About Dawson CityDawson City was the center of the excitement caused by one of the world's most fabulous gold strikes. On Aug. 16, 1896, George Washington Carmack and his companions Skookum Jim and Tagish Charlie made the first strike on Bonanza Creek, a tributary of the Klondike River.
In the summer of 1897 miners from Dawson City arrived in Seattle and San Francisco with nearly $2 million as they carried word of the discovery to the United States, then in the midst of a depression. By the next spring more than 60,000 men and women had passed through Seattle and Alaska's Chilkoot and White passes on their way to the Klondike.
The Dawson settlement, which sprang up at the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike rivers, became a thriving city with some 30,000 inhabitants by the summer of 1898, making it the largest city west of Winnipeg and north of San Francisco.
All the creeks in the area had been staked by the spring of 1899. Hillside and bench claims were made, some yielding rich gold finds in the White Channel gravels. Between 1896 and 1904 Klondike creeks brought in more than $100 million in gold.
This period of Dawson City's history has been preserved by Rex Beach, Jack London, Robert W. Service and others who wrote colorful tales of personal experiences.
It was in Dawson City that London became acquainted with a large dog that he named Buck, a cross between a St. Bernard and a German shepherd that became the prototype for the dog in “Call of the Wild.” Daily readings from the works of Jack London are given at a replica of his cabin on Eighth Avenue at Firth Street, part of the Jack London Museum.
A fire destroyed the town center after residents’ 1897 Thanksgiving Day celebrations. The Dawson City Firefighters Museum , across from the ferry landing, displays artifacts, early fire extinguishers, gear, and historic vehicles in order to preserve Dawson City's firefighting heritage; a gallery showcases pictures and art created for the museum. Phone (867) 993-7407 or (867) 993-7400 for more information.
However, many historic buildings—some still in use—do survive from the days when Dawson City was the gold capital of the world. The Downtown and Eldorado hotels conjure memories of a lively past.
Harrington's Store, Princess Street and Third Avenue, has a free photographic exhibit titled “Dawson as They Saw It,” open June through September. The post office and other restored buildings can be seen as part of various Parks Canada tours. Tickets for the tours are available at the visitor information center at Front and King streets.
The summit of Midnight Dome, 7 kilometres (4 mi.) southeast via Front Street, offers a panorama of Dawson City, the Yukon and Klondike rivers and the gold fields. Many Dawson City pioneers are buried in cemeteries on the hillsides flanking the dome.
The Klondike Spirit runs daily paddlewheeler trips up and down the Yukon River; phone (867) 993-5323 for schedule and information.
South on Bonanza Creek Road is the Discovery Claim National Historic Site, the place of the gold discovery that started the great rush. Panning for gold is possible at several locations along the Klondike Highway: Claim 33, Free Claim #6 and Gold Bottom Mine Tours.
The Dawson City Visitor Information Centre features exhibits about Klondike history and is open daily 8-8, May-Sept.
The town celebrates its gold mining heritage during Discovery Days Weekend, a weeklong event held at various locations in mid-August.
Visitor Centers Dawson City Visitor Information Centre Front St. & King St. Dawson City, YT Y0B 1G0. Phone:(867)993-5566
Self-guiding ToursA brochure describing walking tours of historic sites is available at the visitor information center.
Sourdoughs & CheechakosTo distinguish between the fortune seekers who entered the Yukon Territory during the 1897-98 Klondike Gold Rush, veterans of the '49 California Rush labeled the seasoned arrivals “Sourdoughs” and the greenhorns “Cheechakos” (CHE-cha-kos). Named after the staple bread of the frontier, Sourdoughs were prospectors who had survived a Yukon winter. The term Cheechako came from the Chinook Indian word for “new to come.”
Once off the steamer at Skagway, Alaska, these newcomers had to transport thousands of pounds of survival gear—the Northwest Mounted Police wisely required each prospector to bring a year's supply of food—over the precipitous Chilkoot Pass. After that they had to float their unwieldy cargo over the treacherous rapids of the Yukon River.
More obstacles awaited the greenhorns at the gold sites. By the time the Cheechakos arrived, much of the gold field already was depleted or staked. To make things worse, Cheechakos were often directed to the hills by unscrupulous Sourdoughs who knew the gold nuggets tended to settle in creek beds. Nonetheless, some did tap into a channel of an ancient gold-bearing stream on Cheechako Hill.
Those who had survived to see the ice melt were dubbed Sourdoughs; the graveyards of those who had not succeeded dotted the route all the way back to Skagway. As one cynical Sourdough put it: “We were SOUR on the Yukon and didn't have enough DOUGH to get out.”
Things to Do Danoja Zho Cultural Centre
GAMBLING ESTABLISHMENTS Diamond Tooth Gerties Gambling Hall
Dawson City, YT
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