Plaque Texts

The commemoration of the discovery of gold in the Yukon was first proposed by the Acting Gold Commissioner, G.I. McLean, in October, 1925. The HSMBC [Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada] approved this idea at its meeting in May, 1926. In its first experience, the HSMBC spent almost a year collecting fascinating letters from Yukon old timers and miners and reviewed historical sources. F.W. Howay, the Board member for British Columbia, soon became well aware of the difficulties and thankless task of assigning credit for the famous discovery. However, he eventually prepared a commemorative plaque text in February, 1927. Because of the difficulties, Howay made a point of avoiding the discovery itself and focused on the exploration activity which was less troublesome. In a Feb. 21, 1930 letter to J.B. Harkin, the Canadian Parks Commissioner, he wrote; We are purposely avoiding the Klondike rush of ’98 and doing homage to those who pioneered the way. The bronze plaque was placed in the doorway of the

Territorial Administration Building on Discovery Day, 1932.

Plaque text of 1927
To the memory of the indomitable
prospectors and miners, who braving
extreme dangers and untold hardships,
crossed over the Chilkat and Chilkoot
passes into the unexplored valley of the
Yukon, and thus paved the way for the
discovery in 1896 of the rich gold fields
with which the names Robert Henderson
and George W. Carmacks are inseparably

Twenty-seven years later, as part of the general evaluation of sites related to the Klondike Gold Rush, the HSMBC decided to tackle this thorny issue once again. At their 1959 meetings they recommended the commemoration of the Original Gold Discovery in the Klondike. On July 2, 1962, the new plaque, located on one below, adjacent to the original Discovery Claim, was unveiled by Klondike old-timer, Harry Leamon.

Plaque text of 1958
Tipped off by veteran prospector Bob
Henderson, George Carmacks and his
fishing partners, Skookum Jim and
Tagish Charlie, searched the creek
gravels of this area. On August 17, 1896,
they found gold and staked the first four
claims. A few days later at Fortymile,
Carmacks, in his own name, registered
the Discovery Claim where this
monument stands. Within days Bonanza
and Eldorado Creeks had been staked
from end to end and when the news
reached the outside the KLONDIKE
GOLD RUSH was on.


It was only in 1971, however, that a reserve on the lands in the vicinity of Discovery Claim was established and lapsed claims within it were transferred to Parks Canada to become the Discovery Claim

Reserve. The Klondyke Centennial Society is currently the holder of the original Discovery Claim within this reserve. Minister of Northern Affairs and Natural Resources, Walter Dinsdale, remarked at the unveiling: This is where the most famous gold rush in Canadian history began....The Discovery Claim filed by Carmack is the first Discovery claim in the Klondike field to be recorded.... While this historic site preserves and identifies the Klondike Discovery claim, it is implicitly dedicated to the prospector of Canada, the restless explorer who has blazed trails into the farthest corners of our mineral-rich nation. Thus the 1962 commemoration retained the original purpose of commemorating exploration and, with the explicit note on the Klondike Gold Rush and the names of the aboriginal participants, added additional meanings to the commemorative intent of the Discovery Claim site.

Plaque text of 1972
The names Robert Henderson,
Skookum Jim, Tagish Charlie and George
Carmacks are inextricably linked to the
discovery of gold on Bonanza Creek.
Henderson was the first to systematically
explore the gold bearing potential of the
region, only to have the major find elude
him. Then on 17 August 1896 Jim struck
gold, and with his companions Charlie
and Carmacks staked the first claims. A
few days later at Forty Mile, Carmacks
in his own name registered the Discovery
Claim where this monument stands.
Within days Bonanza and Eldorado
Creeks had been staked and when the
news reached the outside the Klondike
Gold Rush was on.

In the early 1970s, growing awareness of First Nations’ issues in the Yukon also led to a re-consideration of the Discovery Claim commemoration. Extensive and detailed research by a Parks Canada historian in the historic record provided an answer to the touchy question of discovery. On the strength of this work the Board recommended:

(1) that the plaque to Discovery Claim be replaced by one bearing a new inscription recognizing Skookum Jim as the discoverer of gold on Bonanza Creek...;

(2) that due credit should be given to Skookum Jim in the interpretation of the Gold Rush in the proposed new Park. After considerable local controversy, the Minister approved a new plaque text in 1972. This plaque replaced the 1962 effort and was erected on the Discovery Claim Reserve in the later 1970s. The new text clarifies the roles of the individuals involved, but otherwise made no significant additions to commemorative intent.

In 1981 the HSMBC recommended yet another text revision to the commemorative plaque. As before this revision sought to appropriately represent all groups involved in the history of the Yukon basin from 1875 to 1900 and to set this history within a larger historical context. Although approved, this plaque has not yet been erected.

Discovery Claim was noted by the Board again in 1987 when it recommended a modest level of interpretation ... to focus on the character of mining activity during the period of labour intensive mining in the Klondike (1896-1905). This recommendation included explicit direction to do this interpretation as a complement to the gold rush history presented in Dawson. The ongoing consideration of the Discovery Claim commemoration by the HSMBC to the mid-1990s had centered on two main features; the efforts of early prospectors and miners to find and develop northern mineral resources and the actual gold discovery that led to the Klondike Gold Rush. While the discovery of gold in the Klondike had long been considered an event of national historic significance, the site itself was not designated until July, 1998. The Boards recommended that Discovery Claim be considered a site of national historic significance because "[the site] marks the beginning of the [economic and administrative] development of the Yukon. For the Aboriginal People, this piece of land is an affirmation of their cultural values and world view. That this discovery and the approximate location had been foretold to Skookum Jim by his frog helper... imparts to this ground significance for the Aboriginal community. From an economic and administrative perspective, Discovery Claim and the three other claims which were filed on the same day by Carmack, Skookum Jim and Dawson Charlie (sic), mark the hub from which all else followed. From a western perspective, the site affirms the nineteenth century belief that through hard work and perseverance one could rise from poverty to riches."

This most recent designation affirms the importance of the Discovery Claim site as a place where different cultures met and shared a significant experience but with culturally distinct understandings of its importance.

Plaque text of 1981 (not yet erected)
The discovery of gold on Bonanza
Creek in 1896 and the rush to the
Klondike in 1897-98 marked the
culmination of 20 years of prospecting
and mining in the Yukon. Although gold
was reported in the region in the 1840s
it was not until the 1870s that the area
attracted men who were interested in the
mineral potential of the Yukon. Their
coming was part of the northward
extension of the western gold mining
frontier. The precursors of 1897-98 -
white and native, male and female,
prospector, miner, missionary and
entrepreneur - laid the groundwork for
the great Yukon gold rush.

Source: , , , na, Plaque Texts, October 5, 2000.

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