Dawson City

Dawson City 8To the yukon 36As we waited to board the ferry into Dawson City, Hector met the owner of Klondike River Distillery. He distills vodka off the grid, the only such distillery in North America according to him, and infuses each bottle with a bit of gold.

Dawson City 1But what was serendipitous was that Dorian’s “day” job is as a ranger at Tombstone National Park, our next destination! So he gave Hector an update on the fall colors. We had been concerned about driving up the Dempster Highway only to find that we were too early but he encouraged us to go and told Hector that the colors were definitely beginning.

Dawson City 2This was a great start to our stay in this interesting town. We chose to stay in a Yukon Government Campground just outside of town. We love the Yukon Government Campgrounds, they cost 12CAD, are located in lovely natural settings and offer free firewood.Dawson City 4

It is always a bit of a shock to our system to come out of a really natural and wild setting to a town (even a tiny one) full of people, and so staying at this peaceful forested campground just outside of town helped to keep us in balance.Dawson City 3

We kicked off our visit by going to the Farmers Market, which was really mostly an arts and crafts market as coincidentally it was the weekend of the Yukon Riverside Arts Festival.  We did buy one amazing head of lettuce though.Dawson City 6

Dawson is a very artsy town. In addition to the arts festival, it has the Klondike Institute of Arts and Culture, the Dawson City Arts Society, the Dawson City Music Festival and the Yukon School of Visual Arts.

Dawson City 5Their Visitor Center, as almost all Visitor Centers in Canada we have visited, offers excellent Wi-Fi for free as well as tons of information.

Dawson City 13Dawson City 12As with all of these northern towns, from the tiniest to the largest, flowers are planted everywhere and maintained beautifully until the very last moment that they can possibly survive. Really the flowers are just spectacular.Dawson City 14

Dawson City 11There are great views of the Yukon River from town. Nearby, the Klondike River empties into the Yukon.  Dawson City is at the center of the Klondike Goldfields, whose name was a mispronunciation of the word Tr’ondek, from the name of the local First Nation people,  the Tr’ondek Hwech’n. whose name means people of the Klondike River.Dawson City 7

Dawson City 9Dawson City 17Dawson City 30There are lots of National Historic Sites in town, and the National Parks Service schedules guides in period costume at several of these for certain periods each day. It is a good way to see these places on your own while learning more than just what you can read about on the different displays without having to join a structured tour or pay more.

In 1897, an article in a Seattle paper about the discovery of “a ton of gold” in the previous year in the Klondike set off a rush of prospectors to the area that swelled to about 100,000 people.

But to get to Dawson City, they had to carry their goods including hundreds of pounds of food over icy Chilkoot Pass, 33 miles. The 30,000 that made it each made about 40 trips to haul their goods over the pass, then had to build a boat using local trees to continue down the Yukon River.

Dawson City 78Chief Isaac of the Tr’ondek Hwech’n foresaw the negative impact that the white man would bring. He relocated his people about three miles down river. And to protect their traditional culture he entrusted songs and dances to First Nations in Mansfield Alaska for safekeeping. As the game they hunted was driven away, their lives were forever changed. The Danoja Zho Cultural Centre tells this and other stories, and was my favorite museum in Dawson.

2015-08-30 at 16-18-31Dawson City 56In two years, Dawson City became the largest city north of Seattle and west of Winnipeg. There are many interesting old photos of this trek and of the town at its peak, but the photo that most impacted me is the one of a line of people going up the pass. One of the 40 trips they each needed to make.Dawson City 55Dawson City 57

But most arrived to find that claims had already been staked. For some, it became about the journey. Some fell in love with the Klondike and remained there. Others made a fortune and squandered it.

Dawson City 34When the railroad from Skagway to Whitehorse was completed, people and their supplies were able to go over Chilkoot Pass without the hardships of the past.

Dawson City 58This prompted the need for riverboats to continue the smooth journey. In their heyday, 70 riverboats carried people and supplies downriver and gold upriver on the Yukon.

Dawson City 19Dawson City 21We toured the S.S.Keno, one of two Yukon riverboats that were preserved by Parks Canada.

Dawson City 22

Dawson City 25She was the smallest of the British Yukon Navigation Company’s fleet. Because of her size, she was the first that could make it to Dawson to bring supplies in the spring and the last to depart before winter. Today, a replica of the old riverboats tours the Yukon River.Dawson City 29

2015-08-15 at 17-17-53 (1)On a warm Indian summer day, we stopped for an ice cream in town.

Dawson City 38Then we walked around some of the shops. There are lots of jewelry shops, many featuring items made from local gold.  One of those had a cool display with little dishes with placer gold from each of the many different creeks of the Klondike Goldfields.

And we made our own discovery: the gold rush is still going. We found claims for sale on a bulletin board. And read that close to 100 family run placer mines still currently operate in the Klondike Region.

Mine tailings are absolutely everywhere. Evidence of the extensive efforts to scrape the valuable metal from the earth.

Dawson City 39Dawson City 40Continuing our exploration of the town, we toured the Commissioner’s House. This was the house of the Commissioner of Yukon, George Black, and his wife Martha starting in 1916, when Dawson City was the capital of Yukon (Whitehorse is the current capital).Dawson City 41Dawson City 46

The tour guides told many interesting stories about the family. In one room, there is a silhouette of the couple on the wall. Displaying photos of yourself was considered conceited, so this was their way of breaking that “rule”. Other stories describe Martha as a rugged outdoorswoman, yet also well versed in the high society expectations of women.Dawson City 42Dawson City 45

The house sat empty for many years and was used by the Sisters of St. Anne as a residence and senior citizens’ home. Today, the first floor has been restored using some of the Black’s original furniture along with other period furniture.

