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Authors: Susan Smith-Josephy

Tags: #Biography

Lillian Alling

Lillian Alling
The Journey Home


Susan Smith-Josephy


Copyright ©2011 Susan Smith-Josephy

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without prior permission of the publisher or, in the case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, a licence from Access Copyright, the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency,
, 1-800-893-5777,
[email protected]

Caitlin Press Inc.

8100 Alderwood Road,

Halfmoon Bay, BC V0N 1Y1

Edited by Jane Stevenson and Betty Keller

Text and cover design by Vici Johnstone, maps by Kathleen Fraser

Illustrations by Eric Josephy

Front cover image: Detail of White Pass Dawson City Museum 1982. 202.2

Front cover image of Lillian Alling: Detail of image from Atlin Historical Society, see page 122

Printed in Canada

Caitlin Press Inc. acknowledges financial support from the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund and the Canada Council for the Arts, and from the Province of British Columbia through the British Columbia Arts Council and the Book Publisher's Tax Credit.


Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Smith-Josephy, Susan

Lillian Alling: the journey home/Susan Smith-Josephy.

Includes bibliographical references.

ISBN 978-1-894759-54-0

1. Alling, Lillian—Travel. 2. British Columbia—Description

and travel. 3. Yukon—Description and travel. 4. Alaska—

Description and travel. 5. Women travellers—Biography.

6. Women adventurers—Biography. I. Title.

FC3817.3.S65 2011 910.82 C2011-904938-4

For Lillian, of course.



Chapter One: The Mystery of Lillian Alling's Origins

Chapter Two: Crossing Canada—Spring 1927

Chapter Three: Fall and Winter 1927

Chapter Four: Hyder, Alaska, to Smithers, BC

Map: The Telegraph Trail

Chapter Five: The Telegraph Trail

Chapter Six: Telegraph Creek to Atlin

Chapter Seven: Tagish to Whitehorse

Chapter Eight: The Road to Dawson

Chapter Nine: Dawson City

Chapter Ten: Floating Down to Nome

Chapter Eleven: The Final Walk

Map: Siberia

Chapter Twelve: Prince of Wales to Siberia


Journey Map


Selected Bibliography

About Susan Smith-Josephy


Lillian Alling was a remarkable woman and her adventures intrigued me from the first moment I heard about her. However, I never meant to write a book about her.

I first became interested in Lillian when I read a small blurb about her in our local historical society's newsletter. Her story seemed preposterous: there was no way a woman could have walked from New York to Siberia. So I did some idle research online and found a few websites. Read some library books. Found some mentions of her in anthologies of women adventurers and volumes about eccentrics. I started making photocopies of the articles I found and checked every reference in every article. Soon I had a two-foot-high stack of paper. I also kept a record of everything on my computer. I told friends about my interest in Lillian, and people started emailing me with more articles and names of people to contact. Finally I put up a website,, to announce my intention of writing a book. This generated more emails and more letters.

I kept writing to museums, archives and authors who'd written about Lillian and to anyone else who might be interested. I bombarded the local library with inter-library loan requests for related works on the history of the places that she visited and the people with whom she came in contact. I met, via email and letters, people who were experts on trails and trekking, the 1920s, the British Columbia Provincial Police force and so much more. Other writers who had done some research on Lillian mailed me either their manuscripts or their piles of research articles—or both. I contacted descendants of some of the key people whom she had met on her journey, and I was thrilled to learn that they had been told stories about her. These people were kind enough to allow me to interview them, and they supplied photos of the ancestors who had told them the stories. I travelled a portion of Lillian's route in British Columbia, particularly the Pine Pass area and the road from Hyder and Stewart to Hazelton and Smithers, and took the ferry to Prince Rupert.

And just as the telegraph and other new technologies helped Lillian to travel such long distances and to have her story precede her wherever she went as she crossed Canada and entered Alaska, even newer technologies helped me to find her again more than eighty years later. While this book represents three years of research and writing, without the Internet, it would have taken many more years and dollars and would not have been as comprehensive. Of course, online research is not a substitute for visiting people and places, but Lillian's journey was so long ago and crossed such a vast area that corresponding via email with people in the places she travelled through seemed like the obvious choice.

Sometimes I was lucky enough to find relevant travel journals or newspaper articles that had first-hand information about Lillian and her trek. At other times I followed clues and leads from secondary sources and articles. I figured out her route by going over old documents, and I wrote to small-town museums and archives along that route to see if they had any new information. Often they didn't. Sometimes they came up trumps, digging into their old files, copying photos for me, and cheering me on through emails and letters.

Some people have called Lillian Alling crazy, but I came to love Lillian Alling, the eccentric.

I came to know a woman who had drive and courage and single-mindedness. She was a loner and an independent thinker who didn't like crowds too much, but preferred the wide-open spaces where she could be free and be herself. She was reserved but readily accepted help and was cooperative with authorities. Although she appears to have had quite a temper when she was under pressure, she seems to have stoically tolerated being cornered by people or forced indoors by the weather or institutionalized because she knew she would soon be on her own and outdoors again. To me, she seems to have been a reasonable human being on a very difficult quest.


Lillian Alling's tale has been fictionalized a number of times, probably because her spirit resonates with the romantic in all of us. She has been the subject of at least two novels. She inspired Amy Bloom's
though the author is skeptical of the real Lillian's existence, and Canadian writer Sherry Coffey is turning her MFA thesis into a book about her. Additionally, her life has been covered in the graphic novel
Lillian the Legend
by Kerry Byrne and in the play
All the Way to Russia With Love
by Susan M. Fleming, which was staged at the Ottawa Fringe Festival. Ted Eames has written an epic poem about her. A film about Lillian by Daniel Janke of Northern Town Films may be underway. A 1994 French film,
La piste du télégraphe
(The Telegraph Route) was written and directed by Liliane de Kermadec. In October 2010 the Vancouver Opera Company staged the Canadian debut of
Lillian Alling,
the opera, to critical acclaim. Most recently her story has been featured in a short skit by the Dawson Museum in the Yukon as part of their Lillian Alling display.

I share Lillian Alling's true story with you now in the hope that you will enjoy reading about her. I also share it in the hope that someone, somewhere, holds the final clue that can help solve the mystery of what happened to Lillian Alling.

Chapter One: The Mystery of Lillian Alling's Origins

One of the two photos of Lillian taken by Marie Murphy in the summer of 1928. Atlin Museum & Archives.

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