Today in World History: August 16th

The Klondike Gold Rush, in which gold was discovered in the Yukon Territory of Canada, started on this day in 1896, when an American prospector, George Carmack, his wife Kate Carmack, her brother Skookum Jim and their nephew Dawson Charlie discovered gold in a stream. The story exploded in newspapers across the continent, and the Klondike Gold Rush began. It lasted for three years, during which 100,000 prospectors endured treacherous conditions to reach the North, with less than 30,000 actually reaching the area of the Yukon where gold was discovered, and less than 4,000 actually finding gold. Many of these prospectors died during the march to the Yukon, as disease and famine claimed the lives of the prospectors and their horses. Those that survived the deadly trails to the Yukon with more than a ton of equipment on their backs arrived disappointed, and by 1899, when gold was discovered in Nome, Alaska, many of these prospectors packed up their bags and marched to the West, ending the Klondike Gold Rush and the economic boom that came along with it.

Dawson City, circa 1902
Dawson City, circa 1902

The only ones to truly profit from the Klondike Gold Rush were the shopkeepers in towns like Dawson. A very tiny town in the end of the 19th century, Dawson’s economy and population exploded with the arrival of the prospectors, and soon, the town reached a population of 40,000. Prices of food and rent exploded, as larger shipments were needed to supply the prospectors. Shopkeepers began earning more and more money, leading to a boom in real estate in the area. However, by the early 20th century, prospectors and other visitors began leaving Dawson City and other places like it, ending the economic boom of the North, leading to the rapid decline of the population in Dawson City, and today it is populated by less than 1,500 people.

The Klondike Gold Rush was crucial to the development of Canada’s North, becoming a legacy of Canadian and American culture, and resulting in the economic boom, albeit short-lived, of many cities in Alaska and the Yukon.

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