the Boyds' Northern Adventure

Trip Map

Dawson City

Scroll down to read our Journal on Dawson City.

For Dawson City photos, click here.

For more Dawson City photos, click here.












Wednesday, August 4 -– Dawson CityLast night was cold, the first night we’ve needed blankets, and I turned the heat on in the morning. But by mid-morning it was shorts and t-shirts again.

With the discovery of gold on nearby Bonanza Creek (originally named Rabbit Creek) in 1996, Dawson City was transformed almost overnight. Most of the prospectors who staked claims on Klondike creeks were already working claims in the North, and those coming the following year in the great Gold Rush found most of the gold-bearing streams already staked. After traveling from Seattle or San Francisco by ship to Skagway, climbing the legendary Chilkoot Pass twenty times or so to transport their ton of goods, passing the winter building a boat at Lake Bennett, and floating down the Yukon River to Dawson City, many simply sold their goods and went home. About 5,000 stayed, a few hundred striking it rich.

Dawson City was Yukon’s first capital when the Yukon became a territory in 1898, but by 1953, Whitehorse – on the new Alaska Highway and railway – was so much the hub of activity that the seat of government was moved there.

Declared a National Historic Site in the early 1960s, the lifeblood of Dawson City is now tourism. Parks Canada is currently involved with nearly three dozen properties in the city. This morning we went on a 90-minute walking tour led by a costumed interpreter, visiting the post office, bank, saloon and other buildings reflecting the diversity of Klondike life that have been restored, reconstructed, or stabilized.

In the afternoon, we went on another guided tour (we were the only ones on it!) of the S.S. Keno. Having seen the S.S. Klondike in Whitehorse, the largest sternwheeler on the Yukon River, visiting the S.S. Keno, the smallest, was equally interesting. Built to transport silver ore from the mining district around Keno Hill (more on that in a few days), she was 130’ long with a 30’ beam. Amazingly, she could float in 18 inches of water fully loaded. The sternwheelers pushed freight barges up and down the river. If the river went around a sharp turn, the barge would be jackknifed around the turn, followed by the sternwheeler.

Although more of a workhorse than a passenger ship, the S.S. Keno held special significance to the community of Dawson City. In the spring and fall, when the Yukon River was at its lowest, the S.S. Keno, with her shallow draft, made the first and last trips of the season from Dawson to Whitehorse. All the shops and the school were closed, and the whole community went to the riverside to send off the passengers on the S.S. Keno, some of whom they might never see again, or to welcome them when they returned in the spring.

Robert Service, the bard of the Yukon, lived in Dawson City for a time (as well as Vancouver, Victoria, and the Cowichan Valley). His cabin is restored and an actor hired by Parks Canada, narrates entertaining details of Service’s life and delivers some of his poems, including The Cremation of Sam McGee and The Shooting of Dan McGrew. I can only describe the presentation as spellbinding – it was entertaining, witty, and exceptionally well done.

Because there are so many hours of daylight, you can have even a late dinner and then go out for more activities. We drove up Bonanza Creek to Discovery Claim, the actual claim that started the Klondike Gold Rush. In the first two years, Bonanza Creek yielded $600,000,000 in today’s terms. We got our gold pans and each tried a couple of pans but didn’t come anywhere close to that figure. It was hardly a surprise, as many of the claims have been worked over a number of times, although there are numerous small operations still extracting gold from claims along the creek.

Further down Bonanza Creek we stopped at Dredge No. 4, another gold dredge that operated from 1905 to 1966 and is now a National Historic Site of Canada. This 8-story behemoth is the largest wooden hulled, bucket-line dredge in North America, processing the equivalent of 68 boxcars of gravel every 24 hours. Until you actually see the trails of tailings expelled by the 12 dredges that worked Bonanza Creek, it’s hard to imagine just how large this volume of gravel is. And it’s also hard to imagine just how rich this area (250 million ounces) was, compared to the California (30 million ounces) or Caribou (100 million ounces) Gold Rushes.

Leaving Bonanza Creek we drove up Dome Mountain, a spectacular 360 degree viewpoint looking down upon the Yukon and Klondike Rivers, Bonanza Creek, and Dawson City. On June 21, the sun barely sets behind the 6,000 foot high mountains to the north.

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Thursday, August 5 -– Dawson City Each time we go to another display providing more details about the Gold Rush, or the geology that creates the circumstances for a gold rush, more pieces of the puzzle in understanding it seem to fall into place.

Such was the case today when we visited the Dawson City Museum. Its exhibits about the three men who discovered the gold, what life was life working a claim, how the unique hurdles that the Klondike Gold Rush presented (permafrost in particular) were overcome, were all very interesting. It was also interesting to learn that within a few years of the Gold Rush, 90% of the claims had been consolidated by large American interests – the Guggenheims – allowing for the economies of scale for the mining dredges to be brought in.

We hadn’t brought our golf clubs with us because of the space, but we couldn’t resist playing 9 holes on the Top of the World Golf Course, Canada’s northernmost grass golf course. There are ones further north on ice! We had been told to watch out for the fox on one of the holes, a long uphill hole. As we were halfway to the green, we noticed the fox to the edge of the fairway further up. Patrick’s next shot went quite close to where the fox was and we found out why we needed to watch out for the fox – it stole the ball! Patrick never did retrieve the ball, which we could see the fox chewing on.

Another National Historic Site here is the Palace Grand Theatre, a beautifully reconstructed theatre with curtained boxes around two balconies. It first opened in 1899, went broke, and was re-opened in 1962. In the evening we all enjoyed a family musical comedy that featured Gold Rush characters.

For more Dawson City photos, click here.