XXVI. THE CANADIAN KLONDIKE (Historic Information)
This famous gold-producing district owes its development to the discovery of rich placers on Bonanza Creek in August, 1896, by G. W. Cormack, and by Henderson on Gold Bottom Creek.
The extreme richness of the ground attracted immediately thousands upon thousands of gold seekers, whose tragic toils, sufferings, and endurance made historic the mountain passes of Chilkoot, Chilkat, and White, as well as the lakes and rapids of the upper Lewes and Yukon, through which they descended by rudely built boats to Dawson, at the confluence of the Klondike and the Yukon.
The construction of the White Pass Railway, 1898 to 1900, from Skagway to the foot of the dangerous White Horse Rapids, and the establishment of a connecting line of steamers thence down the Yukon, make the journey of to-day one of delightful pleasure, surrounded by modern comforts, through regions of picturesque beauty, and past many incipient settlements where hunting, fishing, and agriculture are the principal means of subsistence. Trains run between Skagway and White Horse, over the White Pass Railway, every week-day throughout the year, and well-furnished boats leave White Horse for Dawson about three times a week, from May to September. The traveller usually passes a night at White Horse, a thriving frontier town.
The journey is made from Seattle to Dawson in about eight days in summer and twelve days in winter. The downward voyage from White Horse is made in less than two days, and the upward trip from Dawson in less than four days. Winter travel between White Horse and Dawson is by four-horse sleighs over a well-built trail of 330 miles, and is made in six days, travel being by day only.
Dawson is the capital of Yukon Territory, and is the social, financial, and trade centre of the Klondike and other adjacent mines. It passed long since from the status of a mining camp to that of a modern city. It has churches, schools, libraries, hospitals, banks, clubs, assay offices, telephones, electric lights, power plants, newspapers, and water-works. The commissioner, governor by courtesy, here supervises the executive functions of government, the judiciary administers justice, and the well-known Northwest Mounted Police efficiently preserve the public peace, enforce the laws, and arrest the criminals, of whom, contrary to oft-expressed opinions, there are few and those of the minor order.
The Klondike mining district includes the basins of the Klondike, Indian, and McQuestion Rivers, an area of about 800 square miles. The mines in the Bonanza precinct, distant from twelve to fifteen miles from Dawson, are reached by stage or by the Klondike Mines Railway.
While Horse Rapids on the Lewes (Upper Yukon) River.
The very rich placers are practically exhausted, and the low-grade gravels have very largely passed under the control of large corporations, which are adopting the most efficient and economical systems of exploitation. Extensive ditches have been constructed, the best modern machinery imported, and systematic, carefully planned methods of placer mining are now in operation. The practical wisdom of such policy is evidenced by the increase in the output for 1908, which materially exceeded that of 1907. Dawson has decreased in population in late years, and but for systematic mining with machinery its decadence would have been much greater and speedily culminated in a deserted district. It now looks forward to an era of moderate prosperity.
The days of extraordinary bonanzas, whereby the laborer of yesterday became a wealthy man of to-day, have passed, and the Klondike is no longer a poor man's country.
Of Klondike mining, Brooks said several years since:
It was the exploitation of these almost fabulously rich and relatively shallow gravels that brought the Klondike gold output up with a bound, and it is their quick exhaustion that has caused an almost equally rapid decline of the annual yield. There are still extensive bodies of lower-grade gravels to mine in the Klondike, but these can be developed only by means of extensive water conduits or by dredging. Mining in the Klondike has passed its zenith, whereas in Seward Peninsula the maximum yearly output is still to be reached.
The Canadian Government has endeavored to restore the early prosperity of the Klondike by aiding in the construction of long and expensive ditches, and by fostering the extension of local and through railway lines. Unsuccessful efforts were made to launch a project for the building of about 1,800 miles of railway from Langham, Sasketchewan, via the Athabascan and Peace River valleys. The only hope of such a railway being financially successful rests on the wheat and cattle of the intervening country between Langham and Dawson.
The history of mining in the Klondike shows that there were scarcely five years of extreme prosperity. The following yields are given by Mr. E. H. Brooks: 1896, $300,000, 1897, $2,500,000, 1898, $10,000,000, 1899, $16,000,000, 1900, $22,275,000, 1901, $18,000,000, 1902, $14,500,000, 1903, $12,250,000, 1904, $10,000,000, 1905, $7,300,000, 1906, $5,600,000, 1907, $5,000,000, and 1908, about $5,100,000.
Astonishing as was the productivity of the Klondike mines in their palmiest days, they ranked second in richness to the placers of California, which in two years (1801 to 1853) yielded $62,000,000 as against $40,270, 000 for the best two years of the Klondike output.
There is yet a very large amount of business done with Dawson, not only for Canadian territory but also for the Alaskan trade. All steamboat travel or freight in the early spring or late autumn for the Tanana Valley or the upper Alaskan Yukon is necessarily via Dawson and the White Pass Railway. Although all baggage is examined in passing to and from Alaska, yet such examinations are almost invariably free from disagreeable features. In the fields of transportation there have been several energetic and efficient American competitors, both for Dawson trade and also as the controlling force in Alaskan business. In fact, it was an American firm that first met the crying needs of the Klondike miners, and saved them from direst distress. This was the Alaska Commercial Company, which did not long hold the field undisputed, as it was speedily followed by several other American companies of high standing. The Alaska Company consolidated with several others a few years since, and the firm is now known as the Northern Commercial Company. This company, and the North American Transportation and Trading Company, practically handle all freight and passengers for the Alaskan Yukon, the Koyukuk and Tanana regions; in short, all below the International Boundary near Eagle, about 100 miles below Dawson.