Klondike Korner: Rediscovering the Discovery Claim

Each year, about 8,500 people visit the Discovery Claim on Bonanza Creek, 15 kilometres from where it meets the Klondike River.

That’s not bad for a historic site that really hasn’t had much in the way of quality promotion since I first saw it in 1978.

At that time there were what looked to be some abandoned workings, but were really fake down-scale models: a drift, a rocker box and a shaft, all quite shabby looking.

There was a plaque, which had been installed in 1962 by the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada, but not much else.

The Klondike Centennial Society (KCS) increased the visibility of the site in 1996 with a display of dredge buckets containing plaques about the placer miners and the industry.

Still, Claim Number One itself had decayed even further when I took a visiting Berton House writer-in-residence to see it in 2007. I was more than slightly embarrassed.

This was, after all, the place where George Carmack had staked the claims that started the Klondike Gold Rush, based on the nuggets that Skookum Jim Mason found in the creek.

While not the biggest gold rush of the 19th century, it came at the right time in terms of media and photography to be one of the best documented, and is therefore the best known of them all.

It has become the gold standard, so to speak, against which all subsequent discoveries have been measured.

As for longevity, very few of those 19th century boomtowns can be said to still exist 115 years later.

Two years after that visit, things began to turn around when Parks Canada and the KCS collaborated on a fund raising and design plan to make that claim, and the one next to it into a self-guided walking tour with fine trails (made by the Klondike Active Transport and Trails Society), and displays that take a visitor though the technological history of placer mining from pick and shovel to the age of diesel powered cats.

All this was made possible by funding from the Yukon’s Community Development Fund and the federal National Trails Infrastructure Program, in addition to the skills and knowledge of volunteers who gave time and advice to the project.

I had the pleasure of visiting the renewed site with folks from KCS and Parks last September. The 1,200 metre trail was ready, though not all of the 11 nodes had received their audio packages, and some of the larger display signs had not yet been mounted.

It was a pleasant fall day, made more pleasant by my delight at seeing the vast improvement that had been made in everything about the place.

People have been able to take this walking tour of the new, improved Discovery Claim all through this summer season, but the partners had decided some time ago that they wanted to have the official launch of the revived site held close to the actual anniversary date. When it wasn’t quite ready for last year, they picked this year for the ceremony.

The event was scheduled for August 17, with a ribbon cutting ceremony at 11 am, followed by a barbecue, musical entertainment, guided trail tours and a demonstration of heritage mining techniques.

After 32 years teaching in rural Yukon schools, Dan Davidson retired from that profession but continues writing about life in Dawson City.

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