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Klondike |

One moment in history, three stories of impact

Tens of thousands joined the Klondike Gold Rush. Thirty thousand made it to Dawson City. Only a few found gold.

The gold lay in the earth and the rivers of what became Yukon, but once discovered, it changed the lives of all those it touched. This is not a story about fame and fortune, but a tale of unbelievable luck, hope, despair, change, and resilience.

Examining the sweeping and lasting changes resulting from the Klondike Gold Rush is crucial to understanding its significance.

The discovery of gold

125 years ago, Keish (“Skookum Jim” Mason), his nephew Kàa Goox (Dawson Charlie), his sister Shaaw Tláa (Kate Carmack) – all of whom were of Lingít and Tagish descent – and Shaaw Tláa's American husband George Carmack discovered gold in Gàh Dek (Rabbit Creek/Bonanza Creek). Their discovery started what some now call “The Last Great Gold Rush.”

Although there are conflicting accounts, the story goes that they were taking a break next to Rabbit Creek (Bonanza Creek), when Keish saw a glimmer of gold through the water. He shared his discovery with the group and they quickly staked their claims. The news of gold spread fast to other mining camps in the Yukon River valley. Some of these prospectors later became known as “Klondike Kings”, claiming much of the gold before knowledge of the discovery reached the south.

When news of the gold eventually made it to the outside world in July 1897, men and women rushed toward Yukon, unaware they were about to embark on one of the greatest gold rushes in history.

Skookum Jim, Yukon Pioneer
Canada. Dept. of Interior / Library and Archives Canada / PA‑044683

Impact on Indigenous communities

The Klondike Gold Rush's impacts on Indigenous communities have been deep and lasting. The hopeful men and women searching for an easier life, in turn, transformed the lives of First Nations people in a manner that they still grapple with today.

The newcomers brought with them new social customs, and their sheer numbers rapidly took a toll on the land, waterways and wildlife. The exploitation of territory populated by the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in, Lingít and Tagish people, and the continued imposition of colonial policies uprooted the traditional ways of life.

Not least among these: Lingít and Tagish, and Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in children were sent to residential schools. These schools were just one of the policies that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission deemed “cultural genocide” against Indigenous peoples in Canada.

Chief Isaac, Discovery Day, August 17, 1925, Dawson City Museum, 1998.22.603
This coin is not endorsed by or affiliated with the estate of Chief Isaac of Moosehide.

A changed Canada

The Klondike Gold Rush changed the landscape of northern Canada. With an estimated three billion dollars' worth of gold found, it helped pull Canada and the United States out of recession and created a population boom in Yukon, Alberta, and British Columbia.

The rapid growth of Dawson City because of the influx of settlers is responsible for the creation of Yukon on June 13, 1898. The newly found interest in the north left a lasting legacy on the Indigenous communities whose traditional territories overlap with what is now Yukon.

Today, the Carcross‑Tagish First Nation and Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in have constitutionally guaranteed authority as the fourth‑level of government to govern their people and their land.

Street scene in Dawson
H.D. Goetzman / Library and Archives Canada / PA‑052849

125 years of impact

The Klondike Gold Rush ended almost as suddenly as it began, but its impact will last forever. The balance of fortune and despair deeply affected all those involved.

The environment suffered, the Carcross‑Tagish people and Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in became subjected to Western cultures and assimilation practices that are still felt and mourned today. Its impact on Canada will not fade into the folds of time, but will be remembered for its demonstration of human resilience and strength.

Today, we honour all those impacted by the discovery of Klondike gold 125 years ago – a discovery that forever changed the lives it touched.

Thank you to

Dawson City Museum
Parcs Canada Parks Canada