Alex Van Bibber was born under a spruce tree, beside the Pelly River in the central Yukon in 1916. Alex’s father, Ira Van Bibber was a native of West Virginia, and came to the Yukon over the famed Chilkoot Pass in 1898 with the rush of stampeders bound for the Klondike goldfields. Later, Ira met his Northern Tutchone native wife, Eliza, and together they had 14 children, all born and raised in the wilds of the Yukon. In addition to raising a very large family in the wilderness, Ira also guided a few hunting parties, including a hunter named Charlie Sykes who had a two month boat and pack-dog hunt with Ira in 1919 in the MacMillan River country. The hunt was written up in Outdoor Life in a five part monthly series, beginning in the July 1920 issue.
Alex attended school in Dawson City, about 210 miles downstream from their homestead on the Pelly River. His parents could only afford to send a few children every fall to school. Alex was only 12 when he was put in charge of the hand-made log raft that carried him and several siblings several hundred miles downstream. Alex went to school until grade five, then had to step aside to let other brothers and sisters get educated. In the spring, when school was out, the children would take a paddle-wheeler back up the Yukon River to Fort Selkirk, then walk the last forty miles up the Pelly River and home. In January 1943, Alex was hired by the US Army to help out the expedition in finding an alternate pipeline route from the Imperial Oil wells in Norman Wells to Whitehorse. This pipeline was built to supply oil to Alaska to defend against the Japanese that had landed on the Aleutian Islands. There were six men and three dog-teams in this expedition. Their trip started out with 10 days of 50º to 60º below weather. Alex’s main job was to use his knowledge of the country, to keep the party safe and comfortable, and to break trail ahead of the dog-teams on snowshoes all the way from Mayo, Yukon to Fort Norman, Northwest Territories, a distance of about 400 miles. It took them about 42 days to make this overland trip. Alex started his professional hunting career in the fall of 1943. He first worked for Carl Chambers as a guide. He owned his own guiding territory in the southwestern Yukon from 1948 to 1968, and operated it along with his wife, Sue. In Alex’s very first year in the outfitting business, he guided Dr. Earl J. Thee to an incredible ram that scored 182 2/8 and, after all of these years, this ram is still #10 in the all-time B&C record book. Another highlight in Alex’s career was when he took famed bowhunter Fred Bear out on a grizzly hunt in August 1956. Fred arrowed his first grizzly with Alex and wrote about the hunt in his “Field Notes” publication. In 1968, Alex shot the only true albino moose ever killed in the Yukon. Alex had seen this cow moose while guiding some hunters, then he and his wife Sue, along with some friends, went back and got it after the season. It was a true albino, complete with white hair and pink eyes, lips and hooves. It is life-size mounted and displayed in downtown Whitehorse.
Alex made many friends during his years as a guide. Jim Cortino of Chicago hunted with Alex 13 times and became a great friend. Well-known hunter Johnny Caputo hunted with Alex twice and they became lifelong friends. One experience that Alex fondly remembers is when he was asked to look after some of the journalists who came along to the mountain base-camp when Robert Kennedy climbed Mount Kennedy in 1965. Alex sold his outfit in 1968. He then helped his daughter Helen and son-in-law Mike Hassard run Ruby Range Rams, which they purchased from Johnny Muskwa in the late 1960’s. After working with the Hassard’s for many years, he worked for various other outfitters in the Yukon and then went to work with Kelly and Heather Hougen’s Arctic Red River Outfitters in 1991. Alex is Heather Hougen’s grandfather. A few years ago, when Alex applied for an NWT guides license, it was not processed because they said a mistake was made on his birthdate. They said nobody could be born in 1916 and still be guiding. That’s Alex for you. In April 2005, Alex will turn 89 years old and plans to return to Arctic Red for another season.
In the past 30 years or so, Alex has gotten more into teaching and sharing his vast knowledge with others. He travels all over the Yukon throughout the winter months putting on workshops and sharing his knowledge. He and his wife Sue (now age 93) still both run their own traplines near their home in Champagne, Yukon. Since 1988, Alex has been the chief instructor for the Yukon Fish and Game Association’s outdoor education camp. Alex is still doing this seven-day camp every July. Alex has always made time for everyone, especially the younger generation who are eager to learn the ways of the bush. Alex has been honored over the years with various awards. He was recognized with the Order of Canada in 1992 (the highest award a civilian can receive in Canada), the Yukon Fish & Game Association Sportsman of the Year Award in 1995, the Canadian Wildlife Federation Roland Michener Award in 1996, and many other national and local awards that recognize his hard work, contributions and commitment to education in the hunting and trapping industry. Alex has always had a great outlook on life, living by his motto, “work hard and play hard.” Anyone who has had the privilege of knowing Alex will know that he lives life to the fullest and always sees things in a positive and often humorous way. He has been a legend in the Canadian North for many years and it is great to see that he is now being formally recognized by his peers by way of the first ever “Legend Award” presented by Grand Slam Club/Ovis.