The first overland road between Whitehorse and Dawson City was constructed in 1902. This road was extended in 1914 from Minto to Mayo Landing. Until the 1920s, the Overland Trail was a winter road that accommodated wheeled horse-drawn coaches when the ground was frozen and sleighs during the height of the winter. Over time, the horse-drawn vehicles were replaced by trucks or small cats (tracked vehicles). In the 1930s, a cat train travelling day and night from Whitehorse took seven to eight days to reach Mayo.
As silver ore production in the region rose, the sternwheelers were sometimes unable to clear the backlog of freight and there was a need for an all-season overland route. The first all-weather road between Whitehorse and the Mayo mining district was completed in 1950 and ferries were installed on the new route at the Pelly, Stewart and Yukon rivers. United Keno Hills Mines maintained the road from 1953 to 1957 when the government took it over. By the late 1950s, all of the ore concentrate was being shipped by road and the golden age of Yukon sternwheelers was over.
The Stewart River was first prospected in 1883 and by 1885 there were about 75 men making very good wages working the sand and gravel bars. In 1886, the traders “Jack” McQuesten, Arthur Harper and Al Mayo established a trading post at the mouth of the Stewart River to supply the miners but in that year a rich gold strike on the Fortymile River drew most of the prospectors out of this region. Alexander MacDonald was one of the first to prospect in the Mayo region and he named Mayo Lake for Al Mayo who supplied him with an outfit, or “grubstake”. After the Klondike Gold Rush, the Stewart River remained a favourite with prospectors looking for a reliable, if sparse, source of gold.
The Overland Trail winter stages to Mayo stopped near the mouth of Crooked Creek after the route was extended. Frenchman’s Bar was a small mining and trapping community also serviced by the Stewart River sternwheelers.
In 1950, the new all-reason road between Whitehorse and Mayo crossed the Stewart River here and Jack McDiarmid and the Van Bibbers operated the ferry. Jack and Mary McDiarmid purchased some old sawmill buildings and moved them to the landing as a residence and Mary ran a lunch bar for travellers. When the Stewart Crossing Bridge was built in 1960, the McDiarmids added gas pumps and a tire repair service to their business.
The Silver Trail
As you travel along the Silver Trail you will catch glimpses of the winding Stewart River. The river is a relatively shallow tributary of the Yukon River and the river pilots who worked this river were among the best in the Yukon. You will pass through a protected Moose Calving Habitat so if you stop at Devil’s Elbow to hike up to the viewing platform you might see some interesting wildlife. Five Mile Lake is a convenient recreation area and a good place to take a swim.
The Silver Trail is paved to Mayo, making it a relaxing drive to the shops and serves there. Mayo’s Binet House has interpretive displays and friendly staff to answer your questions. There is a scenic loop drive on unpaved roads that follows Duncan Creek to Keno City with side trips to several lakes and up the steep road to the Keno Hill signposts. The Keno Mining Museum is a must and the little Alpine Interpretation Centre next door will prepare you for an alpine adventure.
Another couple of hours on the North Klondike Highway will take to Dawson City and the glitter and charm of an old gold rush town. The Dempster Highway branches off to lead you through alpine tundra and across the only public road in Canada that crosses the Arctic Circle.