Laura Eby
Laura Eby

YK Mythbusters: The Strange Range’s Record

Did the city's best-known bar sell the most beer in the country back in the late '80s?

The Gold Range, our venerable, sticky-floored institution, has always been a jumping joint, but in its glory days during the exploration boom of the 1970s and ’80s, this 254-person-capacity bar was especially bursting at its seams. And, supposedly, busting records. According to its Wikipedia entry: “In 1988, The Gold Range sold more beer [per capita] than any other bar in Canada.” Now, on a busy night with Welder’s Daughter playing, it’s easy to imagine this to be true, but we thought we’d take a closer look.

So we called up Harvey Bourgeois, former general manager of the Range and the man listed as the source of that particular Wikipedia factoid. According to Bourgeois, it’s been so long that he can’t even recall the source of the rumour he started anymore, despite his name being attached. “Oh, I probably read it somewhere in some paper way back when,” he explained. We contacted NNSL and, without a more specific timeframe to go on, they were at a loss as well. Same goes for the NWT Archives.

Those we talked to at both the NWT and Yukon Beer and Liquor Licensing Boards said the claim was ‘conveniently unprovable,’ since they wouldn’t be able to release that kind of establishment-specific info, even if they could dig that far back. Even when we went back as far as we could (1989) to Stats Canada beers per capita data, which proved that the Yukon out-beer’d us (5.5 vs. their 8.7), we were well aware the stats are skewed: per capita data is population-based and doesn’t account for the frequent swells of out-of-town visitors and temporary workers passing through.

In the ’70s and ’80s, Yellowknife’s population would spike for days at a time when out-of-town workers spent their downtime here waiting for then-infrequent flights home out of Edmonton. A longtime (and anonymous) employee at the city’s liquor warehouse told us that he’s repeated Bourgeois’ claim for years and absolutely believes it, though he also can’t actually recall its origin. The Range was certainly the supplier’s top customer at the time, he tells us. Beer sales in the city of Yellowknife alone for the period April 1, 1987 to March 31, 1988 were $5,126,000 (or 1,829,983 litres of beer); sales for all of the Yukon territory for the same time period were $7,311,000 and 3,613,500. So, yeah – we were pretty busy bending elbows back then.

Is this oft-repeated claim believable? Kinda… Is it provable? Well… Not really. We’re going to go with this old favourite being an ultimately unfounded, big ol’ bar-stool boast.