This Week in History



This story was initially published in 1998

On August 17, 1896, a party of prospectors struck large deposits of gold nuggets on Bonanza Creek, setting off the most exciting gold find in Canadian history. This party was panning the creeks as they travelled. Keish, a Tagish First Nation's man known to history as "Skookum Jim," hit paydirt. He and his companions staked claims a few days later. News of their discovery spread to the outside world and the Klondike Gold Rush began.

Skookum Jim at Discovery Claim

"Skookum Jim" at Discovery Claim
© Library and Archives Canada / PA-44683

From around the world, thousands of people seeking fortune and adventure rushed to the Yukon to dig for gold along the streams that feed the Klondike River. During the gold rush, Dawson City grew from a First Nations fishing camp into a town of 14,000 — the heart of a district with 40,000 people!

Getting to the gold fields was hard: the Klondike was far from any seaport or railway. A mountain path called the Chilkoot Trail was the shortest and busiest route from the Alaska coast to the headwaters of the Yukon River in Canada. It was difficult, especially the steep footpath to the summit of the Chilkoot Pass and the border crossing into Canada. Many stampeders, disheartened by the many climbs necessary to haul their equipment over the pass, turned back here. Keish, a packer and guide before he became rich, earned his nickname of "Skookum" or "strong" when he carried 71 kilograms over the pass in a single load!

Hiker on the Chilkoot Trail today

Hiker on the Chilkoot Trail today
© Parks Canada / Philip Goldring / 1990

By 1899 all the best claims were staked and the rush slowed. When the White Pass and Yukon Route Railway opened in 1900, traffic on the Chilkoot Trail almost stopped. In the gold fields, individual prospectors sold out to large mining companies. During the time the Klondike was in full swing more than $500 million worth of gold had been mined! Individual "placer miners" still work the creeks for gold.

Skookum Jim is recognized by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada for the original discovery. The discovery itself is commemorated by a plaque at Bonanza Creek, Yukon. Dawson City Historical Complex is an impressive collection of buildings from the Gold Rush era. The Chilkoot Trail still welcomes hikers from all over the world. It is managed jointly by Parks Canada and the United States Parks Service. In 1998 Chilkoot Trail National Historic Site and Klondike National Historic Sites celebrated the 100th anniversary of their busiest season ever.

Date Modified: