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Hugh Bernard Ashton Birch (1889-1956)

Highlights of History from The Whitehorse Star

The Whitehorse Pioneer Cemetery

The Whitehorse Star - Thursday, September 24, 1959

Hugh Birch Had Many Careers,
Died Here Last Week

    One of the most colorful lives in the Yukon came to an end last week. Hughie Birch was found dead in his cabin in Moccasin Flats about 11 am September 19. Hugh's health had failed while he was working for the Forestry Division at the Haeckel Hill fire look-out. On discharge from the hospital in May he returned to his winter job at Irene' s Laundry. Only a few weeks. before his death, he told friends about plans to return to Haeckel Hill next summer.

    Born in London, England 67 years ago, Hugh Birch came to Canada when he was only 13. He lived in Calgary for a few years and then moved to Vancouver. There he learned to be a land line telegraph operator at 16.

    After working for several years for the CPR he transferred to the Dominion Telegraph Service. He worked all over the Yukon and Northern B.C. for more than 35 years at 32 different stations. For ten years he was at Lower Lebarge. He stayed at this post until that office closed. As the last oldtime operator he took over the Whitehorse office when Lebarge closed and when the famous old line closed entirely in 1952 he wound things up in Whitehorse.

    After this he retired on superannuation. Unable to sit around and do nothing, he kept busy and when the Forestry Division completed the tower on Haeckel Hill in 1954 he took the job of watchman. During his stay there, to quote his own words, "to amuse himself a bit ye olde watchman had a number of pet gophers, somewhat like squirrels - tame and sassy as all get out there. They came into the tower. They got up on his knees, begging for handouts and all tried their best to eat him out of house and home."

Many Friends

    Besides entertaining gophers, Hugh Birch had a host of friends here and outside. He kept up a running correspondence with over a hundred people. Some had met him at his many different telegraph stations and many were people who visited the Yukon and stopped at the Lower Lebarge office when the river boats were running. One of his hobbies was making string scarves, which he used to present to visitors at the lonely outpost.

    Hugh never returned to England since leaving there as a child, and after he left Vancouver in 1910 he had never been Outside. Mr. Birch's daughter, Mrs. Robertson from Vancouver, came to Whitehorse tq attend the funeral last Saturday. Pallbearers were George Wilson, Bill Hayes, Olaf Wick- strom, Peter Berg, Alec McKay and George Barrett.

    W. J. Morris attended to funeral arrangements.