Strange Things Done: Murder in Yukon History


227 pages
Contains Photos, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-7735-2705-2
DDC 364.15'23'097191




Reviewed by Geoff Hamilton

Geoff Hamilton is a Killam Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of
British Columbia.


In Strange Things Done, Coates and Morrison examine a selection of
prominent murders over roughly half a century of Yukon history,
beginning with the gold rush era of the late 19th century. Emphasizing
the uncommonness of murder in the region, the authors seek to show how
specific murder cases expose the self-perceptions of Yukoners and the
structure of their social relationships. The book includes several maps,
black-and-white illustrations, and an extensive bibliography of related

This is a well-researched, well-written, absorbing book. The authors’
examinations of the individual murder cases are informed and astute, and
the conclusions they draw from the available evidence (mostly court and
media records) are consistently insightful. The book offers a vivid
portrait of Yukon social history, particularly in terms of the
interaction between Natives and more recent arrivals, the official
treatment of those judged to be mentally ill, the prominence of law
enforcement in a frontier society, and the view of America as a lawless
neighbour whose violent ways always threatened to spill over into
Canada. Surviving in a remote locale under environmentally inhospitable
conditions bred a sense of acute vulnerability and the demand for quick
police action among Yukoners. The authors’ analysis makes sense of the
astonishingly swift “justice” handed out to offenders by the courts
(as well as, informally and often illegally, by the North-West Mounted
Police and the Canadian Army). As the authors note, for instance, the
Mounties relied on a procedure called the “blue ticket,” “by which
would-be troublemakers were … ordered to leave immediately or face
arrest and almost certain conviction, followed by a sentence and hard
labour.” In their comments to juries, judges typically “made it
perfectly clear that [they] thought the defendant was guilty and the
jury would be shirking their duty if they did not convict.”


Coates, Kenneth S., and William R. Morrison., “Strange Things Done: Murder in Yukon History,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed February 29, 2024,