Canada: The Story of Us

Martha Black: The American socialite who went hunting for gold in the Yukon

She didn't find any. But she went on to become Canada's second female MP.

She didn't find any. But she went on to become Canada's second female MP.

(Yukon Archives, Martha Louise Black Fonds, #3253)

In the late 1890s, tens of thousands of Americans are scrambling to Dawson City to cash in on the gold rush in the Yukon's Klondike region.

One of these people is 32-year-old Martha Black, a Chicago socialite who has recently separated from her husband.

She's making the dangerous three-month trek through icy mountains to Dawson City with her brother. And she's pregnant.

Black is after something big: one million dollars of Yukon gold. A friend left it to Black in his will — she can keep half the spoils if she retrieves the gold herself.

Yukon Archives, Martha Louise Black Fonds, #3258 (Yukon Archives, Martha Louise Black Fonds, #3258)

But when Black arrives in Dawson City, her hopes are dashed. There's no record of the gold she's been promised.

I determined I would not brood over my troubles. It is the pioneer spirit not to be overwhelmed by trouble, but to arise and go forth to meet it.- Martha Black

With her pregnancy progressing and winter fast approaching, returning to Chicago is not an option.

In January 1899, Black gives birth to her son. She starts a new business, staking gold claims on Excelsior Creek.

Black, irrepressible as ever, said, "I determined I would not brood over my troubles. It is the pioneer spirit not to be overwhelmed by trouble, but to arise and go forth to meet it."

(City of Vancouver Archives, AM54-S4-:Port P1795, Steffens-Colmer Studios Ltd.)

While Black had gone to Dawson in search of gold, she found an unexpected home — she remained in the Yukon for most of her life and went on to become the country's second female Member of Parliament.

American socialite Martha Black came to the Yukon in search of a fortune. She didn't find it. What she did find was a new life and a seat in Parliament. 2:11

Produced in participation with