Former Yukon commissioner Jim Smith remembered for political career, marrying the 'love of his life'

Former Yukon commissioner Jim Smith was remembered by friends and family on Saturday for his long list of political accomplishments, as well as antics such as planting a flag on Herschel Island to 'claim' it for the Yukon.

'Yukoners owe a great deal of debt to Mr. Smith in more ways then they realize' says Doug Phillips

Former Yukon commissioner James Smith was remembered Saturday for having an 'unprecedented impact' on the territory. (Karen McColl/CBC)

Former Yukon commissioner Jim Smith was remembered Saturday for his long list of political accomplishments, as well as antics like planting a flag on Herschel Island to "claim" it for the Yukon and, above all, loving his wife of 74 years, Dorothy Matson, and their family.

More than 150 friends and family members attended Smith's service in Whitehorse on Saturday. Smith died April 14, at the age of 97.

"Yukoners owe a great deal of debt to Mr. Smith in more ways than they realize," said current commissioner Doug Phillips, who delivered the euology, along with Smith's son Eric.

During his time as commissioner from 1966-1976, Smith is known for strengthening the voice of Yukoners in Ottawa. He also helped establish the Arctic Winter Games, Kluane National Park and Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site, and the Yukon Archives. 

"I've always called him Mr. Smith," said Phillips. "I've known him my whole life and he's always been highly respected in my life and he's always been Mr. Smith."

Known for solving problems 

Phillips offered some insights into how Smith could get things done. 

He spoke of when the commissioner travelled to Victoria. B.C., to seek the approval from then B.C. premier Dave Barrett for construction of the South Klondike Highway, 60 kilometres of which travels through that province.

Smith was on the ferry from Vancouver to Victoria, when he noticed the premier also happened to be on the ferry. 

"Mr. Smith sees the opportunity, corners Mr. Barrett and they sit down and had a meeting. Before the ferry got to Victoria, the job was done," Phillips said. 

Another time, Smith was seated next to Lester B. Pearson at a meeting in 1967 when the prime minister asked Smith if there was anything special he's like to see for the Yukon. From that conversation, the Yukon Education Grant was created, a bursary for students to pursue post-secondary studies that still exists today. 

Yukon commissioner Doug Phillips delivered the eulogy at Saturday's service. (Karen McColl/CBC)

'The family got so much of him'

Although Smith was known to sometimes put in 18-hour days, his son Eric said he always made time for friends and family. 

"Never a complaint about 'I don't have time, I don't have energy.' The family got so much of him," Eric said. "It was amazing." 

The family took advantage whenever Smith wasn't behind a desk.

"Dad would come home from work late in the afternoon on a Saturday. Mom would have the cooler, the car, the kids [Marilyn and Eric] the dog, the toys and everything piled in, ready to go. And off to the cabin we went," Eric said.  

Smith was known for saying he'd made a lot of mistakes in life, but not in choosing the woman he married. Smith and Matson celebrated their 74th wedding anniversary last October.   

Smith was born in New Westminster B.C. in 1919. He moved to Atlin, B.C. in 1940, where he met and married Matson. They moved to Whitehorse in 1947, where Smith managed businesses and sat on the Chamber of Commerce. He was also an Alderman and territorial councilor before being appointed commissioner. 

"James Smith treated everyone with respect. When you were talking to him you occupied his attention regardless of whether you were the Prince of Wales or the bag boy at the grocery store," Eric said. "These are only some of the reasons we will miss you, dad." 

Friends and family lit candles in Smith's memory at Saturday's service. (Karen McColl/CBC)


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