From Facebook to real book: Popular Yukon history site attracts a publisher

·4 min read
Whitehorse-based historian Murray Lundberg with a brochure advertising Alaskan cruises in the 1950s. The brochure is typical of posts shared by him and others on the Yukon History & Abandoned Places Facebook page. (Dave Croft/CBC - image credit)
Whitehorse-based historian Murray Lundberg with a brochure advertising Alaskan cruises in the 1950s. The brochure is typical of posts shared by him and others on the Yukon History & Abandoned Places Facebook page. (Dave Croft/CBC - image credit)

Murray Lundberg spends an awful lot of time peering into the past, but this week he's pretty excited about the future — he's going to turn his passion project into a book.

The Whitehorse-based amateur historian has just signed a contract with a publisher to translate his popular Yukon History & Abandoned Places Facebook group into print.

"I am so pumped by this whole thing. Yeah, it's awesome," he said.

Lundberg says he was called out of the blue earlier this week by small, Nova Scotia-based publisher MacIntyre Purcell. The company published 10 to 12 books per year, and many of them focus on photography and local histories — Old Winnipeg: A History in Pictures and Abandoned Alberta are among the titles in its catalogue.

"They came to me. Yeah, this is — I didn't know that ever happened. I mean, like most writers, I have a substantial stack of rejection letters," Lundberg laughed.

"So to have a publisher come to me was pretty amazing."

Vernon Oickle, managing editor of MacIntyre Purcell, says he came across the Facebook group not long ago while surfing the internet, looking for new book ideas. He says he followed various online rabbit holes until he landed on Lundberg's group.

"It's a fantastic page, lots of wonderful photos, and historic perspective of Whitehorse and the region," Oickle said.

"The more I looked at the Facebook page, I thought, jeez, there's potential for a book there."

Lundberg says he signed the contract on Wednesday, and the book will likely be out by the end of next year.

A wealth of material

Now the real hard part begins — sifting through hundreds and hundreds of photos and other posts to figure out what to include in the book, and how to organize it all.

The Facebook group is a veritable trove of historic photos and stories about the Yukon of yesteryear. Some postings are things that Lundberg himself has found or had given to him, but many more have been shared by other group members.

A typical post on the Yukon History & Abandoned Places Facebook group.
A typical post on the Yukon History & Abandoned Places Facebook group.

It's become an online go-to for many people curious about something they've found or dug out of storage. Posts can generate plenty of discussion, and sometimes mysteries are solved when other group members recognize an unidentified person, place, or time.

Lundberg started the page just seven years ago, "because there was really no place to talk about Yukon history in general," he said.

"At that point, there was a Dawson history group and maybe that was it, actually. So I started a Yukon-wide one."

He says it "staggered along" for a few years with a few hundred members. He recalls thinking how great it would be to one day reach 1,500 members.

"And now we have 15,400 members. And yeah, it's just an amazing place for gathering photographs and stories. It's just a really vibrant community now."

Lundberg will be sifting through hundreds and hundreds of fascinating photos and other posts to figure out what to include in the book, and how to organize it all.
Lundberg will be sifting through hundreds and hundreds of fascinating photos and other posts to figure out what to include in the book, and how to organize it all.

Lundberg says the enthusiasm of group members is part of what attracted publisher MacIntyre Purcell to the project. Many of the online group members are Yukoners, of course, but Lundberg says there are followers from all over the place.

"A lot of that comes down to the fact that people say that you can leave the Yukon, but the Yukon never leaves you," he said.

"And we get so many comments by people who have left the territory and are looking to grab at little memories from the Yukon. And those photographs trigger exactly that."

Lundberg says many of the page's fans are Yukoners, while others have some nostalgic connection to the territory. 'You can leave the Yukon, but the Yukon never leaves you,' Lundberg says.
Lundberg says many of the page's fans are Yukoners, while others have some nostalgic connection to the territory. 'You can leave the Yukon, but the Yukon never leaves you,' Lundberg says.

One thing the book won't be, Lundberg says, is another celebration of the Klondike Gold Rush or the building of the Alaska Highway during the Second World War. Those events have been the twin pillars of so much Yukon popular history over the years, and Lundberg wants to shine a light on some lesser-known times, places and events in the territory's past.

The Gold Rush "won't be getting a whole lot of attention," nor will the building of the highway.

"I have 117 books about the Alaska Highway in my own collection. So, you know, I think that's been well-covered," he said.