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"Paris of the North"

For the week of Monday November 24, 2008

On November 28, 1898, the Bonanza Hotel opened for business in Dawson, Yukon Territory. The hotel was part of the building boom that swept the region to accommodate the influx of people, including prospectors, bankers and miners, who arrived during the Klondike Gold Rush.

The Bonanza Hotel
© University of Washington Libraries/ Special Collections/ SAR133
Gold was discovered in Bonanza Creek on August 17, 1896. Before long, thousands in search of riches moved into the area. One of these men, Joseph Ladue, saw a prime opportunity and established the town of Dawson in 1896. It had previously existed as an Aboriginal community, but with the Gold Rush Dawson quickly became the business centre of the Yukon.

The growth of the city was slow at first, but by April 1897 the population had already grown to 1,500 and within months reached 3,500. Most prospectors did not expect to stay long and built temporary shelters consisting of a wooden base and tent top. After the winter of 1898 and with a steady supply of gold, many began to build permanent residences made from logs and mud with roofs of sod. The commercial buildings were built to have a look of luxury that would encourage the gold rushers to spend money inside. To achieve this look a number of buildings created elaborate false fronts attached to the outside of the same simple log structures found elsewhere.

Development in Dawson peaked between July 1898 and July 1899. During that year buildings such as the Bonanza hotel, the Palace Grand theatre and numerous saloons and dance halls would open to the public, leading to the nickname “Paris of the North.” The population reached 30,000, but by the summer of 1899 was already in decline. In one week in August, 8,000 people left as Yukon gold ran out and gold was discovered in Alaska. 

Dawson City during the Gold Rush
© Parks Canada/ H.11.40.06.08(34)

Following the Gold Rush, some people decided to send for their families and invest in Dawson to create a permanent community. In 1898, Dawson had become the capital of the Yukon.  By the 1900s, many permanent government buildings were being built, including the Dawson Post Office, the Territorial Courthouse and a Commissioners residence. Whitehorse would become the capital in 1953.

In 1959, a number of these important buildings from the Klondike Gold Rush were designated as a National Historic Site, known as the Dawson Historical Complex. Since then work has been undertaken to maintain and restore these buildings to their Gold Rush splendour.

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