16 October 2010

Klondike Mines RR, Pt 1, Background

The Yukon Territory is a fascinating piece of ground.  It has a very rich history and it is also strategically important.  As you can see from the map in the previous post, to get to Alaska by land, one MUST go through the Yukon.  A century ago the only large "city" there was Dawson, which was once referred to as "the Paris of the North."  

It was also the intended destination for a number of railroads, as you see from the map below, plus a pass-through for a very serious proposal that would have created an entirely new trans-world railroad that would have stretched from New York to Moscow and then Paris.

This proposal actually had serious financial backing, but is rumored to have been killed by the shipping industry.  Regardless of what happened, what is clear is that at one time, Dawson City and the Klondike was considered to be a major destination.

Dawson City became the territorial capital of the Yukon. A large administration building and the commissioner's residence still stand to attest to this important historic aspect of Dawson.

Unfortunately for the railroad which finally did emerge within the Klondike, it came too little and too late. It was built long after the intial strike had brought all that activity into this desolate area.  It was now competing with newly-built roads and the existing rather extensive water way system along the Yukon River. Even worse, with the strike over, the boom had become a bust. 

With the advent of the large companies that would take over the many small claims, the population dropped drastically.  The Klondike Mines Railway would become nothing more in then end but a hauler of wood for the various steam engines used in the Klondike to thaw the ground. Even that would prove to be a very limited venture.

And with the steady drop in local population the need to connect this line with the White Pass was now over. Thus the KMR would never go beyond the original 30 miles that brought it up to the headwaters of Eldorado and Bonanza Creeks.

It would take many more years, but eventually the capital was moved to Whitehorse. Whitehorse became important in its own right with the advent of the Alcan Highway built by the US Army in 1942-43.  By then Dawson had become nearly a ghost town--and a very isolated one at that. It was over 300 road miles from Whitehorse to Dawson where even large-scale mining was now on a long slide into oblivion.

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