Dawson City was once a small outpost at the mouth of the Klondike River in the valley of the Yukon River, used by Indians to dry their salmon. This shanty town was transformed, however, by gold rushers who set up timber shacks and canvas tents. Almost overnight, the population ballooned to 30,000. Twenty blocks of commercial buildings were erected, creating the largest city north of San Francisco and west of Winnipeg.
Fine food, cigars, brandy, and women – basically, everything that money could buy – was available. At the time, prostitution was illegal in Canada, but the city’s law enforcement turned a blind eye. Belles in elaborate gowns worked the taverns and saloons and con men and card sharks streamed in, eager to rob weary miners of their new-found riches.
When the gold died out, the miners, cancan dancers, professional gamblers, and everyone else making a living off the miners all left. The population dropped to its current number of around 1,300.
Today, Dawson city attracts visitors who wish to relive or re-imagine the gold rush days. The entire area is scattered with graves of gold rushers who died due to scurvy, the harsh weather, or grizzly bear attacks.
Dawson City’s clapwood buildings and wooden sidewalks have been restored and help retain the spirit of the gold rush days.
Be sure to visit the cabin of the English poet, Robert Service. Like many others, Service came to find his fortune, but was unsuccessful. He did leave, however, a legacy of poems and ballads depicting the harsh life of the miners. At his log cabin, you can practically feel the spirit of Robert Servicing echoing through it.
Near Robert Service’s cabin, you’ll find another cabin of a famous literary name – Jack London. This American short story author popularized the Yukon as a romantic destination. During the warmer months, readings of his Call of the Wild are delivered at his cabin.
The Palace Grand Theatre was built in 1899 by Arizona Charlie Meadows. This flamboyantly decorated theatre and saloon has been restored to look like it did back in the day. In the evenings, you can visit the entertainment centre and enjoy the same diversions that were popular during the gold rush days. Watch the Gaslight Follies and the reincarnated “Klondike Kate”. Another attraction is the Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Gambling Hall, a place that aptly captures the atmosphere that prevailed back in the day when the city was the gold capital of the world. This casino is named after the Belle who was famous for having a diamond between her two front teeth. The gambling joint puts on shows that were similar to those shown during the gold rush days.
“Dawson City.” < http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dawson_City>
Simpkins, Mary Ann. Canada. New York: Prentice Hall Travel, 1994. ISBN: 0671882783.
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