I’ve been waiting for this day for almost a year! Before we moved here, I heard there was a day in May where you can go into some of Dawson City’s rarely opened historical buildings. I waited all year for May. And then I had to wait until YESTERDAY at the Gold Show, to hear what buildings were going to be open this year. (The International Gold Show was yesterday and today – like a big trade show for all equipment and services for the mining sector and Parks Canada had a booth where the details for Doors Open Dawson were announced.)
Parks Canada owns close to 30 buildings in town. If you know Dawson City’s history, you know it was just swamp land where the Klondike and Yukon rivers converge, until the great Klondike Gold Rush brought thousands of people here in 1897 onwards. Many old buildings that were built in the 1899-1906 era have been closed up for preservation, or have already been restored.
Here’s what I saw today!
- Klondike Thawing Machine Company
- Ruby’s Place
- West Boiler Shop
- Fort Herchmer, NWMP Jail
- Bear Creek Gold Room
Fort Herchmer, NWMP Jail
This is the old jail for the North West Mounted Police (NWMP). It was built in 1898. It was located here, on the first lot established in Dawson City. It is a 40 acre site known as “Fort Herchmer”. There were once about 40 buildings on the site, but only 4 remain.
The floor is long gone, so the gravel we walked on inside was probably a foot or two lower than where the floor would have been.
It was pretty dark inside, but I turned on my camera’s flash and just snapped away to see if anything would turn out.
Sue, the interpretive guide, told us the jail was split into areas. There was a men’s area of the jail ( a short term area, and a long term area), a women’s section, and a section for the insane.
Remember all the wooden beams you see here are not original, they are just holding the old log building together. Parks Canada is planning on doing a bit more work to this jail this season to further preserve it.
It isn’t open to the public and not many people have seen the inside, so it was a real treat!
Here I could see some old wall covering around the window.
If you are familiar with gold rush history, the four Nantuck brothers were jailed here. Two of them passed away in jail of sickness, and the other two were hanged here. Eleven people are known to have been hanged by the North West Mounted Police in Dawson’s earlier days.
West Boiler Shop
The West Boiler Shop on 3rd Ave, is right beside the famous “kissing buildings” that are leaning into each other after over a hundred years of permafrost heaving. It is a narrow, long wooden structure that doesn’t attract much attention. But today, the windows were open!
We weren’t allowed to go in this one, and unfortunately my photos didn’t capture the spirit of this place. I felt like I could have looked around for a day!
This was Jesse West’s boiler shop, where he built and repaired boilers which were essential for mining at the time. Gold miners used steam from the boilers to melt permafrost, before they discovered that cold water under pressure worked just as well. You can see old boilers all over the place, in town, in the woods, left and forgotten in the gold fields where the forest has grown up around them.
West worked on boilers here until he died in 1953.
The outside of the building is pretty rough. From what I understand, Parks Canada doesn’t intend to intervene any further in the preservation of this building. Instead, they’ve done what they can to keep it part of the relict landscape of the town.
There is a fence surrounding it now. Outside it looks like a forgotten graveyard of boilers and boiler parts.
Read more about Jesse West:
I was really excited to visit Ruby’s Place. I’m not sure why, but I have a real fascination with the women who came all the way up here to be dancing hall girls and prostitutes.
Ruby Scott operated Canada’s last legal brothel here, from 1935 – 1961. And I got to go inside!
I was really quite surprised to find the place gutted. Just completely empty with walls stripped down to burlap and a mixture of all sorts of wallpapers. The floor seemed to have been replaced with just plain plywood.
I just couldn’t understand why they had gutted it so drastically and hadn’t preserved it as it was. It wasn’t until later in the day that I learned this building was significantly damaged by the flood in 1979. Before there was a dyke along the river, Dawson City had several severe damaging floods during the spring river break up due to ice dams.
Ruby is shown above on the sign outside the building.
Klondike Thawing Machine Company
This building was built in 1899. The Klondike Thawing Machine Company took it over in 1913 and it was used as a warehouse.
We were invited into the rear of the building. I had no idea what we were even going to see here.
Turns out it is one of Parks Canada’s archive storage facilities! They let us in, gave us latex gloves if we wanted to touch anything, and turned us loose! I couldn’t believe it!
