From the whalers who played ball on Herschel Island in the late 1800s, to the kids learning to hit and catch at the Pepsi Softball Centre each summer, Yukon’s softball history is packed with interesting stories.
The sport came north in the 1890s, as a pastime for American whalers who spent their winters on Herschel Island. Then, in 1897, the Klondike Gold Rush brought thousands of stampeders to the territory, and they brought baseball to Dawson City and Whitehorse. By 1904, baseball was so popular in the Yukon that a two-game international championship was played and won by Whitehorse over the Alaskan town of Skagway.
As mineral strikes in other parts of the territory, such as Mayo, brought new immigrants north, baseball and softball became common pastimes throughout the Yukon. The games were community events where neighbours met for friendly competitions and families came out to cheer on the teams.
In the 1940s, hundreds of U.S. military personnel were stationed in Whitehorse during the Second World War, and the community invited them to field teams and engage in friendly competition on Yukon’s ball fields. As the city’s population declined in the 1950s and ‘60s, fastpitch continued to be popular with active women’s and men’s leagues. In the 1980s and ‘90s Yukoners held territorial championships and began fielding teams for western Canadian and national fastpitch competitions. By the 1990s, fewer people were playing fastpitch and slopitch grew in popularity.
Today, the tradition continues. More than 1,200 Yukoners of all ages play softball and the sport continues to grow. Each summer there are softball tournaments throughout the Yukon, and many locals still travel to Skagway, Alaska each July for an international matchup.
Over the years the Pepsi Softball Centre has grown into a world-class softball facility that draws international competitions to Whitehorse.