Dawson Celebrates 100th Anniversary of Gold Rush

Reed Travel Features

DAWSON CITY, Yukon Territory -- This northwestern Yukon town, commonly known simply as Dawson, has a place in history like no other in the area.

It was here more than 100 years ago that George Washington Carmack and his two Athabascan Indian sidekicks, Skookum Jim and Tagish Charlie, discovered gold in the river nearby, at a place then called Rabbit Creek, later, for obvious reasons, renamed Bonanza Creek.

They went there in search of fish but laid down their rods long enough to test the truth of a tale the natives told them of the Yukon River's being lined with gold. It was.

What the three found that day in 1896 signaled the start of what would become known as the Klondike Gold Rush. For a year or more, the three methodically and quite secretly lifted a fortune in the precious metal from the riverbed. In 1897, they finally broke cover and brought their fortune out of the wilderness.

When it landed by ship in Seattle the following year, newspapers around the country trumpeted "Gold in the Yukon" and "Huge Gold Find in the Klondike."

The possibility that riches beyond measure were waiting to be plucked from the icy waters of the Yukon River sent thousands of adventurers and dreamers -- and not always entirely savory entrepreneurs -- into the Klondike from all corners of the U.S.

Within weeks, Dawson went from being a sleepy riverside village to a township of 40,000 people, most of them "stampeders." It was not necessarily the kind of place where one would want to raise kids.

For every would-be and often naive prospector, there was somebody trying to relieve him of his grubstake before he had a chance to pan for gold. There were madams and saloonkeepers, thugs and con artists of every stripe.

In the early 1900s, as the gold dwindled, the crowds departed. Dawson reverted to its former life as a one-horse wilderness village.

This year, the town is girding itself for a new rush -- of tourists, not prospectors.

The 100th anniversary of the Klondike Gold Rush has focused attention on Dawson as never before.

Its attractions include the following:

  • The 49-passenger Yukon Queen of Holland America Line, Yukon Queenwhich offers daily roundtrip cruises on the Yukon River as far as Eagle, Alaska, more than 100 miles away. The vessel's staff narrates tales of the Gold Rush and its colorful characters as the vessel makes its way along the "River of Gold."
  • The Palace Grand Theatre, built in 1899 and once used for presentations of everything from low comedy to high opera. After falling into disrepair, it was restored in 1962 and now houses the nightly "Gaslight Follies," a frontier-style vaudeville show.
  • The log cabin of Robert Service, where the poet wrote such classics as "The Spell of the Yukon," with its vision of the Klondike landscape through the eyes of a former prospector ("It's the cussedest land that I know").
  • Diamond Tooth Gertie's Casino, named, so the legend goes, after a woman who had a diamond implanted in her incisor to prevent her ne'er-do-well husband from selling it. Proceeds from the less-than-Vegas-variety games played in the casino go into a fund for the restoration and maintenance of Dawson City's buildings.
  • Guggieville, seven miles out of Dawson on Bonanza Creek, the spot where Car-mack and partners hit paydirt. Visitors to Guggieville can get equipment and gold-panning instructions from local experts.
  • Dawson City is at the north end of the Klondike Highway, about 360 miles from the territorial capital, Whitehorse. It should not be confused with Dawson Creek, 1,000 miles or so to the south, in British Columbia.

    Holland America-Westours offers 12- to 18-day cruise-tour itineraries that feature both Dawson and Whitehorse. Fares start at $2,261 per person, double, including a 20% discount for bookings made by April 17.

    Holland America-Westours

    Phone: (800) 426-0327

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