Before the Gold Rush

Dawson City was put on the international map by the discovery of gold in August of 1896. But the story of this area does not begin there.

The area’s geology tells an intertwined story of unique mineral landscape and the presence of an Ice Age habitat: Beringia. This story continues to define the area today as gold miners discover the bones and vegetation from this period in the Klondike’s frozen ground. In 2016, a Dawson-area miner uncovered the pristine remains of an ancient wolf pup from the permafrost: teeth, fur, and even internal organs were all intact. This incredible find was dated at 57,000 years old. The wolf pup was named Zhùr, which means “wolf” in the Hän language. Mammoth tusks and bones are a more common find, and these can be seen on display in various places around Dawson City. 

Although it is difficult to determine accurate dates, patterns of movement, and origins of Yukon’s first inhabitants, we know that First Nations people have frequented the area for millennia. Most notably are the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in of the Hän people, who have used the area for centuries, primarily as a seasonal fish camp. While in Dawson, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in welcome you to hear their story when you visit the Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre.

“Outsiders” began trickling into the Yukon during the 19th century; determined prospectors, hardy traders, devout missionaries, and the dedicated North West Mounted Police called the territory home prior to the big strike of 1896. However, the discovery of gold created a wave of change–as well as a significant increase in the population. This opened up new facets of the Dawson area, which ultimately changed the face of the North American landscape.

This is just a small nugget of our community’s exciting past. During your visit you’ll have an opportunity to immerse yourself in the various chapters of Dawson City’s vibrant history.


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