Monday, July 9, 2012

Yukon Territory, Dawson City to Alaska Border


Tue, June 26th - Sun, July 1st

                                                                                                        This is a view of the road that we came into Dawson City on.  You can see some of the piles of tailings from the mine dredging.  Off on all the little side roads along the creeks to the mines there are miles and miles of tailings.  They are kind of piled in ridges.  They remind me of dominoes when you line them all up in a windy line and then knock them over.  They are just everywhere.                  


This view is as we are coming to the downtown area.  Dawson flooded 22 times and five times were really bad.  After a very bad flood in 1979, they decided to put in a dike, which was completed in 1987.  There is now a very nice riverfront park along the dike and a walking trail on top of the dike the whole length of the town.  The views are beautiful.  You can watch the free ferry taking vehicles back and forth across the river from the walkway and the sternwheeler taking folks out on river cruises.

Then we arrived at our campground just a couple blocks from downtown and all the activities.  The campground was decorated everywhere with shovels from the old gold mine dredges.  They were all planted with flowers and a few with herbs and lettuce.  They always find ways to reuse everything in some eclectic kind of way.  I love it! 

This bus was just camped down a couple spots from us.  They were from Europe somewhere and had about sixteen passengers all camping in this combination bus/rv.  When they pulled up, they brought out all of these tables and benches from somewhere.  Then the whole other side of the bus where the bedroom windows are, slid out about three feet and had two legs that went down to hold the corners of the slide.  Very efficient! 

They have everything very well planned out for tourists here.  We bought a multiple pass to see six things of our choice for a discounted price.  They have people dressed in period costumes giving talks and playing parts at most of the attractions.  This is a reconstruction of the Palace Theater that was built in 1898 with seating for 600.  They had all kinds of entertainers here, including plays, concerts, opera, vaudeville and so on.  But they really used it to mine the miners pockets, by selling dances with the "hostesses" for $1.00 each.  The more expensive second floor box seats would include a girl to sit and drink with you, but when you weren't looking, she would pour her glass out into a special place that would get taken away to be rebottled and sold again.  Also, the bottles would be watered down as the miners got drunker and wouldn't notice.  And in the third floor even more expensive private box seats......you get the idea. 

Just a block down from the campground is Diamond Tooth Gerties, the first ever casino in Canada.  She was a real dance hall girl with a diamond stuck between her front teeth.  You pay a one-time $10.00 fee and it is good for the whole year.  They put on an old fashioned chorus line show three times a night, each one different.  The girls are fun to watch, but the gal and guy that sing are just awesome. 

The 8:30 show they do old time numbers from like the 40s that appeal to the really old crowd.  The second show gets a little newer, but for the midnight show they sing The Beatles, Rolling Stones, etc.  They really belt out the songs and the place just rocks!  Plus the chorus line numbers get a little sexier and the guys are just hootin' and hollerin' and whistlin'. 

We went to all three shows the first night.  John even stayed up past midnight!  I went to all three of them again the next night by myself.  I was going to go to the midnight one again the next night, but it was raining, so I stayed home. 

This is Jack London's cabin that he lived in while he was up here during the gold rush for the winter of 1897, after having climbed the Chilkoot Pass.  It was the trip that gave him his inspiration for books like "Call of the Wild" and "White Fang", which are still in print and translated into fifty languages.  I remember my Dad taking us kids to see "White Fang" in the movie theater when we were quite young, probably the only movie he ever went to in a theater.  Jack's cabin was found on Henderson Creek in the gold fields in 1936 by a trapper.  Author/historian Dick North, also from Dawson City, heard about it in 1965 and organized a dog sled trip to find it again and he was responsible for saving it and getting it moved into town.  Jack had carved his name into one of the interior logs in the cabin.  I had never heard of Dick North, but one of his books is "The Mad Trapper of Rat River", the true story of Canada's biggest manhunt.  Jack London wrote 53 novels.  He wrote a thousand words a day for 17 years, about 6.25 million words.  There was a lady here who gave a very nice talk about his life.  The cache next to the cabin is where food and furs were stored safe from wild animals.

