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James D. "Buzzsaw Jimmy" Richards (1873-1967)

Arctic & Northern Biographies

    James Domville Durant Richards was born in Kings County, New Brunswick in about 1873. He was the first son of 55-year-old farmer William Durant Richards and his 20-year-old wife Alice.

    J.D. Richards came to the Yukon as fireman on the sternwheeler James Domville, built for Colonel James Domville, a prominent banker, Member of Parliament for New Brunswick, and a family friend. They arrived in Dawson on August 22, 1898.

    After working at a wide variety of jobs for many years, in the 1921 Census of Canada, James Richards was listed as an engineer living in White Horse.

Buzzsaw Jimmy Richards     In 1950, "Buzzsaw Jimmy" published a quirky little booklet (16 pages, 10.5x16.5 cm) telling a bit about his Yukon life. "Dawson or Bust" is quite rare (the Yukon Archives has 2 copies) and I've been watching for a copy for a few years. I finally found a copy in December 2018, though, and if you'd like to read it, I've scanned it and posted it here (pdf, 6.4 MB). The wonderful photo to the right is from the front cover of that booklet.

    In an email to me, Bob Cameron described a shack that Jimmy built next to the Cameron house at 208 Elliott Street, using lumber he "borrowed" from the sites where the new Bank of Commerce and Bank of Montreal were being built:

    It was on 6X6 timbers for skids, and the main "salon" was built to accommodate his buzzsaw. His sleeping quarters were in a little cupola above, making the whole thing look a bit like a caboose.

    That shack replaced his main home, which had been a pick-up truck canopy on barrels located in the alley behind where the Dairy Queen would later be built.

    In 1963, Jimmy left Whitehorse, moving to Vancouver. He died there 4 years later, at the Grandview Nursing Home on August 21, 1967. His remains were cremated, and his ashes buried at Mountain View Cemetery in Vancouver, reportedly on July 10, 1968.

    Here's some "dirt" on Buzzsaw Jimmy by Phyllis Wilson, published in the Ottawa Citizen of July 27, 1955:

Buzzsaw Jimmy Richards

    Ignore the soap ads and save your pate is the advice of Buzzsaw Jimmy, one of the ripest of Whitehorse's many "characters".

    Buzzsaw, along with Wigwam Harry, reputed the fastest digger in the Yukon, Gabby Ales who talks a blue streak all the time and his brother, Silent Gabby Ales, who obviously doesn't, are authentic links in a chain with the Yukon's colorful past.

    Whatever comes next to godliness in Buzzsaw's book it is not cleanliness. Townspeople say he changes his shirt twice a year. When a Citizen reporter and photographer interviewed him the other day the time had not yet come.

    "Not every man has his hair after 80," said 82-year-old Buzzsaw, complacently running a grimy hand over his grizzled hair and beard. "I never wash. People who wash, wash all the oil out of their skin and then they lose their hair. I had an uncle who never washed either and he lived to be 90."

Arrived As Fireman

    Buzzsaw, whose real name is James Domville Durant Richards, arrived in the Yukon as a fireman aboard a Victoria, B.C. steamer in July, '98. The boat took two loads of whiskey into Dawson City and then started passenger service.

    Buzzsaw did "quite a bit of steamboatin' ", staked a couple of copper claims and then in 1901 entered the wood business with a unique arrangement of a buzzsaw at the end of a sort of tractor.

    In 1920 he accidentally cut off one of his legs. ("I need a new wooden leg now. This one pains me some," Buzzsaw confided.) Up until 10 or 12 years ago he did quite a fuel business, replacing the old iron wheels with rubber treads when officials refused to let him on the roads. Two years ago he dismantled his machine and has never been able to get it back together again.

More about Buzzsaw Jimmy Richards

Buzzsaw Jimmy
A lengthy article by Darrell Hookey.

Buzzsaw Jimmy
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.

Accident prone woodcutter lost limbs but lived to 94
An article by the MacBride Museum, published in the Yukon News in 2009.

Looking Back: The woodcutter's tale
An article by Phil Wolters, published in the What's Up Yukon in 2011.

Ottawa Citizen - July 27, 1955 Buzzsaw Jimmy Richards, 1955