Gold. There was a time when men–and women who could–went wild at the chance to make it big on the goldfields. They spent months on their claims, stooped over panning for gold, hoping against all odds for the nuggets that meant wealth and the granting of dreams. Few found what they were looking for, although many tried.
Dawson City celebrates history’s most famous goldrush, the Klondike Goldrush (also known as the Yukon Goldrush and the Last Great Goldrush) every August with its Discovery Days.
While Dawson is small, it’s a great place to visit, especially during the many events happening through Discovery Days. My trip began with a flight into Whitehorse, and a 525 km drive to Dawson City over the Klondike Highway. I’d already visited once in the winter, although that time I arrived by snowmobile with my husband on the Trek Over the Top event.
This time I was looking forward to warmer temperatures and sunshine–which I got, since it was still light at midnight each night!
I stayed in Dawson City for four days, and it was still tough to fit in all the events and tours I wanted to do. I put together this slideshare to take you on a tour of the key events I participated in and the places I toured:
Why celebrate a goldrush?
The Klondike Goldrush attracted over 100,000 men and women after word got out about the August 17, 1896, discovery of gold on Rabbit Creek–later renamed Bonanza Creek–by George Carmack, Dawson Charlie and Skookum Jim. In January, 1897, Dawson Creek consisted of five houses, although by spring there were 1400 in a city of tents. Within a year over 2.5 million dollars worth of gold had been mined and the rush for gold was on in earnest.
- In total, about 100,000 people set out for the Klondike, while around 40,000 actually made it
- While the goldrush started in the summer of 1896, the majority of people arrived later along the Trails of ’98
- Hopefuls arrived to find costs outrageous–a lot in Dawson cost $40,000 and a single room rented for $100 a month
- In July, 1898, Dawson was the largest Canadian city west of Winnipeg and north of San Francisco
- The North-West Mounted Police (later became the Royal Canadian Mounted Police) maintained the order
- The Canadian government built large, impressive government buildings including a post office, Territorial Government building, and Commissioner’s Residence in the hopes of keeping the boom alive
- Most of the gold taken out of the Klondike was by placer mining, a technique that extracts the gold by methods such as sluicing and panning
- A fire at the end of 1898 destroyed half a million dollars worth of real estate, while one in April, 1899, destroyed 117 buildings valued at more than $ 1 million
- In 1902 Dawson was incorporated as a city, and the population had fallen to 1000 people as many miners left to pursue the next big goldrush at Nome, Alaska
- After 1902 dredge mining became popular, with 1911 yielding an all-time high for gold mined
- The last gold mining dredge closed in 1952
- Placer mining is still popular and regulated
- Dawson City currently has a permanent population of around 2000 people and is one of the largest centers for tourism in the Yukon
Dawson City still has a draw for people even if it isn’t with the hopes of making it rich in the gold fields. For some, it’s the adventure of visiting one of the last great frontiers made famous by such writers as Jack London, Robert Service, and Pierre Burton. For others, it’s the experience of stepping back through time as many of Dawson’s buildings have been restored and even the sidewalks are still wooden, as they were a century ago.
And me? Why did I put Dawson City Discovery Days as Stop #25 on my great summer staycation, where I revisit places I’ve spent time at in summers past? For me it truly was the romance of history and the glimpses into a time and place where so many went in search of their dreams. Visiting, I found Dawson all about enjoying life, no matter where you came from or what you did or what you were going to do when you left. And who doesn’t enjoy the chance to stop and dream awhile?
This video by Jim Reeves does an amazing job of capturing the spirit of the Yukon with the words of Robert Service’s poem, The Spell of the Yukon:
Klondike Visitors Association
PO BOX 389C
Dawson City, Yukon Territory, YOB 1G0
Tel: (867) 993-5575 Fax: (867) 993-6415