Dawson City – Centre of The Klondike Gold Rush

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Author: Bob Kenyon

Dawson City, YK.

Dawson City
Photo: Klondike Visitors Association

For some great, summer adventure travel, in the Canadian north…Take a trip back in history, north of Canada’s 60th parallel, to the days of fortune seekers, prospectors, gamblers and dance hall girls, at Dawson City, Yukon, the centre of the Klondike Gold Rush.

The rush began with the August 17, 1896 gold find by George Carmack, Skookum Jim and Dawson Charlie on Bonanza Creek. Later that month gold was discovered on Eldorado Creek (a tributary of Bonanza).

Stories of the Klondike Gold Rush hit the news wires, the following summer when the steamship Excelsior arrives in San Francisco with a half a million dollars worth of gold on board on July 14. Three days later the steamship Portland docks in Seattle and 68 miners unload one million dollars worth of gold in front of a crowd of 5,000.

prospectors chillkoot pass

Chilkoot Pass – Klondike Gold Rush (1897/98)
Source: Wikipedia

Although it was possible, for those with financial resources, to steam to St. Michael in Alaska and travel up the Yukon River; the vast majority of gold stampeders took the tougher route from Skagway, Alaska over the Chilkoot and the White Pass trails. Other less successful overland routes braved the wilderness from Edmonton or via the Stikine River, in which were to become respectfully Alberta and British Columbia.

Over the winter 1897/98 the Chilkoot and the White Pass trails reach their zenith of gold fever stampeders scrambling towards the Klondike. Among these is writer Jack London who trudged over the White Pass. By the spring of 1898, the population of Yukon peaks at over 30,000 and Dawson City becomes the largest Canadian city west of Winnipeg.

The Klondike Gold Rush was relatively short, because in the summer of 1899 gold was discovered on the beaches in Nome, Alaska and the next gold rush begins. 1900 was the year of greatest Klondike gold production. Over 22 million dollars worth is pulled out of the creeks. $2.5 million was pulled out in 1897 and $10 million in 1898.

All that’s left of the gold mining now are commercial operations and there are still gold panners to this day, but many do it for a hobby. As well travelers to the Klondike can try their hand at panning for gold.
Commissioners Residence Dawson City YK

Commissioner’s Residence
Photo: Klondike Visitors Association

Visitors to Dawson City and the Klondike will want to visit the Dawson Historical Complex, National Historic Site of Canada that includes the cabin of Klondike poet Robert W. Service famous for writing “The Cremation of Sam McGee” in his 1907 The Songs of a Sourdough (The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses), which also included “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” The historical complex also includes; Town Core Tour and the Commissioner’s Residence Tour.

Kan Kan Dancer Dawson City, YK.

Kan-Kan Dancers
Photo: Klondike Visitors Association

For nightlife in Dawson City, try a trip to Diamond Tooth Gerties Gambling Hall (Canada’s oldest legal casino) and in addition to games of chance you can take in kan-kan girls and a complete food and beverage service, all presented in true gold rush Klondike style.

For the more adventurous stroll into Dawson’s Downtown Hotel, belly up to the bar in the Sourdough Saloon and order the infamous Sour Toe Cocktail. Its the only place in the world you can. The Sour Toe is the drink of your choice garnished with a genuine, alcohol-preserved, human toe.

The original toe supposedly came from the frost-bitten foot of a stampeder who traversed the Chilkoot Trail, but that toe is long gone. Every few seasons an accidental toe swallower seems to come along. Then luckless Downtown Dick has to find himself another digit. Partakers of the Sour Toe Cocktail receive a certificate for their achievement (people who swallow a toe,  are severely chastised).

There are several opportunities to find out about gold panning and even try your hand at the task. For an example of early mass mining be sure to visit Dredge No. 4 National Historic Site of Canada.

SS Keno - Dawson City, YK

S.S. Keno
Photo: Klondike Visitors Association

For steam transportation enthusiasts, be sure to check out the steamboats of the Klondike, the S.S. Klondike National Historic Site of Canada,and the S.S. Keno National Historic Site.

Many adventure travelers come to the Yukon for the lure of trails, the best known, that is associated with the Klondike Gold Rush is the Chilkoot Trail. This is National Historic Site of Canada and back country treks over the Chilkoot Pass, should only be attempted by persons who are physically fit and experienced in extreme hiking and backpacking. Permits are required and can be difficult to acquire do to the quota system. Dogs are not recommended and open fires are not allowed. You also need to carry your passport, as you travel between Canada and the United States, to complete the trips. Familiarize yourself and your party with the regulations and always check with the park office for bear warnings, trail closures and other regulations prior to departure.

Travelers on the pass should be trained in maps and compass use, proper gear, clothing, food storage/disposal and bear avoidance skills are mandatory! When in the backcountry, in regards to bears and any of the wildlife, trekkers must be aware that you are the intruders and must have respect for all wildlife.

‘The Thirty Mile’ section of the Yukon River can be easily traveled by canoe. Other sections of this river, as well as many others rivers in the Yukon are best for seasoned canoeists.

Summer isn’t the only time to take-in Dawson City as well as many other areas of the the Yukon. For experienced winter adventure trekkers there many opportunities to enjoy cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and the northern, winter outdoor experience of them all dog sledding! Dawson City’s Dog Sled Race is the Percy DeWolfe Memorial Mail Race, held each March. This grueling 210 mile sled dog race (only for the best) follows the Yukon River trail, with some bush trails, depending on the ice conditions. The race is from Dawson City to Eagle, Alaska, and returns to Dawson City, with temperatures ranging from -35? C to +5? C.

Many over-road trekkers take the 671 kilometres (417 miles), gravel Dempster Highway, that crosses the Arctic Circle to the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami community of Inuvik, Northwest Territories on the MacKenzie Delta.

For a trek on the Dempster, 4 x 4 vehicles are suggested. They need to be in top running condition and parties need to be well supplied. The Hamlet of Fort MacPherson is only community along the way. The Gwich’in people of Tetlit Zheh (Tetlit Zheh is the Aboriginal name for the community) have an excellent website, be sure click on the previous link.

In Canada to get to Dawson city by road travel north from Edmonton, Alberta, on the Alaska Highway, through northeastern British Columbia.

Liard Hot SpringsLiard River Hot Springs
Photo: Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park

While in northern British Columbia, be sure to plan a stop at Liard River Hot Springs Provincial Park. This is a natural hot spring, in a very natural setting.

Once in the Yukon, travel to Dawson City, is via the capital of the Yukon Territory, Whitehorse.

From Vancouver, it’s also possible, from late spring to early fall, to book an Alaska cruise. As you will arrive in the American State of Alaska, you will require a passport. Then travel overland (rail, air, road, trek) to the Yukon Territory. Travelers can travel either direction on an Alaska cruise.

Here’s an amazing list of tours and things to see in the Yukon. For information about travelling to and accommodations in the Yukon or other destination in western Canada, click here.

If you enjoyed this Ya’Gotta article about Dawson City, YK. You may also like these other western Canada adventure travel destinations:

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