Heritage, Arts & Culture
Notable Women of the Klondike
During the gold rush, some women left rich legacies
The discovery of Klondike gold in 1896 began a stampede of more than 100,000 prospectors. The Klondike Gold Rush caused a global movement of people that was unprecedented at the time. Although it lasted just a few short years, the gold rush left a rich historic legacy with stories of triumph, defeat, bravery, and the peculiar madness of gold fever.
While the story of the Klondike Gold Rush and “the men who moil for gold” (Robert Service, a British-Canadian poet and writer, often called "the Bard of the Yukon"), has been covered extensively in history books and pop culture, lesser known are the inspiring stories of several women who either travelled to, or were residents of, the Yukon at that time.
“The story of the Klondike is an epic journey,” says Patricia Cunning, Executive Director of the MacBride Museum in Whitehorse. “For most of the people who came to the Klondike – even those who didn’t make it all the way to Dawson City – it was a defining moment in their lives. While it was adventurous and exciting, it was also dangerous, difficult, and emotionally taxing. The money wasn’t just made in the gold field, and the women were well positioned to mine the miners – and not just at the dance hall.”
Not only was Kate Carmack a Carcross/Tagish First Nation woman, she was also the first woman of the Klondike Gold Rush. In 1896, Kate discovered gold at Bonanza Creek, along with her brother Skookum Jim, Charlie Dawson, and her husband George Carmack. They found a fortune and set in motion the stampede to the Klondike.
Lucile was one of the few black women to travel to the Klondike during the Gold Rush. In 1897, 19 year-old Lucile and her husband Charles Hunter followed the challenging Stikine Trail. It was winter and Lucile was pregnant. Together, they operated several lucrative gold and silver claims. Today, Lucile lies with other members of the Yukon Order of Pioneers.
Martha Louise Munger Black
Daring and fiercely independent, Martha Black did it all. Abandoned by her first husband, she hikes the Chilkoot Trail while pregnant, and built a home and business in Dawson City. She advocated tirelessly for the Yukon. Martha's list of accomplishments include being elected to the House of Commons of Canada and immortalized on a Canadian stamp.
Credited with being the first white woman to travel over the Chilkoot Pass, Émilie established herself as a pillar of the community. She was godmother to 25 children and offered shelter to widows, missionaries, and travellers. She founded Ladies of the Golden North, and opened her own boutique, the Madame Tremblay store, of course.
Kathleen Rockwell a.k.a. Klondike Kate
Gold wasn't the only attraction in Dawson City. As a chorus girl and performer, Kate became known as the best entertainer in town. Her success allowed her to become a wealthy landowner. But it was her qualities of charm, kindness and sincerity that won her the title of 'Queen of the Klondike.'
Armed with an astute business sense and not much else, Belinda arrived in the Klondike determined to make a success of herself. Instead of digging for gold, she decided to mine the miners. She sold luxury goods, then built cabins, a restaurant and a hotel. Perhaps Belinda's crowning achievement was opening the upscale Fair View Hotel in Dawson City.