Vision Triumphs over Challenge
ln 1897, against the advice of his solicitors, William Brooks Close paid £10,000 to acquire from the government the right to build a railway from Skagway into the Yukon. At the time the Close Brothers of London decided to finance the construction of the White Pass Railroad in 1898, it was uncertain whether the White Pass was in the USA or in Canada. The debate over the international boundary between the two countries was not settled for several years.
Because of this uncertainty the White Pass & Yukon Route decided to incorporate construction in three companies so that the laws of the USA and Canada were obeyed. In Alaska, the railroad was incorporated as Pacific and Arctic Railway & Navigation Company and today still operates under that legal identity. The British Columbia Yukon Railway Company and the British Yukon Railway Company were incorporated in British Columbia and Yukon respectively, with all three companies incorporated in 1898. White Pass & Yukon Route served as an umbrella to coordinate the three entities’ operations.
During the twenty six months of construction the company was challenged by climate, geography and labor issues – all of which translated into soaring construction costs. Nearly all the work between Skagway and the Summit was through solid rock. Dynamite had not yet come into use and immense quantities of black powder were used for blasting. The mountain sides were so steep that the men had to be suspended by ropes to prevent them falling off while cutting the grade. During construction, 35,000 men worked on the railway, and 35 lost their lives.
But Close Brothers of London, under the leadership of W.B. Close, stayed the course and spent $10,000,000 on construction of the railroad. Close Brothers owned White Pass & Yukon Route until 1951 when it was sold to Canadian investors. Close Brothers prospers still today as the largest independent quoted merchant bank in the UK and one of the 200 largest companies by market capitalization listed on the London Stock Exchange.