The life of Clyde “Slim” Williams in the Okanagan

A look back in time: The famous Clyde “Slim” Williams

Slim was known for wanting to connect the unchartered coastal range with the Canadian road system

Clyde “Slim” Williams arrived in Alaska on his 19th birthday and spent the next 30 years searching for adventure. He trapped, guided and bred his famous sled-dogs; those mostly wolf sled-dogs.

Slim was a huge proponent for an automobile link with the rest of the U.S., and spent a great deal of time lobbying local officials to support the plan. He found a cohort in Senior Engineer, Donald McDonald, of the Alaska Road Commission who advocated a land route along the Pacific Coast. Slim approached him with an idea to drive a sled team south along the unchartered coastal range and hook up with the Canadian road system at Atlin. He would then head south and take his highway plan to the Chicago Worlds Fair of 1933. He was laughed at and ridiculed by the other sourdoughs and on a bet, he made his plans to go.

Undaunted, he left Copper Centre, Alaska in November of 1932. He drove his dogs over the frozen mountains using only crude maps and vague descriptions. It took him 5 months to reach to northern-most road of the British Columbia tundra. From that point it was quite easy going and he traded his sled runners for wheels from an old model “T”. He began to be a celebrity.

Along the route, folks asked him to stay over; they fed him and women made leather boots for his dogs. The press followed his progress throughout the trip.

Arriving in Kamloops in the spring of 1933, he headed down the Nicola and ended up in Princeton. There he met Salvation Jim. Their photo is above.

Jim was a retired Yukon Sourdough and he and Slim really hit it off. Jim insisted he stay with him and have a couple of drinks. Jim got the local photographers out for press photos and Slim ended up staying several days. When Slim finally got back on the road, he was sent off with a hail of shots from Jim’s six-gun that was always strapped to his hip and headed down the Okanagan River Valley then turned east.

Fan mail rolled in and by October 1933, there was a crowd waiting as he entered the World’s Fair grounds. He and his dogs had completed 5600 miles, the longest dog-sled trip in history.

The theme for the fair was “A Century of Progress”. Slim took over the Alaska Pavilion and it became the most popular feature of the fair. Mrs. Roosevelt told newsmen that she enjoyed her visit with “the tall young man from Alaska, with blue eyes that looked far away.”

On invitation from the President, Slim had several interviews in Washington, D.C. He was received by the highest officials of the capital, where he laid out his plan for the national highway.

His sponsors would have been proud of his ability to capture audience imagination when he spoke. The Adventurers’ Club found him sincere, rugged and straight-forward with a wonderful sense of humour.

The highway was not built until 1940 and did not take Slim’s route.

Missed last week’s column?

A look back in time: The sinking of Skookum I

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