Dawson City 47Hector and I really love old houses and enjoy looking at restorations so this was a treat. The tour was followed by tea on the front porch with two other visitors – a lovely couple from Australia.

Parks Canada does such a great job.

Dawson City 51Dawson City 53By 1899, individual mining by hand was no longer as fruitful as it had been previously. So people consolidated their claims into larger blocks and began using machinery to mine the land. Our next tour was of Dredge No. 4, the largest gold digging machine in North America.

Dawson City 52Dawson City 54This monster of a machine scooped up rocks and earth in massive quantities, filtered out gold, and spat out the gravel as it completed the decimation of the landscape.  Every creek in this area is covered in the tailings left by one of these dredges.  Impressive.Dawson City 50

Dawson City 32Dawson City 33We had lunch at the local bakery, Cheechakos. A Cheechako is what they call a newcomer to Alaska and northwestern Canada, ignorant in the ways of the north.

We had two fabulous sandwiches on homemade bread and found a copy of a Miami Herald article about the restaurant on its wall. What a total surprise to find an article about the Yukon in the paper all the way from Miami. Coincidentally where Hector and I first met.Dawson City 80Dawson City 81

The Dawson City Museum, located in another restored old building has displays of some of the individuals that have settled down in the town after the gold rush, as well as various aspects of the city’s history, and a locomotive shed with three of the Klondike Mines Railway locomotives.

As we have seen several times in other museums, they had a display of an early thermometer which miners improvised from common supplies.  Each one with a different freezing point.  The temperatures are chill inducing. Dawson City 83

Dawson City 69Dawson City 60Dawson City 59The rains caught up with us in Dawson City. The town streets, almost all dirt, became mud. But they have continued the old practice of using boardwalks around town, particularly around some of the restored sights. Clever.

We stayed around Dawson City waiting for the rains to subside, since our next destination required Island Girl to travel for over 40 miles on gravel road.

Our most “touristy” outing was to Diamond Tooth Gertie’s, a saloon and Canada’s oldest gambling hall. A $12 pass gives you unlimited access to the casino and the shows for the entire season.

Dawson City 62Dawson City 61I love dance and costumes so I was excited about the shows. There are three shows a night, each different from the other.


Dawson City 63Dawson City 65We missed the 8:30 show, but caught the 10:00. It was about a half hour show with a female lead singer, a male lead, and “the dancing girls”.

The dancing was fine, very Rockette-like but not quite as sharp, and the costumes were cute, very can-can.

Dawson City 68

Dawson City 70Since the second show was not until midnight, we walked over to the bar at the Downtown Hotel, which looked pretty festive.Dawson City 72

One of the Parks Canada interpreters from the Commissioner’s House tour had mentioned that she would be the “toe captain” that night serving the famous Sourtoe Cocktail there.Dawson City 73Dawson City 75

Yes friends, this is a drink with an actual pickled toe. Why, say you? Because this is the land of the north, where strange things happen. If this idea completely grosses you out, skip the next two paragraphs.

The original toe, preserved in a jar of alcohol, was discovered by Captain Dick Stevenson while he was cleaning a cabin in 1973. It apparently belonged to miner and rum runner, Louie Liken, who, 50 years earlier had frostbite and had it amputated. Captain Stevenson discussed the idea of a sourtoe cocktail with friends, and began to serve it at the Eldorado Hotel Bar. The rest, as they say, is history.Dawson City 71

The idea is that the toe has to touch your lips.  The original toe is long gone, swallowed by an overzealous patron. It has since been replaced by several generations of new toes, each “donated” to the cause in ways no one will discuss. There is a $2500 fee if you swallow the toe!

Dawson City 64No, we did not have a Sourtoe Cocktail, tempting as that may sound. Apparently over 62,000 have had one and received a certificate to prove it. We had a couple of normal drinks and returned to the casino.

The late show was not a can-can show but rather a show where the same lead singers sing contemporary music tunes and “the dancing girls”, now in leotards dance to that music. Again, the dancing was ok – described as more “risqué” – but really just more wiggling. We were disappointed that it was not a can-can show.

But we are glad to know that the proceeds go towards further restoration of the town.

Dawson City 87The following day it was time to move on and head to Tombstone Territorial Park to catch some fall colors in the northern Yukon.

~ Brenda


8 thoughts on “Dawson City

  1. After the amazing Denali visits, it seems strange to see you back in “civilization!” Great pics and description and an interesting little town. I can’t believe you are already discussing fall colors. So far from our thinking in very hot Florida! And congrats on the big “Denali” win. It may have been inspired by your blog????

    • That was way north, we are back in SE Alaska and the colors are not yet changing. Oh, yes I’m sure the President reads my blog ????

  2. Dawson looks like an interesting town. It must feel strange to be back in a civilized area after all the nature you two have been absorbing. I believe I would have had to pass on the Sourtoe Cocktail.

  3. I’m chortling with laughter at Panera’s, reading about the sour toe cocktail. My two “we’ll-try-anything” friends, and you DIDN’T order at least one!
    I’m sure enjoying this great trip you’re taking us all on! Happy travels.


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