The first time I drove into Dawson City from its teensy airport in the one taxi operating at the time, I found myself with a big grin on my face. Having changed little from the heyday of the Klondike Gold Rush, the roads are still dirt with wooden boardwalks, and preserved original buildings line the streets. It has become my favorite spot in the “Great White North” to work.
It also has a terrific setting on the confluence of the mighty Yukon River and the Klondike River, for which the historic Klondike Gold Rush of 1896 was named. The Dike Walkway is a great way to explore along the rivers, starting from the ferry dock opposite city hall and running for about 2 miles.
It takes a special kind of person to live in this tiny city, where the far-north location makes for extremes of daylight — about 4 hours in December and up to 21 hours in June.
I ask people I meet how they manage the winter here. One of the most interesting answers someone gave me was that he actually prefers the winter. Not that he mind the summers, which is when the tourists come and supply the way many people make their living, but the winter is when he is able to relax as life slows down and revolves around friends and getting together.
It is a fantastic town for wandering and exploring on your own. Many of the buildings have great window displays depicting the type of business that was conducted there — like Ruby’s Place, a house of ill repute and laundry services, Lowe’s mortuary, Madame Tremblay’s store or the Dawson City News — if they are not already occupied with a museum or working business.
You can get an MP3 player with an audio tour from the Visitor Information Center to take along with you.
Besides walking tours, there are a lot of other attractions and activities to keep you busy. The one spot you will not want to miss is Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Casino, named for its famous dance hall queen.
Sure, there are all the usual slots and gambling games, but the real reason to go is to see the nightly dance hall shows featuring lively cancan dancing and a leading lady songstress named, naturally, Gertie. Servers clad in period costumes circulate for drink orders and they also have a snack bar with some of the best budget food in town.
More sedate but no less interesting is Dawson City Museum, a National Historic Site of Canada with excellent exhibits, theater programs and scheduled demonstrations of things like how a rockerbox works or how gold is melted down.
No visit to the site of the Klondike Gold Rush would be complete without trying your hand at gold-panning, which is free at Claim 6. There are tours at Goldbottom Mine and a museum at Claim 33. It is interesting to note that the high price of gold has made placer mining in the area viable again.
Jack London Interpretive Center should also be a priority. It includes an excellent photo collection depicting the life of the famous author, as well as the cabin of Robert Service, who wrote humorous poems of the gold rush and became known as the Bard of the Yukon.
While there are a number of AAA Approved establishments here, I’m partial to the lodging named for a gold rush character: Klondike Kate’s Cabins (AAA Two Diamonds). The original cabins date back to 1904, but the owners have spruced them up to be comfortable and attractive. Its namesake restaurant (also AAA Two Diamonds) is also one of the better spots to eat in town.
There is much more, but you will really have to visit to get the full effect of this iconic city, filled with its history and the quirky and interesting people who live there.