Centennial Event Traces the Route of Gold Rush Pioneers

Reed Travel Features

SEATTLE -- One hundred years ago, the steamer Portland docked here with a cargo that galvanized the nation and changed the face of Alaska. The load was gold -- a ton of it, taken out of the Klondike rivers and fields and a full year later, arriving in the U.S. Reports of all of that precious metal, and the tantalizing thought that many more tons of it still were to be found in the Yukon Territory, touched off a stampede of would-be millionaires that would become known as the Gold Rush.

Because of the distances involved and the relative primitiveness of transportation and communications in those days, it would be another 12 months, -- 1898 -- before the rush reached its peak. Tens of thousands of miners made their way by sea to Skagway, the closest point of entry to the Klondike's riches. Then they hiked, or rode, or crawled over Chilkoot or White Pass to Lake Bennett in Canada and thence down the rapids of the Yukon River to any likely spot that took their fancies.

They died by the hundreds, of exposure, gunshot wounds, hunger and a variety of deprivations. A few -- very few -- of them even got rich. But they left their marks on the history and culture of the area.

One of the events kicking off the Alaska and Klondike Gold Rush centennials earlier this summer was an reenactment of the journey of that original, stampede-inducing pile of gold. For two weeks, a shipment of gold -- not quite a ton but a symbolic few pounds of it -- reenacted the journey from Dawson City, near where the original strike was made, to Whitehorse and then on to Carcross, all in Canada. Along the way, the locals danced, paraded and celebrated with street fairs and displays of every stripe.

Then the precious cargo crossed the Canadian border at Bennett and was put aboard -- what else? -- the Spirit of '98, of Alaska Sightseeing/Cruise West, for transportation to Seattle and an arrival that was met by a flotilla of pleasure boats, tugs, and fire boats with their water cannons blasting the traditional harbor-entry welcome.

The celebration will last well into the next century, acknowledging the fact that the gold period of 100 years ago did not take place in any one year but lasted a decade or more.

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