Dawson in Yukon Territory, Canada, is located along the Yukon River at the mouth of the Klondike River at 64° N and 139° W. Elevation is about 320 m. With a continental Subarctic climate, Dawson's mean annual temperature is -5°C, ranging from -31°C in January to 16°C in July. The extreme range has been -58°C to 35°C. The average annual precipitation is 30.6 cm, with nearly half of the precipitation falling during the summer months of June, July, and August. Snow falls from late September to early May and averages 137 cm annually. The Yukon River is normally frozen from late October until early May.
Formerly known as Dawson City, Dawson is named after Canadian geologist George M. Dawson, who explored the area in 1887. The community of Dawson began with the Gold Rush of 1898. Rich gold deposits were discovered on nearby Bonanza Creek in August 1896, causing a massive gold rush and the formation of Dawson. This region came to be known as "The Klondike." News of the Klondike gold reached southern Canada and the United States in the summer of
1897 and thousands of people, mostly Americans, left to seek their fortune at Dawson. Historians estimate that an astonishing one million people planned to leave home and seek their fortunes in the Klondike. One hundred thousand people made the trek, and about 30,000 of those arrived in Dawson in 1898, briefly making it the largest city in Canada west of Winnipeg. The boomtown consisted of hundreds of houses and commercial buildings hastily constructed with lumber and canvas. Most of the travelers to Dawson made their way by ship to Skagway, Alaska, and then on foot over White Pass or Chilkoot Pass to Lake Bennett and then down the Yukon River in small boats.
New gold fields were discovered at Nome, Alaska, in 1899 and many miners left Dawson in 1899 for Nome, 8000 in August alone. Gold production fell after 1900, and the population continued to decline. Dawson was incorporated as a city in 1902 and functioned as the administrative center of the Yukon Territory until 1953 when the capital moved to Whitehorse. The population numbered 2011 in 1999 (Government of the Yukon Territory Statistics). About 25% of the population today is aboriginal, mainly Han (Tr'on Dek Hwech'in First Nation). An all-weather road, completed in 1955, connects Dawson with Whitehorse 530 km to the south and a summer-only road connects westward to Alaska.
Tourism dominates the employment sector in Dawson, where approximately 60,000 people visit each year. The tourist season is concentrated in the summer months of June through August. Dawson has been declared a National Historic Site due to the importance of the 1898 gold rush in the development and history of western Canada. Most of the tourists arrive by highway to see historical sites related to the
1898 gold rush, including theaters, homes, and renovated mining operations. Tourists can also pan for gold at commercial facilities. Historical sites related to three authors, Jack London, Robert Service, and Pierre Berton, also attract literary tourists. Gold and other minerals are still mined in the region.
Thomas W. Schmidlin
See also Yukon River Further Reading
Berton, Pierre, Klondike: The Last Great Gold Rush,
1896-1899, Toronto: Anchor Canada, 2001. Service, Robert, Spell of the Yukon, New York: Dodd Mead,
1990 reprint edition
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