Given his stance on immigration, we think Donald Trump should review his own family history.
The Republican candidate currently campaigning on a platform to build a wall across the U.S.’s southern border to keep out illegal immigrants actually built the foundation of his lucrative empire within the confines of Canada. At least, his great-grandfather did.
If only we built a wall across our border while we still had the chance…
The story of the Trump family’s emerging fortune is chronicled in a multi-generational biography written by Gwenda Blair in her book “The Trumps: Three Generations That Built An Empire.” The author just completed a new edition of the family’s biography, which is why we spoke to her to get some details about the eldest Trump’s foray into the Great White North.
Summed up: It involves booze, prostitutes, gambling and the cops.
Donald’s great-grandfather, Friedrich Trump (we can’t make this stuff up), arrived in New York during the height of German immigration to the U.S. in 1885. He left his home country in an effort to pursue something different than the rest of his family, who had historically been winemakers.
After seven years of living in the U.S., Friedrich changed his name to the more English-friendly Frederick, became an American citizen, moved to Seattle and made himself enough dough to open and stock a restaurant. But on July 17, 1897, he saw a headline on the front page of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that he just couldn’t ignore.
“Gold! Gold! Gold!” it read, referring to the Klondike gold rush going on in the Yukon. Articles inside described men returning from the “New Eldorado” with stacks of cash netting as much as $100,000 — which was probably like a zillion dollars back then.
Unable to resist the temptation, Trump sold everything he had and moved north. But the journey to Canada proved more difficult than he probably expected.
“It sounded like a nightmare,” Blair said.
A cramped ship took him to Alaska, where he then trekked over mountains to get to Canadian customs. One of the mountain passes he crossed is now known as “Dead Horse Gulch,” notorious for being strewn with corpses of thousands of various animals, like mules or horses, that other gold-seeking men had brought along to help carry supplies. Trump was forced to tiptoe over these remains, and then had to build a ship from scratch to navigate the Yukon River.
But he never found gold. Instead, in the words of Blair, Trump “mined the miners.” As he trudged through this horrific trail, he began to sense an opportunity. Trump decided to build a restaurant right on that route to serve the legions of hungry miners who were sure to pass by. With a partner, he opened his first location on Bennett Lake in northern B.C. before moving it to Whitehorse, Yukon.
But — and you knew something else was coming — the reason for the restaurant’s success had little to do with the food. Advertisements for the eatery included references to private rooms for women, which, according to Blair, were “widely understood to be prostitutes.” The restaurant in Whitehorse also offered curtained-off areas for gambling. Alcohol, of course, was also served.
After such a long, horrid journey, all these gold seekers now had a place to indulge in fine food, have easy access to women and blow off some steam at the poker table. Say what you will about the Trump family politically, but that’s a pretty solid business instinct.
Sadly for Trump, the good times didn’t last forever. As most of the gold was siphoned away from the Yukon, fewer travellers crossed through the route. Once 1901 rolled around, the RCMP was also about to launch a new initiative to put an end to prostitution and gambling.
“The writing was on the wall that there was going to be a crackdown and cleanup,” Blair said.
Knowing the end was near, Trump left the restaurant in the hands of his partner and returned to Germany with just over half a million dollars in today’s currency. There, he found a wife. But German authorities quickly noticed Trump had never completed his mandatory military service, and soon he was deported from the country back to the U.S.
The rest, as they say, is history. But just to be clear: Frederick Trump immigrated from Germany to the U.S., then moved on to Canada (where he built a fortune using illegal activity), then back to Germany, then to the U.S. He did so in a way that evaded his military duties. Meanwhile, two of Donald’s platform highlights involve closing the border with Mexico to keep illegal immigrants out and beefing up the military as much as possible.