The townsite was surveyed by William OGILVIE and named after George M. DAWSON, director of the GEOLOGICAL SURVEY OF CANADA and leader of the expedition that explored the region in 1887. Although Dawson became the Yukon capital in 1898, it lacked municipal institutions until after the turn of the century, when it received its charter as a city (1902).
At the axis of 2 transportation corridors, Dawson grew quickly as the transshipment point for men and materials destined for the Klondike goldfields. As a port, it developed service industries for the people who disembarked, and it became the mercantile and distribution centre of the Yukon. At the height of the gold rush in the summer of 1898, the Klondike region had a population of about 30 000, of whom some 16 000 could be found in Dawson.
In April 1899 there was a devastating fire that destroyed 117 buildings, but Dawson was rebuilt by that summer. However, the gold had run out and news of a gold strike in Nome, Alaska, nearly emptied Dawson by summer's end. Shortly after receiving civic status it was reincorporated as the town of the City of Dawson (1904), hence it remains commonly known as Dawson City. The town continued to decline throughout the following decade as the introduction of sophisticated mining technology slowly drove people from its hinterland, thus reducing the need for its services.
World War I further curtailed mining activity, and the next 20 years saw little development in the Klondike. Dawson experienced some growth when the mining industry expanded in the 1930s, but World War II disrupted gold production again.
The building of the ALASKA HIGHWAY enabled Whitehorse to supersede Dawson as the commercial and administrative centre of the territory, and the capital was transferred south in 1953. The opening of the Klondike Highway in the same period put an end to commercial traffic on the Yukon River and rendered Dawson's port facilities obsolete.
Another blow came in 1966, when the Yukon Consolidated Gold Corp shut down its last dredge in the Klondike valley at Bear Creek. Since then, tourism has been the major industry for Dawson's permanent residents.
In the early 1960s Parks Canada began to refurbish and reconstruct buildings in Dawson, including the Palace Grand Theatre (1899) and the Commissioner's Residence (1901). Parks Canada has restored and stabilized not only buildings in Dawson, but Dredge No 4 on Bonanza Creek - the largest wooden-hull, bucket-line dredge in North America - and the sternwheeler, S.S. Keno. They have also acquired the community of Bear Creek with all of its buildings. Altogether, these conservation and restoration efforts comprise the National Historic Sites of Canada in the Klondike.
The Klondike Visitors Association produces a theatrical revue at the Palace Grand Theatre each summer and operates Diamond Tooth Gertie's Gambling Casino in the old Arctic Brotherhood Hall (1899).
The Dawson City Museum is housed in the Old Territorial Administration building (designed by Thomas Fuller and built 1901). People from throughout the Yukon flock to Dawson to celebrate Discovery Day, a territorial holiday commemorating the discovery of gold on 16 August 1896 (the claim was staked on August 17) by George Carmack, Skookum Jim and Tagish Charley.
Author H. GUEST
Pierre Berton, Klondike (1958); Charlene Porsild, Gamblers and Dreamers: Women, Men and Community in the Klondike (1998); H.J. Woodside, "Dawson As It Is," Canadian Magazine, Sept 1901.
Links to Other Sites
Watch the Heritage Minute about Superintendent Sam Steele of the North West Mounted Police from the Historica-Dominion Institute. See also related online learning resources.
Yukon Photographers: The Gold Rush Era, 1897-1900
A photographic history of the gold rush years in the Yukon. Also features profiles of the pioneering photographers who chronicled the work and lives of the hardy gold rush prospectors. From the Virtual Museum of Canada.
Yukon: Larger Than Life
An extensive visitors guide to all there is to see and do in the scenic and historic Yukon. Includes community profiles. From Tourism Yukon.
The National Historic Sites of Canada in the Klondike
Brush up on your gold mining skills at this Parks Canada website about the 1896 Klondike Gold Rush. Focuses on prominent personalities and companies involved in the Klondike gold mining era.
Geographical Names of Canada
Search the "Canadian Geographical Names Data Base" for the official name of a city, town, lake (or any other geographical feature) in any province or territory in Canada. See also the real story of how Toronto got its name. A Natural Resources Canada website.
Yukon Community Profiles
Click on the map for essential information about many communities situated in the Yukon Territory. See the menu on the left for details about municipal services, population data, local economic activity, and more.
Association of Canadian Map Libraries and Archives
Check out the digitized archival images of Canadian cities and more at this website for the Association of Canadian Map Libraries and Archives.
All That Glitters: "City of Gold" Revisited
An article about the making of the award-winning film "City of Gold" and its role in the revial of present day Dawson City. From the website for John C. Tibbetts, Associate Professor in the Department of Theatre and Film at the University of Kansas in the US. A PDF file.
At home in the Yukon
This interactive website is devoted to the cultural diversity and history of the Yukon. Features photographs, maps, and oral histories from the holdings of Yukon Archives.
City of Gold
View a classic short film featuring archival images depicting Dawson City at the height of the Klondike gold rush. Narrated by writer Pierre Berton. From the National Film Board of Canada.