We stayed at the Klondike River Territorial Park just outside Dawson City, where we took a break to work on the blog and relax. The next day we did a short hike to the Beaver Pond and to see the Klondike River before we began our Dawson City adventure!
No sooner than we had turned out of the Park did a transport truck go by us the opposite way and threw a massive rock into our windshield and gave us the 2nd chip of this trip! We did 1,770 kms of gravel roads without a chip and we get back on asphalt to have damage. This one was quite bad but at least low in the windshield, so we put some clear gorilla tape on it to hopefully stop it from spreading. Later (after we washed the RV) we realized that the stone had also slightly dented the hood so it must have bounced off the hood into the windshield.
Sharon had a full day of touring the gold mining area planned before we got to the downtown campsite we had booked in Dawson City. We turned onto Bonanza Creek road so we could head to Dredge No. 4 which is owned by Parks Canada but they contract out the tours to a 3rd party due to a lack of funding. This meant the tour was a bit expensive at $20/person but our tour guide worked for a local gold miner, so his level of knowledge was incredible. After the 75 minute tour you felt like you could actually run the dredge😉 The Klondike gold mining boom was in 1898 where estimates say that 100,000 people (mostly men) tried to reach this area to become gold miners and only 30,000 made it through and very few actually became rich. Gold is heavier than gravel and rocks so as erosion occurs the gold will settle down to the bedrock. So you need to dig down to the bedrock, through the permafrost, in order to find the gold flakes and nuggets. This type of mining is called placer mining, you are basically digging in the “dirt” to find your gold, hence the expression hitting pay dirt. Dawson area is mainly placer mining. Each claim area cost $10 at the time (and they still only charge $10) and was a 500’ section of the creek with 1.000’ of land on either side of the creek. Typically, the gold miners would start by using pans in the creek, using water to sift through the gravel. Gold is heavier than the gravel and 19 times heavier than water so when panning, gold stays in the pan while other materials wash out. If they found a lot of gold while panning, they would “stake” the claim and work the rest of the area. The first claim in an area was called the “Discovery Claim” and each claim up or down the creek was numbered from that Discovery claim. The Discovery claim on Bonanza Creek by George Carmack and Skookum Jim in August of 1896 is what lead to the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898 and this creek was one of the richest goldfields in the world.
Once the individual miners did the back breaking work and worked their claims then the corporations eventually came in around 1905 and decided to use the dredges to work the claims. They would buy up very large sections along the creeks and move the dredge along beside the creek working the claims. The dredges could work much larger surface areas and they could dig down to the bedrock no matter how deep the permafrost was in that area. In essence the dredge was floating in a pond and the bucket conveyor would bring up tons of gravel and rocks which would then be filtered with water through a revolving screen and the same principal as panning was that the gold being heavier would come out the sluice area and be collected. The dredge had a pivot point and a series of winches and cables that could be used to turn it around inside the pond so it could dig the whole area. The rocks and gravel that were left over would go out the backside and be piled around the pond. The rock piles are called tailings and you can see them all along the creeks. There are still miners operating the claims today, but they use bucket loaders instead of dredges and they are supposed to return the area to it’s natural state by law. Those laws did not exist in the early 1900’s. Even though the dredge was huge it could be operated by only 4 men! They operated 3 x 8 hour shifts from March through late November. They were extremely sophisticated machines for their day and even operated with electric motors. In fact, the corporations built dams and hydro electric stations to feed the electricity for the dredges. Eventually Dredge No. 4 sank and got frozen in the mud. It was a monumental engineering exercise for Parks Canada to dig it out and restore it. I hope this gives you a little background on how the dredges operated and now here are some photos to show you what I have been describing.
Our next stop along the road was the Discovery Claim location on Bonanza Creek where they had an interpretative trail and of course the customary double red chairs for a Canada National Park.
On the way back down the road Sharon wanted to stop at Claim 33 where they would teach you how to gold pan and in turn after panning you could borrow a pan and a shovel and go to Claim No. 6 above discovery and try your luck at panning in the river. Sharon did find some gold flakes at Claim 33 but wasn’t so lucky at Claim No. 6.
Before driving into downtown Dawson City we washed the filthy RV and then decided to go up to the top of what they call the dome to get a view of the city, and boy what a view! Back towards Hunker Creek road which was another gold mining area we could see a massive fire underway and we could smell the smoke in the air. The fire chief even came to the dome so he could see what the fire was looking like from a distance. We then drove into downtown so we could check into our RV park for 3 nights. The great thing was we could park the RV and walk all over town.
