The Klondike gold rush of the Yukon region is one of the few episodes in Canadian history that has captured the imagination of people worldwide. Thousands of fortune seekers dared the rigorous trails to mine gold along the creeks feeding the Klondike River. This massive influx of stampeders led to the development of boom towns along the migration routes.
Dawson, a small trading post at the start of the gold rush would become the center of the Klondike gold rush in just two years. Dawson was situated on a mud flat at the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike Rivers. In a single season, it mushroomed to a sprawling boomtown.
Just before the turn of the century, Dawson had grown into a legitimate and prosperous city. At the time, it was the largest Canadian settlement west of Winnipeg with an estimated population of between twenty and thirty thousand inhabitants. It was the time when men instantly became kings for the discovery of gold - This is the story of how the Klondike Gold Rush made Dawson one of the richest and most desired cities in North America.
The Earliest Development of Dawson
When shopkeeper Arthur Harper and gold prospector Joe Ladue decided to take advantage of the influx of people to the Klondike, they laid the foundation for the creation of Dawson city. Ladue and Harper purchased 178 acres of mudflats at the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike Rivers. They formulated a street plan for the new town and brought in timber among other supplies to sell to the stampeders.
At the time, the townsite was referred to as the Harper and Ladue townsite. It was named Dawson after Dr. George Mercer Dawson, the director of Canada Geographical Survey. In about two years, the townsite had grown significantly to house thousands of stampeders. The center of Dawson, known as Front Street, featured hastily built warehouses and buildings as well as log cabins and tents spread across the settlement.
The Arrival of Stampeders in Dawson
At the end of the second spring, after the townsite was created, dozens of rough handcrafted boats drifted into Dawson City. Not long after, thousands of boats would round the Yukon River bend and disgorge their cargo on the Dawson City shores and surrounding river banks. At around the same time, steamboats filled with fortune seekers who took the Rich Man's Route poured into the now bustling town from upriver.
Within a month, Dawson grew from a rough boomtown to a legitimate city filled with people of all nationalities, ethnicities and backgrounds. Many travelers immediately set about putting up shops where they would sell the merchandise they hauled over the Dawson trails.
Klondike Gold Rush and the Rise of Dawson City
Just like with any city developing at the time, initial life in Dawson was filled with many challenges including disease, land shortages, food shortages and fires. However, the large quantities of gold coming through the city as a result of the Klondike gold rush facilitated lavish lifestyles among the wealthier gold prospectors. Saloons, which were open day and night, lined the Dawson streets.
Gambling quickly became a popular activity in the area with the main saloons operating their gambling rooms. A high stakes culture soon developed among the rich of Dawson city with bets running into the thousands of dollars. The establishments located on the aforementioned Front Street had Parisian style grand facades, plate-glass windows, and mirrors. They were even lit by electric light near the end of the century.
A sign of prestige and major status symbols in Dawson City were the dance halls where rich gold prospectors drank champagne at exorbitant prices for the time. The construction of elaborate opera houses brought famous singers and specialty acts to Dawson City. Stories would often be told of wealthy prospectors and fortune seekers spending large sums on entertainment.
Gold dust was the major form of payment then. So much gold was spilled that it was often said that you could make a profit by sweeping the floor. At the top of its height, money was rarely an issue in Dawson city, since Klondike gold was in plenty, and the businesses, which catered to the gold-strapped prospectors thrived. It was during this time that Dawson City became known as the "Paris of the North".
Prospectors and stampeders who became overnight millionaires, often roamed the Dawson streets seeking ways to spend their money. They could purchase the best clothing, food and drink at the time at very high costs. Gambling halls, dance halls, bars, restaurants and supply stores all benefited from the Klondike gold rush in Yukon Territory. Dawson City continued to thrive until the turn of the century where the same fortune seekers left the city in a new rush upon the discovery of gold on the beaches of Nome, Alaska.