The Klondike Gold Rush

Wilfrid Laurier was barely a month into his new job as Canada’s Prime Minister in August 1896 when gold was

Wilfrid Laurier was barely a month into his new job as Canada’s Prime Minister in August 1896 when gold was discovered on Rabbit (later Bonanza) Creek, a tributary of the Klondike River.

Following that strike, local miners who dreamed of striking it rich quickly flooded the area. News of the find was confined to the Yukon until July 1897, when those first successful miners steamed into Seattle and San Francisco with their newfound wealth.

“GOLD! GOLD! GOLD! GOLD!” was the headline in the SeattlePost-Intelligencer. Its description of “a ton of gold” started a stampede of an estimated 100,000 prospectors.

But the Klondike was a long way from any civilized place in North America, and the trek there was arduous, back-breaking and, for many, impossible.

HOW THEY GOT THERE

Gold seekers used a number of routes to gain access to the Klondike, many of which involved long portages, mountains to climb and glaciers to cross. Many never made it. The fastest way to get to the goldfields was by steamer, from Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle or San Francisco, to Skagway or Dyea in Alaska. From there the fortune-hungry traveled to Bennett Lake, B.C., and then proceeded by river to the new town of Dawson City.

Getting from Alaska to Bennett Lake was difficult. Would-be prospectors could haul their supplies along the White Pass Trail from Skagway or take the Chilkoot Trail from Dyea. Both routes were about 30 miles long and each had its obstacles. So many pack animals were lost along the treacherous White Pass Trail that it became known as Dead Horse Trail. The Chilkoot Trail was an old reliable trail, but reaching the summit of Chilkoot Pass tested the strength and will of all who made the effort.

The average person, carrying about 50 pounds of supplies, took about six hours to climb the 1,000-foot-long “Golden Stairs.” And if one could not afford to hire packers, the pass had to be climbed 40 times because one ton of supplies were required to survive a year in the Yukon. At the summit—the border between the United States and Canada—the North West Mounted Police were ready to enforce the law, which included collecting duty.

The boat trip from Bennett Lake to Dawson City could take up to two weeks. Nonexistent before the gold rush, by 1898 Dawson City had every convenience found in Vancouver or Winnipeg: Saloons, hotels, stores, theatres, doctors, churches and graveyards.

The Necessary Supplies

Gold seekers were expected to bring enough supplies—the equivalent of about one ton—to last one year. Here is a sample of what they were instructed to bring:

FOOD

¼ lb ginger
½ lb mustard
1 lb pepper
10 lb pitted plums
100 lb beans
100 lb granulated sugar
8 lb baking powder
15 lb slat
15 lb soup vegetables
2 lb soda
200 lb bacon
24 lb coffee
25 cans butter
25 lb evaporated apples
25 lb evaporated apricots
25 lb evaporated peaches
25 lb fish
35 lb rice
36 lb cakes
4 doz. tins condensed milk
40 lb candles
400 lb flour
5 bars laundry soap
5 lb tea
50 lb each cornmeal & oatmeal
50 lb evaporated onions
50 lb evaporated potatoes
60 boxes matches

CLOTHING

12 pairs of wool socks
2 overshirts
2 pair mackinaw trousers
2 pairs of blankets
2 pairs of overalls
2 pairs each shoes & snag-proof rubber boots
3 suits heavy underwear
4 towels
5 yards of mosquito netting
6 pairs of mittens
heavy rubber-lined coat
suit of oilskin clothing

OTHER SUPPLIES 10 lb oakum
15 lb pitch
2 shovels
20 lb nails
200 feet rope
3 chisels
3 files
3 nests of granite buckets
axe & pick
butcher knife
canvas tent
coffeepot
cup
plate
drawknife
2 spoons, a fork & a knife
gold-pan
hammer compass
handsaw & hatchet
jackplane & square
steel stove
two frying pans
whetstone
Yukon sled
Source: Klondike by Pierre Berton

Dominion Day Menu, Dawson City’s Regina Café

Consommé à la jardinière
Rock Point oysters
Piccalilli
Lobster Newburg
Chicken salad en mayonnaise
Broiled moose chops aux champignons
Cold tongue
Roast beef
Boiled ham
Bengal Club chutney
Saratoga chips
Cakes and jellies
Pears and peaches
Cheese
Coffee

Source: Klondike by Pierre Berton

The Klondike Gold Rush attracted tens of thousands of gold seekers, entrepreneurs, dancers, conmen and the North West Mounted Police who maintained order. The stampede ended in the summer of 1898. By then the gold seekers had spent as much on supplies and travel expenses as they extracted from the earth—about $50 million.

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