The Yukon River paddlewheelers provided a fast and reliable method of transporting freight and mail between Whitehorse and Dawson City during the summer. During the fall and spring however, service was disrupted as the rivers froze and thawed. The rivers often froze in jumble ice while open water and over-flow made winter travel dangerous or at least uncomfortable.
The Yukon government contracted the White Pass & Yukon Route (WP&YR) to build a reliable overland winter travel route. A small group of men constructed the Overland Trail using axes and cross-cut saws to clear the trail, and afterwards graded it with horse-drawn ploughs and wheel-scrapers. The first overland stage left Whitehorse for Dawson on November 2, 1902.
WP&YR ran the Royal Mail stage along the Overland Trail. The mail contract was very lucrative for White Pass. Many WP&YR employees who worked on the river steamers in the summer, found employment during the winter as drivers, stablemen or roadhouse proprietors. Roadhouses were located at least every twenty miles along the route, offering a change of horses, a warm room or bunk, and a meal of wild game. When there was insufficient snow for sleighs in the spring and fall, wheeled stages were used and charged passengers $125 between Whitehorse and Dawson. The fares were considerably lower on the sleighs that accommodated up to 14 passengers.
‘Takhini was a grand roadhouse’
The Takhini Roadhouse was 35 kilometres from Whitehorse on the Overland Trail. This new roadhouse was ready for business when the first stage came through in November 1902. The North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) built a detachment next to the roadhouse during that winter.
In 1903, the Mounties put in a light summer ferry at the crossing and charged civilians a small fee to help with the upkeep. The roadhouse proprietors leased and ran the ferry after the first year. Every fall there was trouble crossing the river as the ice started to run. The stage drivers began damming the ice above the crossing in order to use the ferry for as long as possible and allow good ice to form above the boom. In 1907, the Royal NWMP abandoned the post at Takhini and the ferry was sold to the White Pass & Yukon Route.
When Greenfield and Pickering took over the winter mail service in the 1920s, Takhini Crossing remained one of the 16 stopping places along the route. The US army constructed a temporary bridge across the Takhini in the early 1940s and used the Overland Trail and Kluane Wagon Road until a new bridge was constructed on the Alaska Highway at kilometre 1469.