The following was written by Ken Spotwood for the Klondike Sun.
Oddly, it all began on February 26, 1899, on board the ocean steamer City of Seattle. The vessel was en route from Seattle to Skagway and was filled with gold seekers headed for the Klondike.
Its master, Capt. William Connell, was a hospitable man with a reputation for putting his passengers at ease despite the over-crowded conditions. On this particular trip the fraternal spirit–and the liquid variety–prevailed more than usual in the ship’s dining room. It was Capt. Connell who suggested forming a great, social ‘brotherhood of the North, where men from all parts of the world could meet and get to know one another’.
The idea was met with great enthusiasm. Initially there were eleven founding members on board the ship. In 1903 AB historian I.N. Wilcoxen described the meeting: “Being liberal of purse, and always enjoying the best obtainable, they ate, smoked and drank liberally of the best the Steward had. They found they were ‘Arctic Brothers,’ and proposed to celebrate the discovery by a night of revelry, mirth and laughter.”
Bylaws and rules of order were drawn up. The preamble of its constitution states: “The object of this organization shall be to encourage and promote social and intellectual intercourse and benevolence among its members, and to advance the interests of its members, and those of the Northwest section of North America.”
Membership was restricted to white males over age 18 who resided in Alaska, the Yukon Territory, the Northwest Territory, or British Columbia north of parallel 54 degrees, 20 minutes, north latitude. Candidates had to be nominated by members in good standing. They were either approved or rejected by a membership committee.
Its first badges reflected the members’ drinking habits–officers wore champagne corks on their lapels, while ordinary members wore beer corks. The initiation fee was one dollar and the proceeds were usually spent on “a royal good time.” An emblem was designed which portrayed two crossed flags–the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes, a miner’s gold pan with a crossed pick and shovel and the letters ‘A..B.’. The entire design was encrusted with gold nuggets. Its motto was ‘No Boundary Line Here’.
Camp No. 1 was established in Skagway soon after the ship docked. Within a month its ranks swelled to 311 men. As its members fanned out they established Camp No. 2 at Bennett and Camp No. 3 at Atlin, B.C.
“There were the usual objections to secret orders made to this new order by the churches, and the terms Arctic Bummers on one side and Sniveling Hypocrites on the other were frequently heard,” reported AB historian I.N. Davidson. The skeptics were silenced when they saw that the lodge looked after its members in sickness and health, buried its dead and generally improved educational and social conditions of the booming mining camps.
It wasn’t long before every northern city, town and settlement of any importance boasted its Arctic Brotherhood camp. Eventually more than 30 camps were established throughout the North and, at its height, the Arctic Brotherhood boasted some 10,000 members. They included miners, businessmen, doctors, lawyers, government officials, American senators, Canadian members of Parliament and celebrities. Among its honourary members were King Edward VII and American presidents Warren G. Harding, Theodore Roosevelt and William McKinley.