There are three things that put Dawson City as a top destination on the tourist map.
- The Klondike Gold Rush.
- It served as the Capital of the Yukon from 1887 -1952.
- The sub-arctic climate that only gets about 90 frost free days a year – that preserves everything.
Mini Factoid: Dawson City is only able to retain the word ‘city’ in its name through a special government provision.
Except for the main drag, and some of the redeveloped areas, Dawson City is a city frozen in time. The grand old buildings, the wooden shacks that the miners lived in, even the boardwalks have been preserved; either by permafrost or volunteers.
The first thing you notice as you look at the architecture is how much more work went into artistic detailing that is ever spent on modern buildings. And it is also amusing to note the large false facades on many of the buildings designed to make them look grander and bigger than they really were. And just like modern times, the front might look magnificent, but when you peer around the back, the building is made as cheap as possible!
Building on permafrost is very challenging. The layers of ice can thicken, change and heave over time. The buildings give off heat so that as the permafrost thaws, the building sinks and is damaged. The southern bred Klondikers didn’t have the building techniques in those days to deal with this, so while the wood and fixtures of the buildings is beautifully preserved by the freezing cold, the physical structure is at risk of collapsing because of the ‘heaves’. Parks Canada is responsible for rescuing many of these buildings.
Michel and I are now far enough north that it is almost continuous daylight. Those photos were taken at 11:00 at night! I can’t say enough good things about 24 hour sunshine! You can do whatever, whenever! It suits our lazy tourist mentality super well!
Inside the town general store we saw various sized snares for fox and wolverine, hanging beside the ski poles. Later that evening, we saw a crew-cab truck pull into the parking lot; the front packed with young first nations men whooping it up, the back piled high with caribou antlers – probably representing 40-50 animals.
Back in the Klondike days, people took their religion seriously. And the government via the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, enforced local religious morals. One poor guy got thrown in jail for chopping wood <gulp!> on Sunday!
Since Dawson City was the capital of the Yukon, all the various government entities were represented……..and the civil servants certainly got to live in style!
But the ordinary joe-blows, rough-necks and miners who EARNED the money got to live on this street.
Both Jack London (who wrote Call of the Wild) and Robert Service (who wrote The Cremation of Sam McGee) lived no more than 50 feet from each other in the same part of town.
What is really impressive is how TINY everything is. The rooms are tiny, the doors are tiny, the windows are tiny. The beds are so small, it boggles the mind that anyone could fit in them, let alone get a good night’s sleep on them.
The city of Dawson has an ordinance that ensures that any modern development is in keeping with the era and flavor of the Klondike days. Here is Merridith waving goodbye from the porch of one of the modern drinking holes.