Introducing Dawson City
If you didn’t know its history, Dawson would be a delightful place to pause for a while, plunging into its quirky culture and falling for its seductive funky vibe. That it’s one of the most historic and beautiful towns in Canada is like gold dust on a cake: unnecessary but damn nice.
Set on a narrow shelf at the confluence of the Yukon and Klondike rivers, a mere 240km south of the Arctic Circle, Dawson City was the center of the Klondike Gold Rush. In 1898 more than 30, 000 prospectors milled the streets – a few newly rich, but most without prospects and at odds with themselves and the world. Shops, bars and prostitutes relieved these hordes of what money they had. But Dawson’s fortunes were tied to the gold miners and as the boom ended, the town began a decades-long slow fade.
The territorial capital was moved to Whitehorse in 1952 and the town lingered on, surviving on the low-key but ongoing gold mining industry. By 1970 the population was under 900. But then a funny thing happened on the way to Dawson’s demise: it got rediscovered. Improvements to the Klondike Hwy and links to Alaska allowed the first major influx of summertime tourists who found a charmingly moldering time capsule from the gold rush. Parks Canada designated much of the town as historic and began restorations.
Today, you can wander the dirt streets of Dawson, passing old buildings with dubious permafrost foundations leaning on each other for support (that’s in comparison to the real drunks you’ll see leaning on each other for support outside the local saloons). There’s a rich cultural life, with many people finding Dawson the perfect place for free expression (those bongo drums you hear are another new arrival).
Dawson can get busy in the summer, especially during its festivals. But by September the days are getting short, the seasonal workers have fled south and the 2000 year-round residents (professionals, miners, First Nations, dreamers, artists and those who aren’t sure where they fit) are settling in for another long and quiet winter.
Last updated: Feb 17, 2009