In 1898 at the start of the Klondike Gold Rush, John Barrett arrived in Bennett, B.C. He set up a tent beside the Dawson Hotel and opened a wholesale liquor outlet.
Frank Turner and Thomas Geiger eventually joined John Barrett, forming the company – Turner and Co. – and converting Barrett’s tent from a liquor outlet into the Yukon Hotel.
Following the gold rush the building was purchased by William “Big Bill” Anderson and moved down Lake Bennett to Carcross and re-named the Anderson Hotel.
In 1903, this hotel was sold to Dawson Charlie, one of the discoverers of Klondike gold and a member of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation. Charlie had the hotel extensively remodelled and re-named it the Caribou Hotel. Following Dawson Charlie’s death in 1908, Edwin and Bessie Gideon rented and operated the hotel from his heir, Annie (Charlie) Auston. The hotel burned to the ground on Christmas Eve, 1909, along with an adjacent store and the nearby White Pass & Yukon Route (WP&YR) railway depot. The Gideons constructed a new hotel in the same location and re-opened in 1910.
The sternwheeler, S.S. Tutshi, was constructed in 1917 to service growing tourism in the region. Over time the hotel provided accommodation and services for tourists, big game hunters, visiting dignitaries, and long term lodgings for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, construction workers, and local residents. Johnnie Johns, a member of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation and world renowned and respected big game outfitter, had a long working relationship with the hotel. Many of his clients stayed here.
The Caribou Hotel also figured in the construction of the Alaska Highway when the United States Army and private road construction crews used the hotel for housing and a mess hall. With as many as twenty-five trains per day rolling through town, Carcross was a major operational centre for workers, equipment and materials.
The Caribou Hotel has been home to a number of famous characters including Polly the Parrot—who resided at the hotel from 1918 until his death in 1972, and was known for singing opera, drinking whiskey and cursing. The Caribou Hotel’s “Surly Bird Saloon” is named in Polly’s honour.