small skin boats could be poled upstream without too much difficulty.
In the early 1900s, some small steamers ventured up the Pelly River to the head of navigation at Ross River. Supplies for a trading post above that village were transferred to smaller boats that could be portaged around a dangerous rapid. By the 1920s, a few of the woodcutters at Fort Selkirk had power boats that could be chartered by the trappers and traders who lived and worked on the Pelly River and its tributaries.
Selkirk First Nation fishers continue to travel on the river to the fish camps where they live during the summer and fall salmon migrations. Small power boats and canoes are commonly seen on the Pelly River today.