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Dawson City, Yukon, Canada

Dirt street in Dawson city. Klondike gold mining town in the Yukon.

All About: Dawson City isn’t in Alaska, but it really is part of Alaska’s history. Many souls passed through Dawson City coming or going through Alaska looking for their fortunes. Many perished, a few found gold.

Location / Coordinates:  Dawson City is located south of the Arctic Circle about 150 miles on the eastern banks of the mighty Yukon River where the Klondike River flows into it; about 325 miles northwest of Whitehorse, Yukon; and just east of Alaska.

Coordinates: Latitude 64.04 & Longitude  139.25.

Population / Elevation: Dawson City’s year-‘rounders top 2,000—down considerably from its heyday of 40,000 people. The population swells to three times its normal level during the summer season. Dawson City is a little over a thousand feet above sea level.

Description:  Today Dawson City is just a shadow of its former flashy self. The lure of gold and the fortunes it could provide brought people from around the globe. The colorful history of this area still brings people from around the globe. Many of the original Dawson City buildings have been torn down and rebuilt—not necessarily a bad thing, as these new buildings now have heat and running water. Other original buildings from Dawson City’s gold rush days have been restored to their classical splendor, and still others have been left alone to lend Dawson City some of its famous, or infamous, character from the past.

The excitement, the adventure, and the curiosity of finding gold continues to draw people to Dawson City. It is not an easy place to go to even today. During the gold rush, people from all walks of life, ferried their way to Skagway where they fought off robbers and thugs, trekked their way up and over the very treacherous Chilkoot Pass numerous times (they had to have one ton of supplies before the Canadian Mounties would let them into Canada), make a crude boat with what ever materials they had or could cut down, and then brave the Yukon River and all it could throw at them (it was several days down the river through raging rapids and boring stretches of calm water). Once they arrived, if they did, they had to find and stake a claim. It was dangerous work and for many, they were worse off than before.

Today, driving to Dawson City from Whitehorse is an all-day affair. It’s a long way. Flying to Dawson City is a little easier. There are direct commercial flights from Whitehorse; Fairbanks, Alaska; and connecting flights from Anchorage, Alaska.  More adventurous people canoe down the Yukon River to Dawson City.

What to do there: Get acquainted with Dawson City—both its past and present--and visit Robert Service’s Cabin and hear his famous poem, “The Cremation of Sam McGee.”  The man portraying the poet is quite good and very entertaining—this is a must-do! While your getting to know the history of Dawson City and the surrounding area, take a walking tour of the gold rush city. With a little imagination you can almost hear the plinking of the piano in Canada's only legalized gambling hall, bar, and Can-Can Show, at "Diamond Tooth Gertie's Gambling Hall." The rebuilt Palace Grand Theatre is still quite a show place complete with a dance floor where, in years past, miners would pay the showgirls for a turn around the floor.

Act like a miner! Pan for gold in famous Dawson City, tour the dredges, if you don’t find those little nuggets on your own, there are a couple of shops that have already found some and they’ll gladly sell you some of theirs. Placer mining is still very much a part of this historic gold rush community, recovering gold takes place on the nearby creeks and rivers. If you’re driving you’ll see mining activity from the roads on Bonanza and Hunker Creeks. Those large piles of dirt and gravel that zigzag their way along the creeks are remnants of the dredging that took place here. The tour through the restored Dredge #4 on Bonanza Creek is worth taking.

Golf at the Top of the World Golf Course! Tee off at midnight (summer season only).

For those of you who like winter and winter weather, brave the cold and snow in mid February and be here for the Yukon Quest Dog Sled Race between Whitehorse and Fairbanks. There is a 36-hour mandatory layover in Dawson City.  Later in the spring, is Thaw-Di-Gras celebrating the coming of spring and warmer weather.

History: What once was a summer fishing camp for of the Han People, quickly became a mining boom-town known as Dawson City. The Han People relocated downstream to Moosehide shortly there after. The Klondike Gold Rush began when gold was discovered in 1896 on nearby Rabbit Creek (later renamed Bonanza Creek). Many claims in the Fortymile area were already being worked when the onslaught of gold seekers of the boom arrived at Dawson City. 

Dawson City, Yukon’s first Capitol City, was staked out by Joe Ladue and named after George M. Dawson, Director of the Geological Survey of Canada, who explored the region in 1887. In 1898, Dawson City was the largest Canadian city west of Winnipeg (40,000 people). It was modern in its day with telephone service, running water and steam heat. Elaborate hotels, theatres and dance halls (complete with high-kicking Can-Can girls) were erected in short order. Even Andrew Carnegie donated $25,000 towards the building of Dawson City’s first library in 1903.

The boom ended quickly in 1899, 8,000 people left Dawson City. Many continued their quest for gold and left for Nome, Alaska. Even more left to start another life somewhere else. Soon after, Dawson City was officially incorporated as a city and as the seat of the Territorial Government of Canada. Many of the Klondike gold beds were taken over by major mining companies, but production declined in the next decade. Rising gold-prices caused a mini-boom in the 1930’s but it didn’t last. 1966 saw the last dredge shut down for good. Gold mining in Dawson City was all but over. 

Whitehorse became the capital in 1953 it was more accessible than Dawson City. Dawson City is still home for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Forestry and Mine Recording.

How to get there:  Road, air, the Yukon River. If you’re driving to Dawson City, take the Klondike Loop north from the Alaska Highway at Tetlin Junction. If you are continuing on throught Dawson City to the Top of the World Highway, you’ll need to take the ferry across the Yukon River. RVs are welcome on the ferry, you may have to wait an hour or so as the ferry is small but rather quick to make the trip across and back.  You can also get their from Chicken, Alaska.

Commercial air, or private aircraft are available to Dawson City also. The 5,000 foot airstrip is gravel. Fuel is available and so are customs officials.

More adventurous souls canoe down the Yukon River (it flows north), or down the Kondike River to Dawson City.

Facilities:  Dawson City offers campgrounds, hotels, and Bed & Breakfasts to suit just about anybody. Food is plentiful in the pubs, hotels, and restaurants around town. Shopping for that “perfect” gift or souvenir is no problem in Dawson City—you could spend several days perusing the shops here.

RV info: There are numerous RV parks with full-service sites, showers, Laundromats, internet access and of course gift shops.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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