It really feels like Parks Canada has had some sort of culture shift into allowing these things to be seen and enjoyed, rather than just catalogued and warehoused. I don’t think they’ve ever let the public in here before!
Above is some of Martha and George Black’s personal effects. George was the Commissioner of the Yukon from 1912-1926 and later was a Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons. Both are really fascinating people who you should read about some day!
There were so many neat and odd things stored in this warehouse. I think I could have easily spent a week in here!
I wanted to look in every drawer, which they encouraged, but at the same time I felt like there was no way I was actually allowed to look in any drawer! I couldn’t believe it! Thank you Parks Canada!
Above is a box that says it holds a black ostrich feather headpiece and below are a bunch of coffins, from baby sized and wooden, to large man sized and wicker.
I got a kick out of the hammer that said it was from the Commissioner’s Residence and was removed because people kept using it on the gong!
Bear Creek Gold Room
This was the site that everyone was most excited about! 10km south of town, just off the highway, is Bear Creek. This was the headquarters and compound of the Yukon Consolidated Gold Corporation.
The Doors Open Dawson event brought us to the infamous “Gold Room” (the white building above) where millions of dollars of gold bars were refined. From the outside it looks like any other house or service building, but when you get closer you can see all of the bars on the windows and doors.
When the highway was complete in the 1950’s, joining Dawson City to the rest of the world, they were understandably concerned that someone would just drive up with a big truck and steal the entire building, so it was reinforced and placed on a concrete base (there isn’t much concrete up here!).
The Gold Room was fascinating! It looks like it could have operated yesterday. Like one day they just walked away.
In the image below, you can see all these doors at the bottom of the floor. There is a number above each. The number corresponded to each of the dredges. When their sluice boxes were cleaned, the material came here and remained separated from the other dredges.
There was even a Simpson-Sears catalogue from 1968.
After our visit to the gold room, we were permitted to wander around the compound. Again, this seemed like a big shift. As far as I knew, the Bear Creek compound was fenced, gated, and locked. They encouraged us to go and explore, unsupervised, keeping out of the locked buildings of course.
Above is a cold root cellar like building were vegetables were stored. Below is the big mess hall and bunk house where the workers lived who didn’t have a house in the subdivision, and who didn’t live north in Dawson.
Being so remote, the company stored a significant stock of material and spare parts here in the compound.
There was so much machinery around. After Yukon Consolidated Gold closed the business, they sold off valuable, usable equipment from the site before Parks Canada took over the compound, but there is still plenty to see. Below was some kind of equipment with big blast doors on the front.
A Northern Flicker was flying around making a ruckus, like he wasn’t used to all the visitors.
So many people who live in Dawson City now, grew up here in Bear Creek, so you can often hear people reminiscing. A lady who was visiting today said she grew up there, but had never been in the gold room, because they never let the children in.
Once in awhile I peeked in a window or stuck my camera through an open door 🙂
This white house belonged to Joe Boyle, who was named “The King of the Klondike”. It was built in 1905 and will be stabilized later this year. It was also known as the “VIP House”. He took control of the Canadian Klondyke Mining Company, and this compound, in 1909. The company went bankrupt in 1921 and after a period of refinancing and restructuring, it became the Yukon Consolidated Gold Corporation.
If you look closely, or click on the sign below, you can see all sorts of math figurings written on the sign, like people were maybe calculating their fuel price.
Below you see one of the many sampling holes that are found throughout the compound, to monitor the ground levels of harmful metals and chemicals (like mercury).
There are some HUGE timbers on site. These were used on the dredges and can be used to maintain the Dredge #4 that has been preserved nearby and is available for tours in the summer months.
This is behind the mess hall/bunk house (shown above). There was a separate little building and it seems to have housed the laundry and showers.
Here is more of the compound’s lumber yard.
Just beyond the core industrial compound, was the subdivision for the employees. Below is the community hall.
Some buildings were moved to Dawson City. A few remain, now in the woods. It was described to us as a clean, well maintained subdivision at one point, with manicured lawns. Now it is a decade away from disappearing into the woods forever.
There was apparently once a tennis court, a ball diamond, and a curling rink.
Below is a little child’s bike or toy. Looks like it had a plastic horse head.
It was such a treasure to be able to visit all these sites today. I just love the history of the place and I’m so grateful for Parks Canada for all their work in preservation, restoration, and especially for their welcome mat today!