Explore the Book
The gold rush era may have come and gone, but Dawson still basks in its golden legacy. Relive an era of transformation in the Klondike and fall in love with the town’s eccentric ways with a journey of personal stories uncut and true. Laura shows us her Yukon, a captivating mix of beauty, lavishness and cruelty.
Discover the Paris of the North
Tea parties, high fashion, exotic fruits — in the 1900s, Dawson had turned the page on the gold rush, the “glory and glitter” beginning to fade. Yet it was still a cosmopolitan city attracting characters from around the world. Bringing vivid memories to life from her single days, Laura recalls many a night at the dance halls, embracing the lively dinner party scene complete with canapes and brandy pudding.
Back then ladies who lived in town would have ‘your day’ and invite the social elite into their homes. Nowadays you can join the locals and bar-hop your way along the dusty boardwalks, capping off the night at Gertie’s Gambling Hall. As Laura remembers, the music selection was always one step behind the modern times but Dawsonites proudly dance to their own beat — it’s still a wild west town at heart.
Become a true sourdough
On arrival in the Klondike, Laura visits a miner’s cabin. The cabin is complete with old baking soda tins filled with remnants of gold dust and tins of flour, water, sugar and rice now widely known as ‘sourdough,’ the bread-making yeast. It was from this that the term ‘sourdough’ was born — describing Yukoners who lasted the winter, watching the river freeze in fall and break up in the spring.
Over the winter months stories of grit and bravery feature frequently in Laura’s stories. From eating boots to bear attacks to Percy the ‘The Iron Man of the North,’ a mail man who made sure the people of Dawson always got their mail, even after falling waist deep into icy lakes with his dog sled team.
Before boats, highways and cars, dogsledding was the leading form of transportation in Northern culture. Visit the Yukon to experience the largest dogsledding event in Canada, the Yukon Quest. A 1600 km race between Whitehorse to Dawson and then onto Fairbanks, Alaska. The route uses the old overland trail with checkpoints along the way, just like Laura’s winter journey back in the day.
A wilderness city is born
In the beginning, Whitehorse was a “sleepy little town” of 300 and quite different from what it is today. Seen as just “a stepping stone between the outside world and the Klondike,” Whitehorse was a base camp to begin the week-long journey on the Overland Winter Trail up to Dawson. Laura made this same journey by horse sled in the heart of winter, staying at primitive roadhouses along the way. Today, you can make a pitstop at the Montague Roadhouse on the Klondike Highway or visit the MacBride Museum to see photos from this time and the remains of the trail cabins. After seeing those you’ll never complain about long car rides again!
In 1920, a “strange machine, which seemed to be all wire and struts” arrived in Whitehorse— the airplane. It was the beginning of a more accessible Yukon, and set wheels in motion to create the thriving wilderness city we know today.
Going with the flow
“Float back to Dawson, live in the open, go to bed in sleeping bags, eat meals on sandbars, catch fish, see wild animals.”
After giving birth in Whitehorse, Laura once again returned to her first love, Dawson. In the summer months, the Yukon River was the main highway with steamboats dominating the waterways. Opting to paddle instead, her husband Frank built a boat and their family of four packed up their belongings and headed downstream. Navigating Lake Laberge, the settlement of Fort Selkirk and then up to Dawson, the journey took two weeks. They camped along the way, cooking porridge and baking bread by burying it in the sand.
Their journey home could be your dream adventure, maybe minus the jelly porridge. Take the slow lane and wind through the wilderness with a group tour or rent your own gear with operators running two week canoe trips on the Yukon River. Make this iconic river journey part of your Yukon tour and see how Laura and Frank were trendsetters before their time.
With firsthand stories of drudgery and decadence, Dawson evolves to take on a new identity post gold rush. As the city slowly downsizes before her eyes, Laura departs for the final time with a heavy heart on the last boat before the freeze up in October 1932. What lasting impressions did Laura’s story leave with you?
- What aspect of Northern life did you find most interesting from Laura’s memoirs?
- She talks often of “missing too many boats,” a code for people who can’t bear to leave the North. What do you think was the Yukon’s main appeal for Laura in comparison to her previous urban life?
- When planning your trip to the Yukon, what’s your preference based on Laura’s stories — dogsledding in the winter or summer paddling on the Yukon River?