Dawson City, Yukon – Gold diggers then and today

Midnight Dome is a 1,887 m high mountain rising behind Dawson City. Via Dome Road you reach a view point 600 m above the town, from where you can see Yukon and Klondike River meeting as well as the damages more than 100 years of digging for gold have left. Gold rush has begun in 1896 when George Carmack has found a gold nugget – there are different stories – but did last only few years. Its peak was soon reached in 1900, when 34,000 tons of gold were washed by hand. That was very hard work due to strong winters, and permafrost had to be thawed first. Even after the first wooden gold dredges arrived, those production numbers were never reached again. Nowadays, in the average 2,200 tons are still produced per year. That’s the official number, at least. All together gold worth more than one billion Dollars was found.

North America’s largest wooden gold dredge, Dredge # 4, can be visited with a guided tour just outside town at Bonanza Creek. Around there you still find many active gold mines. A lot of old stuff like machines and cars, older than most of us, can be found there. Nobody disposes of them. At a plot at Klondike River we are meeting Walter, born in 1937, in Dawson since 1957. A real gold digger. He has got so many old German cars like Unimog, Mercedes, Volkswagen, a BMW and a Moto Guzzi motorbike with sidecars. Nothing works any more; they haven’t been used for ages. “I don’t have time to repair them”, Walter means. Could the reason be all those empty two litres red wine bottles and the empty red wine glass he is holding in his hand when meeting us at four in the afternoon?

Dawson City seems to be a relic from the past. The old wood houses were refurbished and painted in bright colours. Roads aren’t paved; the sidewalks are made from wood. When at Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Gambling Hall Casino revue girls in original costumes swing their legs when dancing can-can, you think you are back to the 19th century. By the way: Diamond Tooth Gertie really existed. The nightclub girl was very successful and became rich together with some gold diggers. She pinched a diamond between her incisors.

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