The Yukon Territory is one of the three territories of Canada and is the most easily accessible. Yukon is a great place to discover some of the best activities of the far north, including seeing the Northern Lights. One of the great attractions in Canada’s Yukon Territory is Dawson City — arguably the ultimate Gold Rush boom town. No travel guide to the Yukon could possibly be complete without a tour of Dawson City.
Dawson City is inseparable from the Klondike Gold Rush of 1896 to 1899. Even though it only has a population of 1,577, it is still the second-largest town in the Yukon. Today Dawson City is a trip back to the most famous of all gold rushes and a place people can feel like they are really in the old frontier.
The Rise & Fall Of Dawson City
Aerial view of Dawson City Yukon Canada
Dawson City started in August 1896 when gold was discovered on Rabbit Creek (later called Bonanza). When the news broke, it triggered more of a stampede than a rush.
Over 100,000 people flooded north seeking their fortune and dreaming of striking it rich at the Klondike goldfields. Of these, around 30,000 actually reached Dawson City in the summer of 1898.
In response, Canada carved out the Yukon Territory to manage the area and Dawson City became the territorial capital.
After the turn of the century, large companies bought up individual claims and the gold rush came to an end. The city collapsed almost as spectacularly as it rose. While Dawson City continued to produce considerable amounts of gold, its population dwindled and fell below 1,000 inhabitants.
Dawson City managed to cling on and remains a notable destination today (unlike some boom towns like Aurora in Nevada which completely disappeared).
The territorial capital moved to the main Yukon settlement of Whitehorse in 1953 and the last dredge shut down in 1966. Today the town’s main industries are tourism and gold mining.
Dawson City At Its Peak – The Largest City In Western Canada
Northern Lights above the old houses Dawson City
Dawson City quickly became the supply and service center for the miners of the gold rush. Even this far north in the middle of the wilderness it was possible to buy everything from oranges to champagne.
The city was home to saloons, theaters, dance halls, blacksmiths, and everything else one would expect in a frontier boom town.
- Peak Population: Between 20,000 and 30,000
Dawson City boomed from a forgotten outpost to a sprawling boom town in a single season. It was made up of log and frame buildings as well as tents (would have been a bit cold in the winter). Its population swelled to between 20,000 and then 30,000 people.
At this time it was the largest settlement west of Winnipeg in Seattle and north of Washington’s Seattle. Within a few years, a number of permanent buildings were constructed, and Dawson City took on the form of a typical Edwardian town.
Dawson City came towards the later period of the gold rushes (the Klondike Gold Rush also extended into Alaska). The beginning of gold mining in the United States started in 1799 when the first gold was discovered in North Carolina (and people can visit the site, the Reed Gold Mine, today).
The Klondike Gold Rush has had a large impact on the perception of the Yukon and Alaska, and it inspired many stories and movies including The Call Of The Wild.
What To Expect Visiting Boom Town Dawson City Today
Yukon River in winter, Canada
Dawson City sits under 200 miles from the Arctic Circle. The town is notable for having many historical structures surviving today. Most of Dawson’s buildings have the appearance of 19th-century construction (note that new buildings need to comply with these visual requirements).
Dawson City is home to eight National Historic Sites of Canada – notably the Dawson Historical Complex which encompasses the historic core of the old town.
One of the attractions of the frontier town is the Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Gambling Hall (colloquially called Gerties). Founded in 1971 it is the oldest casino in Canada, and it puts on nightly vaudeville shows in its dance hall between May and September.
It is a great place to go to see a throwback to the boisterous dance hall girls one would have expected in the boom town.
- Summer Opening Hours: 7:00 pm to 1:00 am (Daily Many 12th to Sept 23rd)
There is plenty to see and do in Dawson City. During the tourist season, it is buzzing with activities with tours of historic sites, gold mining attractions, and outdoor activities like kayaking and fishing.
While there, plan for the ultimate road trip and drive the Dempster Highway all the way to the Arctic Ocean.