Skookum Jim, whose discovery led to the Klondike Gold Rush, gets a namesake asteroid

A legendary Yukoner has received a posthumous honor that is out of this world.

Skookum Jim, also known as Jim Mason, discovered gold in Bonanza Creek in 1897, leading to the Klondike Gold Rush. When he died in 1916, he placed the fortune he had accumulated in a trust to help improve the lives of the Aboriginal peoples of the Yukon.

Last week, on the recommendation of the Yukon Astronomical Society, an asteroid between Mars and Jupiter was named in his honor.

“I think that’s great,” said Zena McLean, Skookum Jim Mason’s great-grandniece who was unaware that her ancestor’s name had been submitted.

“Anything that maintains Skookum Jim Mason’s name in Yukon public history is important to his remaining nieces and nephews and his family.”

The Skookum Jim Friendship Center in Whitehorse. (Philippe Morin/Radio-Canada)

Skookum Jim Mason was Tagish of the Dak a Weidi clan. The trust fund he established in his will still exists today, according to the friendship center that bears his name in Whitehorse. Interest generated from the fund is used to provide recognition to Indigenous peoples who have helped their community.

Maria Benoit, Haa Shaa du Hen, or Carcross/Tagish First Nation Chief and former Executive Director of the Skookum Jim Friendship Center was very happy to hear the news. His great-grandfather was Skookum’s nephew Jim Mason.

“Coming from a First Nation, that’s history in the making,” she said.

Asteroid Skookum Jim

Asteroid Skookum Jim is a main belt asteroid. It orbits with other asteroids between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter.

“It takes just over five years to complete a full orbit around the sun,” said Christa Van Laerhoven, president of the Yukon Astronomical Society. “Its orbit is not quite circular. It’s not wildly what we call eccentric. It’s not very circular, but just a bit. And it’s inclined to Earth’s orbit by about 15 degrees.”

As far as Van Laerhoven knows, it is the second asteroid whose name has a connection with the Yukon.

“The only other asteroid I can find with the Yukon connection is called Klondike,” she said, adding that it’s named after two brothers who came for the Klondike Gold Rush, made a fortune and donated money to a university in Finland which built a library.

By a quirk of fate, Van Laerhoven said this is the university where the asteroid Skookum Jim was originally discovered.

However, if you hope to see asteroid Skookum Jim, Van Laerhoven said you’ll need a telescope.

“Something big enough,” she said, big enough that it wouldn’t be easy to get it out into your garden.

McLean said she hopes one day science will be able to identify the composition of the asteroid.

“Wouldn’t it be fantastic if it was heavily laden with gold?” she said laughing.

Naming process

Naming began with an email from the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada to the Yukon Astronomical Society stating that they had an opportunity to submit names to the International Astronomical Union (IAU), which is responsible for naming things in space.

The way the email was worded, Van Laerhoven said, sounded like the IAU wanted to honor someone who had served society well.

“We really felt that if we were going to honor a Yukoner, we wanted to honor Skookum Jim,” she said.

“We really felt that his presence in Yukon history was so important that if we were to get an asteroid named after a Yukoner, then it really should be him.”

9:30 a.m.Watch! High in the sky! It’s the asteroid Skookum Jim

There is now an asteroid officially named in honor of Yukoner Skookum Jim. Christa Van Laerhoven of the Yukon Astronomical Society explains how it happened. 9:30 a.m.

The proposal was put forward in 2018.

The Yukon Astronomical Society was notified of the honor last week, April 11.

“I am absolutely delighted that the IAU accepted our suggestion,” said Van Laerhoven.