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We have now concluded our rafting trip on the Alsek River, a fabulous experience which I will describe in detail when I can post some pictures. In the meantime, we wish you good health and good fortune from the heart of the Klondike Gold Rush, Dawson City, Yukon.
At 64.06 degrees north latitude, Dawson City is located at the junction of the Yukon and Klondike Rivers. It 535 kilometres northwest of Whitehorse, 107 kilometres to the Alaska border and 492 kilometres to the Arctic Circle. At 2100 people, it is the second largest community in Yukon Territory, after Whitehorse with its population of 27,600. The entire Territory only has about 36,800 residents.
Dawson City was a moose pasture and a fish camp used by the local Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in people from time immemorial. After the discovery of gold in 1896, the Klondike Gold Rush drew thousands to the north. The Northwest Mounted Police patrolled the border crossings and only allowed into Yukon prospectors carrying a tonne of supplies. Even then, 30,000 people lived in Dawson City in 1898. At the time, it was the largest city north of San Francisco and west of Winnipeg. In 1900, placer gold production amounted to 1,077,550 ounces of gold. Today, placer gold mining in the area still generates over 48,000 ounces of gold each year.
The gold rush history permeates the city and attracts tourists (and permanent residents) from all over the world. Parks Canada has designated the entire city a historic park and many buildings show its rich heritage. Local shops sell jewellery made from gold nuggets and ivory from mammoths whose remains are found in the gold fields. While I was browsing yesterday at the Klondike Nugget and Ivory Shop (established 1904), a prospector came in to sell the owner vials of gold nuggets or flakes, apparently a common occurrence. Visitors can pan for gold at several claims, tour the original Discovery Claim and the historic Dredge No. 4 at Bonanza Creek. This huge wooden-hulled “gold-panning machine,” designed like a ship to float on its own self-created lake, was used to grind the gravel and sluice out the gold, 24/7. When I first visited Dawson City in the early 1980s, it was derelict and mired in the mud. Restored by the federal government, it is a fascinating attraction. The piles of stone tailings lining the Klondike Highway nearby were left behind by twelve such dredges working the area over the decades, permanent souvenirs of the importance of gold to the local economy.
More on life in Dawson City next time.