Just a block away is the cabin where Robert Service, "Bard of the Klondike", lived after the four years he was a bank teller here,  having been a teller in Whitehorse for three years before that.  He had written many poems, including "Spell of the Yukon" and "The Shooting of Dan McGrew", but never told anyone about them.  One day a lady who did his laundry was putting it away, when she found some of his poems in a drawer.  She encouraged him to try to publish them.  When he sent them in to McMillan they loved them and said they would take all he could write.  When the money started piling up, he decided he could afford to quit his bank job and buy his dream cabin that he intended to live in the rest of his life.  He wrote over 2,000 poems  and was a major reason for the success of McMillan Publishing.  He was a war correspondent during WWI and an ambulance driver and he eventually moved to the Brittany on the south coast of France.  The guy at the cabin told about his life and recited several of his poems.  Across the street from his cabin is the home of Pierre Berton, noted author of fifty Canadian history books, who was just a young boy when Service lived here in the cabin.   He donated his family home to be used as a writer's retreat.  I guess you could say this was kind of a "writer's block". 

This is the Commissioner's home that we toured.  Even though it was difficult to get things up here, with the abundance of gold, money was no object, and they had lots of unheard of luxuries like telephones, fancy light fixtures and furnishings, designer clothes, etc.  With 30,000 people Dawson was the largest city west of Winnipeg and north of San Francisco.  It was known as "the Paris of the North". 

This was originally their Territorial Government Building and later the Courthouse and now is a very nice museum.  They were the Capitol of the Yukon from 1898 until 1953 when it was moved to Whitehorse.  In 1897 Joe Ladue bought lots to start the town of Dawson and sold them for $5.00 during the winter of 1898.  By summer he was selling them for $5,000.  The population went from 25 to 5,000 in less than a year and over 30,000 in two years.  The gold rush ended in 1899 and he went home to New York a rich man and married his childhood sweetheart. 


There were originally four warehouses like this covering one city block and others throughout town.  They only had about four months when they could get goods shipped in.  For eight months of winter they were virtually cut off from the rest of the world.  So they really had to stock pile all the goods they could while the sternwheelers could get through. 


We walked by this little house many times.  It is covered with electric meter boxes.  There's probably a story behind it, or it's just one of those quirky little things northerners do to mess with your mind.  All sun or no sun tends to make them ...????   




The sign next to this building says, "Don't laugh at me!  I am over 100 years old.  I'm rusty and crude looking, but during the time of the gold rush, builders didn't have a lot of choices for materials.  So they used old flattened barrels for siding, and here I am!  THE WALL".  It reminded me that we saw an old house in Mayo that had flattened red gas cans for shingles, because of shortage of metal during World War II.  They actually looked very nice, layered in a diamond shaped pattern. 


In the background is the S.S. Keno Sternwheeler Museum that we went thru.  Across the street was the free Fire Department Museum which we forgot to go to.  In the foreground is the bank that Robert Service was a teller at and lived in the upstairs until he bought his little cabin.  This bank is one of the few buildings downtown that haven't been restored.  I thought it was interesting to show that they only cared about the sides that faced the street.  This shows the backside that faced the river.  Also, it is all tin siding made to look like stucco or concrete. 


This is a brand new Masonic Lodge built in 2000.  I thought it was an older concrete or stucco until we walked up to it.  It is also just stamped metal made to look expensive and it looks very nice. 



One evening we hiked up the hill behind town about a mile and a half to check out the cemeteries.  They have about seven or eight different ones all in the same area.  I think this was the original one with some of the oldest graves.  There were about 32 rows of crosses way back into the trees.  Most all of the graves are marked with a cross or a wooden marker, due to permafrost issues and no head stone materials.  There are just a couple of stone markers and a few made out of tin to look like fancy stone markers.   

