Travel back to 1896 and start at the beginning with Pierre Berton's epic historical novel of the great gold rush frenzy that gripped the world. From the first prospectors at Forty Mile to the chance discovery at Bonanza Creek and the birth of Dawson City, Klondike is your go to source for everything GOLD.
In the 1890s, gold was the magic word. The discovery by Shaaw Tláa (Kate Carmack), Keish (Skookum Jim Mason) and Káa Goox (Dawson Charlie) of the Carcross/Tagish First Nation, along with Kate’s husband George Carmack, set off a chain of events where ordinary men were striking it lucky and finding gold to make them rich beyond their wildest dreams.
Step into the shoes of Dick Lowe, a working class dreamer who arrived in Dawson searching for a claim. Left with just a tiny scrap of land he believed to be worthless, he picked up a shovel and started digging. Against all odds, he hit the jackpot. As it turns out, that small lot contained gold worth half a million dollars.
Today, you can revisit the scene of the discovery and go gold panning near Bonanza Creek. Or, go against the mainstream and hike up the nearby Klondike hills. Keep your eyes peeled for the white gravel beds, if you find them, keep tight-lipped— this is where amateur miners found elusive buried streams that revealed hidden gold.*
*The gold rush made a dramatic contribution to shaping the culture of the Yukon today, however it’s important to note the global surge of gold-seekers was not always positive. The impact of development and colonialism on the land and First Nations people who had lived there for thousands of years are still felt today.
The era of sensational news journalism was in full swing. The prospect of gold dominated front page headlines with tales of fortune and glory.
"Just far enough away to be romantic and just close enough to be accessible."
Yet you shouldn’t believe everything you read in the papers. Hundreds and thousands of prospectors made the journey by boat to Skagway, but were unprepared for the challenges to come. Caught up in ‘Klondicitis’ fever, many men abandoned their winter supplies, as the race to be the first to find gold began.
But in a town where onions were sold for five dollars, that’s $170 today, it was not the paradise they had envisioned. With the threat of starvation looming in Dawson, Pierre Berton takes us back to the desperate times on Klondike shores. As anxious, hungry miners awaited the supply boats that could help them through the Yukon winters.
These days, making your way to Dawson is far more comfortable. Fly into Whitehorse and grab a connection to Dawson from there, or rent a car and travel overland up the North Klondike Highway.
“Klondicitis” may be no longer, but the call of the Yukon still lives on...
In 1896 the Chilkoot Pass, perceived as the quickest route to the Yukon, came to be a symbol of the stampede.
“Whisky and silk, steamboats and pianos, live chickens and stuffed turkeys, timber and glassware, bacon and beans, all went over on men’s backs.’”
If a man was too poor to hire a packer he could climb the pass up to forty times before he got his outfit across.
For keen hikers, the Chilkoot Trail is now an achievable adventure. And good news, you don’t need to carry supplies to last you a year. Book your permit and backpack the 3-5 day hike independently or join a guided tour. Scale the infamous golden stairs and marvel at the bright blue waters of Bennett Lake, a vision of utopia for many a weary gold-seeker. Then, complete your final leg of the journey to Carcross aboard the White Pass Train.
Before the tracks were built, this alternative route was also made by foot. Less steep than the Chilkoot but harder in terrain, it was known eerily in the 1890s as the “Dead Horse Pass.” These gruelling journeys over the mountains are brought to life by our writer Pierre with detailed step-by-step stories of men and women tested to the extremes, determined to survive in their insatiable pursuit of gold.
In 1898, the Spanish-American war began and the media pivoted their attention away from the Yukon. Word reached the Klondike of new gold claims in Nome, Alaska and thousands left to pursue the next big find. The Klondike Gold Rush was over as quickly as it began.
The media played an influential role in selling stories of grandeur, and sending people to the Yukon. The Gold Rush could be compared to a digital trend gone viral. Can you think of a modern day equivalent in the 21st century?
Many of those who found gold spent all their riches in Dawson, while a select few built successful empires. Would you be more gold-savvy? Using some of the characters as inspiration, how would you invest your riches back in gold rush times?
In times of survival, our true character is often revealed. What do you think was going through the minds of the prospectors crossing the Chilkoot Trail and White Pass?