The Klondike Gold Rush

The Klondike Gold Rush was touched off by the August 17, 1896 discovery of placer gold on Rabbit (later Bonanza) Creek, a tributary of the Klondike River, by George Washington Carmack and his Indian brothers-in-law, Skookum Jim and Tagish Charley. This accidental discovery was in fact the result of a tip from a Canadian prospector, Robert Henderson, now credited as co-discoverer. The gold rush that followed was confined that first year to the Yukon interior. Miners already on the scene staked every creek (or "pup") in the Klondike River and Indian River watersheds, including the fabulously rich Eldorado.

Not until the middle of July, 1897 did the outside world learn of the strike, when some of the newly rich pioneers arrived by steamboat on the West Coast. The description of "a ton of gold" in Seattle’s Post-Intelligencer triggered a veritable stampede. The effect on the depressed economy was immediate, as hoarded funds were freed to finance some 100 000 amateur gold seekers who headed north that fall and winter. The richest made the trip entirely by water. The less well-off had to struggle over the White Pass and the Chilkoot Pass, before descending the Yukon River in makeshift boats. Lastly, the most foolhardy took the "all-Canadian" routes through British Columbia or out of Edmonton, and some ended up spending two years on the trail.

Soon, much of Alaska and the Canadian Northwest was dotted with men and pack animals. Every Canadian community from Winnipeg to Victoria was permanently affected by the boom. The Canadian North was suddenly seen as more than just frozen wasteland: Klondike fever was the catalyst for a series of new mineral discoveries. Sixty steamboats plied the Yukon. The new town of Dawson at the mouth of the Klondike, with a floating population of some 30 000 people, became the largest community north of Seattle and west of Winnipeg. This modern town boasted telephones, electricity and motion picture theatres. Prostitution was tolerated; saloons, dancehalls and gaming parlours ran in broad daylight, except on Sundays.

The North-West Mounted Police were in charge of maintaining law and order in Dawson, while the presence of the Yukon Field Force, a military unit, reasserted Canadian sovereignty in a population that had become predominantly American. The Spanish-American War and the new lode discovered in Nome, Alaska, ended the stampede in the summer of 1898. By then, it is estimated that gold seekers had spent some $50 million reaching the Klondike, a sum about equal to the amount taken from the diggings in the five years following Carmack's discovery.

Source: Pierre Berton, "Ruée vers l'or du Klondike ," The Canadian Encyclopedia,, (2006)

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