Down North
A Dependent's Notes of Interest
© Jean Watts 2002


Page 15: Dawson City

Dawson City 1899
Dawson City, Yukon Territory, 1899 (E.A. Hegg)

Our last Yukon trip was to Dawson City - the "city of gold" - the place that embodies the essence of the nineties gold rush. At the time we visited it, in 1961, restoration to its nineties state had begun but had not progressed very far. Dawson City was still almost completely a ghost town.

Dawson City map
Dawson City, Yukon Territory, 2003 (

Dawson City Campground
Dawson City campsite, 1961

We reached the Dawson City campsite, beside the tailings of an old mine just outside town, about nine o'clock in the evening - since it was July it was, of course, bright daylight - set up our tent and drove into town. "Klondike Night" was on at the Community Centre Hall on Fourth Avenue, and we were anxious to see the program. On the way there we met our Whitehorse friends Bonnie Garvice, who usually directed the drama club plays, and her daughter, Penny. We went on together and enjoyed the Dawson City version of The Shooting of Dan McGrew. Dancing to a band and gambling (with make-believe money) were part of the entertainment. The local inhabitants, dressed in costumes of the nineties, did their best to entertain us tourists and recreate the atmosphere of gold rush days.

Dawson City from the Dome
Dawson City, Yukon: view from the Dome (July 1961)

The next day we drove up King Street to the top of the Dome, the high hill overlooking the town, and marvelled at the spectacular view of Dawson, the Yukon River beyond, and the rolling hills across the river. On the way back to town we stopped at a bleak cemetery on the hillside, its modest headstones preserving the names of former citizens of the town, and recording the deaths of many young men at far too early an age. The rainy, overcast day seemed appropriate for such a sad place.

Robert Service's cabin
Dawson City, Yukon: Robert Service's cabin (1961)

One of the main attractions of the town was Robert Service's cabin on Eighth Avenue. It had been built opposite the Canadian Bank of Commerce, where he worked as a teller (its nearness to the bank must have been a great convenience in those miserably cold winters). Maintaining his cabin seemed an appropriate way to remember perhaps the most famous of Dawson City's citizens. His verses still keep memories of the gold rush days vivid, although I couldn't help wondering what he would have thought of our Officers' Mess version of "Dan McGrew"!

Fifth Avenue, Dawson City 1961
Dawson City, Yukon: Fifth Avenue, with Mme Tremblay's Store (centre) and the old post office (right), July 3, 1961.

Later in the day we visited the Garvices, who were staying in an old apartment above "Mme Tremblay's Store." In the gold rush days, Madame Tremblay would sell $500 French gowns to the local ladies.

Bonanza Creek
Bonanza Creek, Yukon: Harry Leamon's cabin, with Ian in front (July 2, 1961)

A few old prospectors still remained in Dawson City, emerging occasionally from the Old Men's Home on Front Street to mine a little more gold from their claims. One such was Harry Leamon, whose cabin and claim near Bonanza Creek, where the first discovery of gold was made, were open to visitors. When we reached his site we found that Harry had gone into town, but we were able to visit his mine, a dark tunnel entered through a wooden door in the hillside. We could feel the cold and see by candlelight the ice sparkling on its walls.

Driving a little further brought us to Hunker Creek, where we saw one of the dredges that operated along the creeks to extract any gold still remaining. The dredge looked like a huge floating factory, advancing imperceptibly as it extracted and processed the gold, leaving a trail of tailings behind it.

Yukon Hotel
Dawson City, Yukon: Yukon Hotel (July 1961)

Shortly after we left Whitehorse, Parks Canada began its restoration of Dawson City. The Yukon Hotel was the first building to be restored to its former glory.

Dawson City Radio Station

Original RC Sigs Station Dawson City
Dick Watts outside Dawson City R.C. Sigs radio station (July 2, 1961)

Management of the Dawson NWT&Y radio station had been transferred to the Department of Transport on February 15, 1960. We found the building at the corner of King Street and Front Street, facing King Street. A side window looked out on to Front Street, the Yukon River, and the dock where the SS Keno had found a home after its arrival from Whitehorse in 1960. The station had a long and famous history. It was the second of the system's original two stations established in 1923, the first being in Mayo. Dawson City's first message to Mayo on October 20 of that year signalled the birth of the Northwest Territories and Yukon Radio System.

After seeing the old radio station, we dropped into the Service Motel so that Dick could vet it for a proposed visit by the brigadier. The owners were Chuck Gray and his wife, Tommy, and it turned out that Chuck was a former member of NWT&Y Sigs. Naturally, a long and interesting exchange of news, stories, and histories ensued.

[Next Page]

Pages: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5] [6] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14] [15] [16]

Return to top of page
Return to the Watts Family page