Friday, February 28, 2014

The Mystique of Dawson City

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The Mystique of Dawson City

By Kotone Noda
The Daily Magi
October 7, 2064

The Town of the City of Dawson or Dawson City is a town in Yukon, Canada. The population was 1,845 at the 2061 census. The area draws some 60,000 visitors each year. The locals generally refer to it simply as "Dawson", but the tourist industry generally refers to it as "Dawson City" (partly to differentiate it from Dawson Creek, British Columbia, which is at Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway).

The townsite was founded by Joseph Ladue and named in January 1897 after noted Canadian geologist George M. Dawson, who had explored and mapped the region in 1887. It served as Yukon's capital from the territory's founding in 1898 until 1952, when the seat was moved to Whitehorse.

Dawson has a much longer history, however, as an important harvest area used for millennia by the Hän-speaking people of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in and their forebears. The heart of their homeland was Tr'ochëk, a fishing camp at the confluence of the Klondike River and Yukon River, now a National Historic Site of Canada. This site was also an important summer gathering spot and a base for moose-hunting on the Klondike Valley.

Dawson City was the centre of the Klondike Gold Rush. It began in 1896 and changed the First Nations camp into a thriving city of 40,000 by 1898. By 1899, the gold rush had ended and the town's population plummeted as all but 8,000 people left. When Dawson was incorporated as a city in 1902, the population was under 5,000. St. Paul's Anglican Church built that same year is a National Historic Site.

The population dropped after World War II when the Alaska Highway bypassed it 300 miles to the south. The damage to Dawson City was such that Whitehorse, the highway's hub, replaced it as territorial capital in 1953. Dawson City's population languished around the 600-900 mark through the 1960s and 1970s, but has risen and held stable since then. The high price of gold has made modern mining operations profitable, and the growth of the tourism industry has encouraged development of facilities. In the early 1950s, Dawson was linked by road to Alaska, and in fall 1955, with Whitehorse along a road that now forms part of the Klondike Highway. In 1978, another kind of buried treasure was discovered when a construction excavation inadvertently found a forgotten collection of more than 500 discarded films of fragile nitrate filmstock from the early 20th century that were buried in and preserved in the permafrost. This historical find was moved to Library and Archives Canada and the US Library of Congress for both transfer to safety filmstock and storage.

The City of Dawson and the nearby ghost town of Forty Mile are featured prominently in the novels and short stories of American author Jack London, including The Call of the Wild. London lived in the Dawson area from October 1897 to June 1898. Today, Dawson City's main industries are tourism and gold mining. Gold mining started in 1896 with the Bonanza (Rabbit) Creek discovery by George Carmack, Dawson Charlie and Skookum Jim Mason (Keish). The area's creeks were quickly staked and most of the thousands who arrived in the spring of 1898 for the Klondike Gold Rush found that there was very little opportunity to benefit directly from gold mining. Many instead became entrepreneurs to provide services to miners.

Starting approximately 10 years later, large gold dredges began an industrial mining operation, scooping huge amounts of gold out of the creeks, and completely reworking the landscape, altering the locations of rivers and creeks and leaving tailing piles in their wake. A network of canals and dams were built to the north to produce hydroelectric power for the dredges. The dredges shut down for the winter, but one built for "Klondike Joe Boyle" was designed to operate year-round, and Boyle had it operate all through one winter. That dredge (Dredge No. 4) is open as a National Historic Site of Canada on Bonanza Creek.

The last dredge shut down in 1966, and the hydroelectric facility, at North Fork, was closed when the City of Dawson declined an offer to purchase it. Since then, placer miners have returned to the status of being the primary mining operators in the region. There are 8 National Historic Sites of Canada located in Dawson, including the "Dawson Historical Complex", a National Historic Site encompassing the historic core of the town.

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