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Martin Berrigan's "Log Skyscapers"
in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory

Highlights of History from The Whitehorse Star

An Explorer's Guide to Whitehorse, Yukon

Martin Berrigan's grave at the Pioneer Cemetery

The Whitehorse Star, Thursday, March 21, 1957

Martin Berrigan's 'Log Skyscapers' in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory

by Helen Thurber

    One Whitehorse landmark which looks as if it dated back to Gold Rush days is really of recent construction, although its designer and builder came over the Trail of '98. Referred to by local citizens as "The Skyscraper," the three-storey log building with its two-storey neighbour on Lambert St. counts as one of the town's favorite tourist attractions.

    Veteran prospector Martin Berrigan built these log cabin towers at an age when thost men are settling own to grumble over ill health. He was 75 when he finished the two-storey house in 1946, and he started the larger building the following year, completing it in the summer of 1949. He said that building them was the best way to get rid of "that tived feeling."

    In 1939 while working on the gold dredges in Dawson, Martin Berrigan began to feel rundown. As he said later, "I just thought life wis too short to allow for setting sick," so he moved to Whitehorse to begin putting up cabins for rent.

    After building several in the regular style, he tacked a second floor on one and he liked it so well he decided to build another with three storeys. If two are good three must be better, he may have reasoned. The final result was the log skyscraper, standing as solid today as when it was first built.

    Mr. Berrigan cut the logs about ten miles from town on the other side of the river, and after teaming them across to his construction site, he notched the logs and fitted them into place by himself, pounding one-foot spikes through to strengthen them. In traditional log cabin style, he chinked the cracks with moss and oakum.


    A three-foot veranda surrounds the building, on all levels, with railings of poles to guard against anyone falling off. Over all, the building is about forty feet high from the log-lined cellar to the galvanized tin roof, and measures sixteen feet square. All the logs are about nine inches through, and probably weighed several hundred pounds when they were green.

    The imaginative builder used system of pulleys in construction, reaching a height of fifty-eight logs high at the top. The pulley is still useful for hauling supplies to the upper floors, and there is a ladder for emergencies, as well as the outside staircase.

    Martin Berrigan died in February 1950 at the age of 79, and left his own memorial in the well-built cabins and particularly in his log skyscraper.

    While it was still under construction, pictures of the three-storey log house appeared in newspapers Outside. When Mrs. G. Graber saw the picture in a Toronto paper in 1947, she had no idea that she would own the building herself within a few years.

    Six years ago Mrs. Graber came to Whitehorse to be with her family. At that time her son ran the Whitehorse Dry Cleaners. As she says, "I came here for the winter and I'm still here." The year after she arrived, the lot with the two log buildings was up for sale, so she bought it.


    First living on the bottom level of the three-storey, Mrs. Graber later moved to the top floor of the two-storey, where she lives now. Besides her regular job at the hospital, the present owner of the log structures is as energetic as their original builder, doing a lot of carpentering and repair work herself.

    The one-room suites in both buildings are neatly arranged and the ample storage space is evidence that the carpenter wus feminine. Heated by combination wood stoves, each of the rooms is cozy in the snug way of log cabins. In the skyscraper, there is also a basement furnace for extra warmth. Rent goes down as you go up in this building too, an added incentive for renters though until this year Mrs. Graber says she didnt have any trouble renting all the rooms. One tenant lived for three years in one level, another stayed for two years, apparently not minding the continual parading up and down the flights of stairs.

    The top floor sways in the wind "but you get used to it as it rocks away," she adds cheerfully. The view is fine from up there and people are always going up to take pictures.

    If living in a tourist attraction, next door to another tourist attraction, makes for a feeling of being a gold fish, Mrs. Graber doesn't mind at all. In the summer she often gets into the picture too when tourists are busy snapping their cameras. She takes pictures too, not of her unique home, but of the town and the mountains which can be seen so well from the top floor of the skyscraper.

    In the above article, Helen Thurber notes that "While it was still under construction, pictures of the three-storey log house appeared in newspapers Outside." The article below is one of those, published in The Vancouver Sun on December 2, 1947. Some of Thurber's comments were copied directly from this article.

Martin Berrigan's 'Log Skyscapers' in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory

    Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Dec, 2. - Building a log cabin skyscraper may not seem to be the best way to get rid of that tired feeling, but Martin Berrigan says it works.

    A prospector who came over the Trail of '98, Berrigan was caulking the bottoms of gold dredges in Dawson in 1939 when he began to get headaches and feel generally run-down. He was then 68 years old.

    "I just thought life was too short to allow for getting sick," he says. "I came down here and started to build cabins for rent."

    Berrigan built a few one-storey cabins. Then he tacked a second storey on one. He liked it so well he decided to make one of three storeys, and that's what he's doing now.


    His vertical triplex in midtown Whitehorse is about 40 feet from the log-lined cellar to the galvanized tin roof. The logs, which he cut 10 miles away on the opposite side of the river and teamed across, start at about 12 inches diameter at the ground. Fifty-eight logs higher, where they meet the roof, they're about nine inches through and still weight about 300 pounds apiece.

    The short, grizzled man from the creeks who likes height got up there himself, with the aid of a series of pulleys. He notched them and fitted them into place by himself, working on the three-foot board veranda, which skirts each floor gnd gives an appearance something like a Chinese pagoda.

    Now he has cut his doors and windows, pounded one-foot spikes through tHe logs to strengthen them, and is chinking the cracks with moss and oakum.


    "Logs are warmer in winter, cooler in summer," he says, "and besides, you get a view from that top floor.

    Top-floor renters will have to carry wood for their stove up the outside staircase, and their water, too, for a time at least. Later they may have some plumbing, if Berrigan's more elaborate plans materialize.

    The log skyscraper has improved the builder's health too.

    "I do get a little indigestion now and then," he admits. "But on the whole I figure this job is just what I needed."

    The photo of Whitehorse's "log skyscrapers" on the postcard below was probably shot in 1965, the year Edith Josie reported that the photographer and publisher, Mr. Leslie Lennox, had arrived in Old Crow.

Martin Berrigan's 'Log Skyscapers' in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory