The Klondike Gold Rush, also called the Last Great Gold Rush, was a migration by an estimated 100,000 prospectors to the Klondike region of the Yukon in north-western Canada between 1896 and 1899.
Gold was discovered here on August 16, 1896 and, when news reached Seattle and San Francisco the following year, it triggered a “stampede” of would-be prospectors. The journey proved too hard to many and only between 30,000 and 40,000 managed to arrive.
Some became wealthy. But the majority went in vain and only around 4,000 struck gold.
Prospectors had begun to mine gold in the Yukon from the 1880s onwards. When the rich deposits were discovered along the Klondike River in 1896, it was met with great local excitement; however, the remoteness of the region and the extreme winter climate prevented news from reaching the outside world until the following year. A stampede that came to mark the height of the rush began with the arrival of ships bringing gold from Klondike at north-western American ports in July 1897.
Newspaper reports of the gold fuelled a nation-wide hysteria where many left their jobs and set off for the Klondike as prospectors. These in turn were joined by traders, writers, photographers and others trying to make a profit from them.
To reach the gold fields most took the route through the ports of Dyea and Skagway in Southeast Alaska. Here, the Klondikers could follow either the Chilkoot or the White Pass trails to the Yukon River and sail down to the Klondike. Each of them was required to bring a year’s supply of food by the Canadian authorities in order to prevent starvation; in all, their equipment weighed close to a ton, which for most had to be carried in stages by themselves. Together with mountainous terrain and cold climate this meant that those who persisted did not arrive until summer 1898. Once there, they found few opportunities and many left disappointed.
Mining was challenging, the ore was distributed in a manner that could fool even experienced prospectors and digging was made slow by permafrost. As a result, some miners chose to buy and sell claims, building up huge investments and letting others do the work. To accommodate the prospectors, boom towns sprang up along the routes and at their end Dawson City was founded at the confluence of the Klondike and the Yukon River. From a population of 500 in 1896, the hastily constructed town came to house around 30,000 people by summer 1898. Poorly built, isolated and unsanitary Dawson suffered from fires, high prices and epidemics. Despite this, the wealthiest prospectors spent extravagantly gambling and drinking in the saloons. The Native Hän people, on the other hand, suffered from the rush. Many of them died after being moved into a reserve to make way for the stampeders.
From 1898, the newspapers that had encouraged so many to travel to the Klondike lost interest in it. When news arrived in the summer of 1899 that gold had been discovered in Nome in west Alaska, many prospectors left the Klondike for the new goldfields, marking the end of the rush. The boom towns declined and the population of Dawson City fell away. In terms of mining, the gold rush lasted until 1903 when production peaked after heavier equipment was brought in. Since then, the Klondike has been mined on and off and an estimated 1,250,000 pounds (570,000 kg) of gold has been taken from the area. It means about $30,740,000,000 has been collected.