Vic Sparks and the Mystery of the Railroad Parlor Car Paintings

BLOG #1

In a quest to memorialize my grandfather, Victor Leroy Sparks, I hope to track down and document as many of his paintings and other works as possible. I have amassed pictures of his artwork but would now like to identify the settings and possible time period for each one. Many of his paintings depict scenes from the Klondike Gold Rush; some of them show sights along the passage that are no longer visible (e.g. City of Dyea). I am starting with his Railroad Parlor Car paintings since I know a little about them

The Mystery of the Railroad Parlor Car Paintings

In 1946 Vic was commissioned by the White Pass and Yukon Route (a narrow gauge railroad built in 1899 to carry prospectors to the Yukon Territory in search of gold) to paint a picture for each of the train’s Parlor Cars; these were used for tourists during their narrow gauge railroad trip to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. In a series of letters to my father Vic writes: July 1946: Princess Louise coming in to dock, rotary made, steel bridge expect to make; March 1947: “Big one for WP “Bennett Church painting in car”; August 1946 “now in  5 cars, 2 more in shop, starting one of, 3 more to make”. Each painting is 24”x30”.

The first painting was of the Old Church at Lake Bennett, BC; it was built in 1899 under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church.  This orientation looks down Lake Bennett which is the course prospectors used to go to the Klondike Gold Rush. My father, Peter Winfield Sparks took the photograph from which Vic painted it. Most other pictures of the church are viewed from the side-see second picture.

Parlor Car: Church at Lake Bennett

Church at Lake Bennett, from the collection of the White Pass and Yukon Route

Church at Lake Bennett

Collection of Mark and Edie Lee

This painting was done in the 1950’s and is in a private collection. The church still stands and can be seen at the Bennett Stop of the WP&YR railroad trip or as a stop on the Chilkoot Trail hiking path.

I believe there were about 15 parlor car paintings; I have photographs of several of them and am seeking evidence of the others. Six of the Parlor Car Paintings were stolen in 1971. Read my next blog to find out more about the parlor car paintings and see a sample of Vic’s cartoons.

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