Dawson City, heart of the Klondike

On August 16, 1896 gold was discovered on Rabbit Creek (later called Bonanza), a tributary of the Klondike River. When news of the strike reached the outside world the following summer, the Klondike gold rush was on! 100 000 people set off for the Klondike and approximately 30 000 of them made it. By the summer of 1898, Dawson City, at the confluence of the Klondike and Yukon Rivers, had become the biggest city north of Seattle and west of Winnipeg!

We thoroughly explored Dawson’s gold rush history on previous visits, but this time we were there for our nephew’s wedding. Richard and his five siblings were all together for the first time since 2012, so much of our time was spent visiting with family.

With a present population of less than 2000 people, however, the town is small and easy to see. Come take a look around with me.

Built by Arizona Charlie Meadows in 1899, in its heyday The Palace Grand Theatre saw everything from vaudeville to silent movies. Eventually, however, it fell into disrepair. In 1992, the then condemned structure was given to Parks Canada by the Klondike Visitors Association and underwent complete renovation. For many years, it was home to the Gaslight Follies, a high energy musical comedy that played nightly from May to September. Sadly, once more in need of refurbishing, the theatre is presently closed again. Plans to have it reopen in time for Canada’s 150th birthday and the 75 anniversary of the building of the Alaska Highway this summer fell through when asbestos was discovered and progress on the project slowed significantly.

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From 1896 to the mid 1950s, more than 250 sternwheelers plied the waters of the Yukon River. At one time, as many as 70 of these majestic riverboats carried passengers and supplies from Whitehorse to Dawson City. Now the stately SS Keno sits on Dawson’s riverbank welcoming visitors to come aboard for a step back in time.

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The streets of Dawson offer a mix of old and new, often side by side.

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Many buildings remain from Dawson’s early days, some still in use and others reminders of days gone by.

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Even modern structures retain the look and character of historic Dawson.

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Permafrost, a thick layer of permanently frozen soil below the surface of the ground, underlies this northern community and requires special building techniques to keep it from melting. Old buildings like these ones, hastily constructed during the gold rush, show what happens when the frozen sublayer softens.

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No visit to Dawson would be complete without at least strolling by Robert Service’s cabin. It was here that the poet who penned The Cremation of Sam McGee and numerous other northern tales lived from 1909 to 1912.  A costumed actor playing the role of Robert Service offers readings there every afternoon during the summer months.

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The Cremation of Sam McGee begins with the words “There are strange things done in the midnight sun by the men who moil for gold”. The midnight sun is one of the things that I love best about northern Canada in the summertime. Here’s a photo taken at 11:30 PM. As you can see, the sun has dipped behind the hill overlooking Dawson, but it never gets any darker than this!

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The final stop on our virtual tour of Dawson City, the Commissioner’s Residence, built 1901 as to house the government leader of the newly formed Yukon territory, now has a permanent place in our family history. It was on those steps that our nephew and his beautiful bride were married on Saturday, July 8th!

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