YK Past Blast: Pedestrian Down

At the beginning of a lot of things: Yellowknife in 1948

It was a cold evening in February 1948, when Patrick Bourke stepped out of a taxi on Franklin Avenue and onto a forgotten page in Yellowknife’s history.

1948 was a watershed year for the northern boom town. The war was just over and miners were again pulling gold from beneath its streets. Giant Mine had just begun production, the Elks Lodge had opened its doors, and the game of golf had arrived in town.

Bourke ended up sharing the front page in the Friday, February 13 edition of News of the North with items about bonspiel prizes, a bridge to Latham Island, completion of a second shaft at Giant Mine, and plans to mark Scout Week.

A prospector born and raised in Fort Smith, Bourke was in Yellowknife to seek his fortune. He was on his way to the new curling rink on 44th Street when he stepped from Kim Kostiuk’s cab in front of the Fire Hall.

No eyewitness account survives, but according to the newspaper’s story, Bourke was almost immediately struck from behind by another cab, driven by Bruce Tennant, who was on his way to Old Town.

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There were multiple injuries, News of the North reported, and Bourke, 45, died the next day, February 11, in Red Cross Hospital. He was Yellowknife’s first and, so far, only pedestrian traffic fatality.

The newspaper described Bourke as a “popular and well-known Northerner, well liked by all who knew him. He was survived by four brothers and seven sisters.

After a funeral service at St. Patrick’s, pallbearers Alex Loutit, J. Balsillie, E. Mercredi, F. Mercredi, Archie Manville, and N. LaFleur carried Bourke to his grave in Yellowknife Cemetery.

A tame place, with 24-hour bar service

A week later, the Board of Trustees, precursor to Yellowknife’s town council, received the report from the Coroner’s inquest into Bourke’s death. The report recommended:

A speed limit of 15 miles per hour be enforced in the vicinity of the curling rink; construction of a pedestrian sidewalk on Franklin Avenue; that pedestrians be urged to walk facing traffic; taxi drivers not allow fares to exit on the traffic side.

According to minutes of the meeting, the board felt that for the present, all that it could do was request the RCMP to “strictly enforce” the town’s traffic bylaws.

Enforcement was an ongoing source of friction between police and the board. At the time, the RCMP refused to enforce municipal bylaws, and did not take complaints about occasional rowdy behavior seriously.

As mining towns went, Yellowknife was regarded as a tame place, despite the fact that the bar at Vic Ingram’s hotel in Old Town was open 24 hours a day to slake the thirsts of the shift workers at Yellowknife’s two mines.

Access to beer and whiskey at all hours was seen as a way to discourage bootlegging on Latham Island, and there was nothing in the Coroner’s report to suggest that booze might have figured in Bourke’s death.

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