©Bert Gildart: We departed Dawson City, Yukon, two days ago and are now in Whitehorse. Nevertheless, Dawson is much on our minds, and is one of the most magnetic settlements we’ve seen.
The Dawson area was first explored by the Tr’ondëk Hwech’in, a group related to the Gwich’in. The spelling is different, but the pronunciation is the same. So taken were Janie and I by our acquaintance with this group of Native Americans and their determination to preserve the Porcupine Caribou herd–and the land upon which the herd depends–several years ago we devoted an entire page of our website to the group. Pictures for the Page were acquired through our several years of teaching among this group, and from our various travel among the Gwich’in. These travels include a month-long unassisted hike through the Arctic Refuge and by our four months of river travel in our johnboat on the Yukon and Porcupine rivers. (Adventures from these travels have generated many stories. )
Today, though the Tr’ondëk Hwech’in have been absorbed to some degree, they still have a settlement just south of Dawson. In the summer, they hold an annual Gathering several miles down the Yukon at the old settlement of Moose Hide. People of all cultures, we’ve been told, are welcome. You will, of course, need a boat to access the Gathering as roads in this part of the country are scarce. (Often while attending these gatherings, we’ve meet interesting and influential Native people: Trimble Gilbert, Sarah James.) Assimilation of Hwech’in began with the gold rush of the 1890s.
KLONDIKE GOLD RUSH
As a white settlement, Dawson evolved from the world-famous Klondike Gold Rush. In August of 1896, three Yukon “sourdoughs”, George Carmack, Tagish Charlie, and Skookum Jim found gold in Rabbit Creek, now called Bonanza Creek, and changed the history of the World.
As the Dawson website says, “Their discovery triggered what was arguably the world’s greatest gold rush stampede as nearly 100,000 souls yearned to strike it rich in the Klondike gold fields. By 1898, Dawson City was a modern city of nearly 40,000 and the largest city North of San Francisco and West of Winnipeg “
Click to see enlarged image: L to R: Bikes work best, confluence of Yukon and Klondike (foreground), Dawson museum traces history of all cultures, Jack London cabin.
Today, Dawson City is alive and well, a community of 1,800 that has endeavored to hold onto its history and heritage. The streets remain dirt and the buildings have been restored to represent the gold mining period. On main street one of the old sternwheelers has been permanently moored and can be toured. When we first arrived in Dawson from the Top of the World Highway, we thought the boat and dirt street would make an interesting setting for our Airstream.
BIKES ARE BEST
We believe the best way to enjoy the town is by bicycle, and from our campground in Dawson, we rode to Diamond Tooth Gerties, the Jack London & Dawson City Museums, the Robert Service Cabin, and the Danoja Zho Cultural Center. We also cycled to the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike rivers. For most who hiked the Chilkoot, the confluence was their destination. (This is, incidentally, a countdown, for on August 12, I’ll be hiking the Chilkoot with Adam and Sue Maffai, a couple Janie and I have come to know well through our mutual Airstream travels.)
On departure from Dawson, we stopped by the immense piles of tailings, which stretch on for mile after mile. Perhaps it is this setting that best reveals the compulsion of the thousands of miners who hoped to find their Bonanza. Not all found it but some, such as Robert Service and Jack London, found their Bonanza in other ways…
We believe we’ve found our Bonanza in these remote lands, and hence forth may sign correspondence as Belle Janie and Skookum Bert. As such, we believe we are well acquainted with the area, and have suggested books below that may help you should you venture north.
They are ones we now own.