DAWSON CITY ADVENTURE
Grab a drink and put your feet up – this one is REALLY long!
Today was “explore Dawson City” day. My second goal was to have an old-timey photo done with my bike. They don’t normally do outdoor shots, they said, but I told them my story and they agreed to accommodate me! Mission #2 accomplished. 😊
Dawson City is a National Historic Site, so the buildings are all fronted with the Klondike style and where there are sidewalks, they are wooden boardwalks. The high way into town is paved, but the streets of the city itself are all dirt.
I began some of my exploration yesterday afternoon when I returned from the Top of the World ride. There are numerous historical sites in and around Dawson City and the majority of them are easily walkable. Of course, there are tons of shops selling everything from groceries to handcrafted jewellery featuring gold nuggets. You can book a tour to go gold panning or jump on the small paddlewheel boat for a cruise down the river. I didn’t do those things, but I did visit many of the historic sites and museums. Today’s photos will be a slide show again so I can add a caption saying what some of them are.
I stopped by the Visitor Information Centre which is really cool, as visitor centres go. It has some nice displays and the staff are keen and well-informed. I wandered around town in the evening, taking photos all over the place, so you are in for a treat or some boredom today, depending on your interest level and patience!
Front Street follows the Yukon River to the little ferry I took yesterday. There is a trail along the river for quite a distance. The SS Keno is a prominent feature as paddle wheelers brought thousands of fortune seekers, adventurers and entrepreneurs during the peak years of the gold rush. The gold rush was fairly short-lived, beginning in 1896, with the population peaking at 40,000 by 1898. At that time, it was the largest city north of Seattle and west of Winnipeg. By 1899, the big rush was over. A great deal of the individuals and small operators were replaced with larger companies that could mine deeper gold by machine.
The Danoja Zho Cultural Centre tells the story of the Tr’ondek Hwech’in people, and the impact of the gold rush on their community. Chief Isaac recognized early on that the influx of people to Dawson City would impact their lifestyle and culture and moved his tribe to Moosehide. The development of Dawson City came at the expense of their traditional lifestyle by driving away and depleting game and fish in the Yukon and Klondike Rivers. In fear of losing their culture and oral history, Chief Isaac visited a neighbouring Alaskan tribe and shared their traditional dance, story and culture with them for safe-keeping. In 1998, Chief Isaac was part of the delegation of Yukon Chiefs that negotiated land claims and self-governance for Yukon First Nations. The Tr’ondek Hwech’in have recovered much of their traditional teachings and stories. The cultural centre is a very well told and moving story of their past and present.
Starting my stroll on Front Street today, I saw the little Camera Obscura building that I had missed the day before. It’s set up so you go into the little hut and close 2 doors so it is quite dark. On the wall, you can see the images of people going by on the street outside. It was fun to see this as I had recently seen a show about a guy who was trying to figure out how Vermeer did his paintings. This is thought to be one of the techniques. It is also the technique that we use to day to view the eclipse safely!
Though I discovered it yesterday evening, I walked by the Locomotive Shelter again today in hopes that the building would be open. It was not, but I was able to get a photo or two through the window!
The Dawson City Museum was my next stop. I enjoyed this stop very much! Along with period displays of how people lived during the growth of Dawson City, it includes little stories of individuals. The personal anecdotes draw you in and make it all seem more tangible. There is a section on the mining techniques used during the gold rush and great displays of the geology of the area mapped by George Dawson. Dawson, who was appointed Chief Geologist and assigned to lead a scientific exploration of the Yukon, surveyed the Yukon region and defined the border between Canada and Alaska agreed upon by Britain and Russia in 1825.
The upstairs portion of the museum has a courtroom where the circuit judge would sit and is still occasionally in use today. Ironically, the upstairs also has a display about the women who came to the Klondike to live the “scarlet life”. Prostitution was considered a necessary service and was supervised and regulated. There were regular fines and medical inspections that were considered the cost of doing business. The proceeds from this “fund-raising” were donated to charity. In addition to the brothels in town, there were “cribs” (rooms lined up side-by-side) in some streets and alleys where women would ply their trade. A drawn blind meant “I’m busy”. It wasn’t until 1961 that the last brothel in Dawson City was shut down.
The Jack London Museum was next. This has a large centre with photos and a presentation about Jack London’s time in Dawson City. He had arrived hoping to make his fortune in gold but was unsuccessful. In spite of this, he achieved fame and fortune through his stories inspired by his time in the Yukon. Most of us are familiar with Call of the Wild and White Fang. His cabin was discovered by trappers in 1936. They noticed his signature on the back wall. The cabin was dismantled, with half the logs kept in Dawson City where the cabin was re-created, and the other half sent to London’s hometown in California.
A highlight of the day was the Robert Service cabin, down the street from the Jack London Museum. I arrived in time for the presentation. Robert Service was a Scot who came to North America and travelled all over it as a sort of vagabond for several years. He ended up in Dawson City well after the gold rush as a banker and began writing stories about the Yukon. It is said he hated his writing called “poetry” because he was just trying to tell stories in rhyme. Calling it poetry gave it a connotation he wasn’t fond of. By all accounts, Robert Service was an adventurous spirit with a well-developed sense of humour. His poems The Shooting of Dan McGrew and The Cremation of Sam McGhee gained him fame and fortune and have given Dawson City an identity worldwide.
The next highlight was the Berton home across the road from Robert Service’s cabin. I discovered this quite by accident last night and was keen to go back again today. Pierre Berton, was, of course, a renowned Canadian author, television personality and journalist. He lived in Dawson City when he was 12, not returning until his university years when he worked in Klondike mining camps for tuition money. It was cool to find out that Robert Service's last interview before he died was with Pierre Berton.
Ticking off a couple more sites, I stopped by the Commissioner’s Residence but had missed the tour for the day and so just wandered around the grounds. There were also some half-sunken buildings. Reading the story boards, it is permafrost that caused the damage to these buildings. Freezing and thawing turning the soil to muck. As you can see from the many photos of the day, I did a lot of wandering around taking pictures…..
Made a stop at the general store for some nibbles and postcards. I was delighted to see "Baker's Narrows Lodge" fish seasoning on the shelf - a little taste of Flin Flon, MB right here in Dawson City, YT! My food shopping complete, I went looking for the Palace Grand Theatre. They had a “Who’s the Best Klondiker” show yesterday at 4:00 and I was hoping for the same today. Unfortunately, it was not on today. Luckily for me, I ran in to Carol and Bill from Edmonton though! Met them on Front Street yesterday and talked at them for too long, so it seemed like they were old friends when I saw them again today. Such nice folks (or at least patient). They are headed for the Top of the World Highway and Chicken next.
I returned to The Bunkhouse early to write the majority of my blog and headed off to attend a show at Diamond Tooth Gertie’s this evening. All of the performers did a great job. Although as I listened to the canned 50s music between the shows, I couldn't help thinking that Derry could have been doing it live!
As my Yukon adventure nears the end, Dawson City can certainly be considered a high point!
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