                                                                                                       This is the YOOP Cemetery.  What's a YOOP, you might well ask.  It's the Yukon Order of Pioneers, of course.  The YOOPs were founded in1894 at Forty Mile Camp to look out the older miners.  Lodge #1 still meets monthly in Dawson City focusing now on helping those in need in their community.  There was also the Artic Brotherhood.  The last one died in 1956 since you had to have come during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898 to be a member.  Their motto was "No boundaries here".    
This is the RCMP Cemetery, Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  The average age in this cemetery appeared to be about 25.  I guess a large number of them were involved in some sort of drowning incident.  At the height of the gold rush, Dawson City had 30,000 people and the Northwest Mounted Police in the Yukon numbered 285, a full 1/3 of the force's national complement.  In 1995 the RCMP policed a half million square kilometers in the Yukon with only 110 officers in 13 communities.  The wonders of modern communications and travel.    
This one appears to be the regular city cemetery.  If you see the tall white monument in the center way in the back, that one is made out of tin.  There were so many deaths from diseases during the gold rush, that they planned ahead and dug many graves before the winter set in.  When those ran out, the undertaker had added on a big addition where he just stacked the frozen bodies until spring when they could dig more graves.     
This one appears to be for the Fraternal Order of Eagles #50 started in 1900, with a special section for WWII Veterans.  There was also a Masonic Cemetery and a Catholic one and a Jewish one.  They were big on fraternal organizations for the social aspect, I think.                                                       
 Before we left town we drove out to tour Dredge #4, the largest wooden-hulled, bucket-lined gold dredge in North America.  They started using dredges in early 1900s with backing from wealthy American investors like the Guggenheims and Rothschilds.  There were 27 dredges at the peak. 35 dredges were built in the Klondike from 1899 to 1966.  #4 was 8 stories high, 140 feet long, weighed 3,000 tons and was digging one dump truck per minute.  It had 72 of these buckets on a continuous belt holding 16 cu. ft. each, dumping 22 buckets per minute, processing 18,000 cu. yds. of gravel in 24 hours.  It could do the work of 156 men with pick and shovel with just three men operating it.  It cost almost half a million dollars and paid for itself the first year.  It was powered by electricity from a hydro plant 30 miles away and when it moved, the power lines had to be moved with it.  It was on Bonanza Creek where gold was first discovered, starting the Klondike Gold Rush.  The Upper Bonanza Dam collapsed in 1960 sinking Dredge #4 in it's own pond where it was abandoned and became covered with silt and was perfectly preserved.  It was raised in the '90s and restored to be a museum.  It was very interesting, but they say current funding issues will cause it to be shut down soon. 


A little further up the road is the site of the original discovery of gold on Rabbit Creek, which would later be called Bonanza Creek.  There is a little park hear with interpretive signs and trails explaining the workings of a mine.  The gold was discovered by George Carmack and his native wife, Kate, and her brother Skookum Jim.   


This shows the exact spot where they first found the gold.  There was an error made in the claims along the river and the mining stakes had to be resurveyed.  When they were done there was 89 feet left over between 2 & 3 above Discovery Claim.  The surveyor's helper staked a claim on that small fraction of land.  He was a seasoned prospector from the Black Hills of Dakota.  He retrieved over a half million dollars from his claim and squandered every penny.   It was not uncommon for some of the richest miners to end up in poverty.  They always thought there would be more. 

There were 300 "ladies" plying their trade in Paradise Alley at the height of the gold rush.  Then they were forced to move to the other side of the river officially called Klondike City, but commonly known as lousetown.  The ladies were required by the Mounties to have twice monthly check ups which they piad fees for plus they paid numerous fines.  These funds were used to care for the sick and needy. Their numbers decreased greatly as the miners moved on to gold strikes in other places like Nome, Alaska.  They decreased even more after WWI, but the last one was not closed down until 1961.

As we drove back toward town, we spotted this cross fox walking by some tailings.  It is a cross between a red fox and a silver fox.  It's July 1st today, Canada Day, with parades and such going on.  In Dawson City the last finishers of the 2012 World's Longest Annual Canoe & Kayak Race (444 miles from Whitehorse to Dawson) are in and everyone is in celebratiion mode.  They left Whitehorse at noon on Wednesday and the winners were here a little after noon on Friday.



Getting ready to take the ferry across the Klondike River.  We just saw it take a big semi tanker truck across, so it should be able to hold us all right.  The guy is waving the slow sign, come on a head, so here we go. 





Well, duh!  I was just about to reach for my life jacket!  There is an ice bridge here for large trucks to cross in the winter.  The average ice break up date in the spring was May 9th in gold rush days.  Since 1898 the ice has broken in April only seven times and five of those times have been since 2000.  Just a little global warming trivia.


Top of the World Highway and on to Alaska where we will finally be able to use our phones again and our WiFi air card for the computer.   The Yukon is the second longest river in North America flowing 2,000 miles to the Bering Sea.



We saw this rock on our hike through the woods coming back down the hill from the cemeteries and it is my wish for you all today.

 Tarra

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