Lucille Hunter | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Lucille Hunter

Lucille Hunter (sometimes spelled Lucile), prospector (born 13 January c. 1874–1882 in the United States; died 10 June 1972 in Whitehorse, YT). Lucille and her husband Charles were among the first Black people to settle in the Yukon. They arrived in 1897 as part of the Klondike Gold Rush. The couple staked claims to mine for gold in Dawson City and silver in Mayo. Lucille Hunter remained in the Yukon for the rest of her life, later moving to Whitehorse.

Lucille Hunter

Journey to the Klondike

Little is known about Lucille Hunter’s early life. She was born in Illinois or somewhere in the Southeastern United States. There is discrepancy among sources as to her age, but she was likely born between 1874 and 1882.

Lucille and her husband, Charles, left Michigan in 1897 to journey to the Klondike. The Klondike Gold Rush attracted over 100,000 people from around the world, although only about 30,000 actually reached Dawson. A small portion of these stampeders were Black. The Hunters were among the 99 Black people in the Yukon counted in the 1901 census. They may have left the United States because of the discrimination and segregation that African Americans faced.

They travelled to the Klondike via the Stikine Trail, considered one of the hardest routes to the region. The trail took them to Teslin Lake, which spans the border between British Columbia and Yukon. Hunter was pregnant on their journey and gave birth to a daughter, whom they named Teslin after their stopping point.

Most stampeders wintered at Teslin Lake before continuing their journey in the spring when the river thawed. However, the Hunters forged on in the winter, travelling to Dawson City by dogsled. They arrived ahead of most other gold seekers.

Did you know?
The Klondike Gold Rush was not the first gold rush that brought Black settlers to Canada. The 1858 Fraser River Gold Rush in British Columbia saw a large migration of gold seekers of all races from California. British Columbia governor Sir James Douglas worried these newcomers would not be loyal to the British Crown. He decided to specifically encourage Black Californians to immigrate since, the previous year, the United States Supreme Court had denied citizenship to all Black Americans, both free and enslaved. To entice settlement, Douglas offered them British citizenship after they had owned land for five years. Several hundred Black families immigrated to British Columbia at this invitation.


Lucille and Charles Hunter staked three claims along Bonanza Creek in February 1898. They also ran a restaurant in Grand Forks, a town south of Dawson City that was founded during the gold rush. Hunter, like many other women, helped her husband with prospecting while raising their daughter. She also worked as a nanny and cook.

Following the First World War, the couple staked claims for silver in Mayo. After Charles’ death in 1939, Hunter continued their prospecting work. Each year she travelled from Dawson to Mayo on foot to check on their claims, a distance of approximately 230 km.


After Charles’ death, Lucille Hunter’s only remaining family was her grandson, Carl Leo “Buster” Sorenson. Their daughter had died in 1925. Hunter and Buster continued working as miners for a few years, but moved to Whitehorse in 1942. There, Hunter set up a laundry business in a tent, while Buster made deliveries.

Buster later moved to the Queen Charlotte Islands (now Haida Gwaii). Although Hunter went blind in her older age, she continued to live on her own in a clapboard house. After a fire burned down her house, Hunter moved to a basement apartment where she lived until a broken hip forced her to spend the rest of her life in a hospital.

Hunter died in Whitehorse on 10 June 1972. She is buried in the Yukon Grey Mountain Cemetery in Whitehorse, in the Yukon Order of Pioneers section. The Yukon Order of Pioneers was a fraternal order established in 1894. Hunter was the first woman granted honorary membership to the Order, in recognition of her work as a miner.

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