Dawson City, what a step back in time! Parks Canada owns 30 of the old buildings in Dawson City and they have a collection of 250,000 artifacts! The streets are dirt and there are wooden sidewalks throughout town so you really feel like you’ve back in the early 1900’s. Our first stop the next day was the Dawson City visitor centre and NP tour office so we could plan out our time in the city. Once we had purchased tickets for a couple of tours we went to the NWT tourist office so we could drop off our Dempster Highway passports and get our official certificate for exploring the highway, her presentation to us was very formal😉
The Klondike National Historic site tours only cost $6.30/person and provide you with lots of historical information and the guides are even dressed in period costumes. Our first one was called Strange Things Done in the Midnight Sun where the guide took us around town and described some of the odd ball people that helped form the town. We visited the harbour where we heard about the strange guy living in a cave on the west side of the Yukon River, he’s been there over 25 years now. In the Post Office (built in 1901) she described how the government built such an elaborate post office to show that they wanted the economy to flourish in Dawson City after the gold rush but then it was too expensive to maintain and heat with 12’ ceilings and single paned windows so they moved down the road. Then we saw Lowe’s Mortuary (operated from 1916 to 1953) where Mr. Lowe would go around town before winter set in and guess which people would die that winter and pre dig graves of their sizes so when the ground froze the grave would be ready. Next stop was the Bank of British North America (built in 1899) where she described that often the people making the most money off the gold rush were the businessmen in the towns servicing the miners not the miners themselves. Last stop was the opulent Red Feather Saloon where the miners would come to spend their money on liquor and ladies. All of the buildings we entered are only open to see on the tours. After the tour we walked around town and saw some of the effects that permafrost has on buildings, second only to fire in terms of damage. This is part of the reason that many of the buildings are now raised up and put on blocks.
About an hour later we had tickets for the Grand Palace theatre to see a show called The Greatest Klondiker. The theatre was modeled after the European opera houses which made it quite ornate for the miners. The owner did a trick with his horse where he rode around the third level above the stage and then eventually had a trap door opened so his horse would fall in a large pool of water on the stage while he grabbed a rope and stayed on the third level! The show we got to see was a bit hokey where they had a host and 3 historical lady contenders for the prize and members of the audience scoring the contestants. It brought some levity while still giving you some historical information about 3 actual ladies that had been in the area in the late 1800’s. After the show more walking around town to get additional Yukon passport stamps.
No trip to Dawson City is complete without a visit to Diamond Tooth Gerties. Housed in a 1901 building the hall was named after Gertie Lovejoy, one of Dawson’s most famous dance-hall queens. You guessed it, she had a diamond between her two front teeth. It’s a gambling hall with 3 different can-can shows a night (8:30, 10, 12) with the 8:30 being the most popular. You pay $15 to get in but that’s good for the season! We managed to get a seat in the upper balcony which gave us a great view of the stage. Gertie and “her girls” along with a 2-man band put on a great show. Lots of colourful costumes, singing, dancing, joking with the audience. We decided to stay for the 10 pm show and it was totally different. We just couldn’t do it to stay for the midnight show! Maybe tomorrow night!
The next morning we did a “walk about” town to get some additional Yukon Passport stamps and see some of the other historic buildings. We’d be here for weeks if we actually went into everyone of them!! The pictures will be our tour of town. After the historical buildings we wandered along the dike by the Yukon River. They’ve had significant floods in the past so the dike was raised quite substantially to prevent further damage to downtown buildings.
We had purchased tickets for the tour of the SS Keno sternwheeler so that was our next stop. They had two costumed guides show you around the ship and answer your questions. We knew a lot about the operation of the sternwheelers from our tour of the SS Klondike in Whitehorse but the function of the SS Keno was slightly different. It operated on the Stewart river from Keno to Mayo and onto Stewart Crossing and mainly transported ore from the mines to be transferred to the SS Klondike for further shipment. The Keno also transported passengers but to a lesser extent.
We were lucky enough to be in Dawson City to see the Yukon River Quest 2019 paddlers arrive. They have a canoe/kayak race on the Yukon River from Whitehorse to Dawson City each year and it takes the lead paddlers 45 hours to make the journey. The first team was two guys and then the second place finish was a voyager canoe with 6 guys in it. Everyone in town comes down to the shore to watch and cheer as the racers come in. They all have trouble stepping out of the canoe’s when they come ashore as they’ve been sitting in the canoe for so long (they do have mandatory breaks along the way). After they come ashore the volunteers go through the checklist of items they must have to make sure everything is in order. It was quite exciting to watch the lead boats arrive. After this we took a look through the scale models they had in the tourist information office.
Sharon’s parents had been to Dawson City in 2009 and her Mom became a member of the Sourtoe Club (#31597). She told us we had to join!! The pressure was on! To become a member, you must drink a shot that has a preserved toe in it!! The toe must touch your lips. We headed out to the Downtown Hotel, bought our shots (they had to be at least 40% alcohol – I guess to kill the germs 😊) and waited in line to get inducted. “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow, but your lips must touch the toe”. We are now members 87,569 and 87,570. One the way back to the RV it was almost time for a show at Getrie’s so we popped in with our seasonal membership card. We went up front, caught a bit of the show then donated some money to the slot machines!
This concludes our whirlwind visit to Dawson City. The following day we head into Alaska for our next adventures.