While we are on the cusp of a new gold rush in the Klondike, an era of exploration that is seeing a gradual shift from placer mining to hard rock mining, we do well to remember that this is just another phase of a history that has been in the making since even before the discovery on what was then called Rabbit Creek in 1896.
It was placer mining that scratched the surface of this gold bearing land, and it was the clues provided by generations of placer miners that pointed the way to the discoveries that are being made today.
This little essay takes its title from a book written by my much missed next door neighbour, John Gould, who left this life to join his wife, Madeleine, on Boxing Day, 2011. John’s life was very much bound up in the history of Dawson City and the industry that shaped it.
John was the son of a Nova Scotia farmer who came west to join the annual harvest on the prairies, as did Percy De Wolfe and some of my own relatives in those days. Mine went back home after the harvest.
Robert Gould had the intention of financing his way to the Yukon. After a detour, during which he gained some mining experience, he finally got here in 1901, and eventually staked a claim in Nugget Hill.
John would grow up to work that claim, would take his bride there after his World War II military service in the RCAF, and would work that claim on and off, first with his father, and then with his son, Peter, until 1998.
It was a rugged claim with a gorgeous view, as I learned when I spent an afternoon there with John and Pierre Berton during the filming of a television special about Berton’s life.
Along the way, John also spent 13 years working for Klondike National Historic Sites, developing a passion for history that found a bit of an outlet in articles he wrote for the Klondike Sun, and a bigger outlet in his first book, Frozen Gold (Pictorial Histories Publishing Co., Inc., 106 pages, 2001).
The book is a slender, well-illustrated treatise on early Klondike mining technology, as Gould experienced it during his 92 years.
John and Madeleine also ran the Goldrush Campground in the centre of Dawson for some years, so you can say they were involved in all three of our town’s economic pillars.
That Frozen Gold was considered significant can be judged from publisher Stan Cohen’s decision to publish it. Cohen’s usual fare was picture books, aimed at the tourist trade, thin on text and priced just under $20.
Stan has told me that he considered this book important enough to vary his formula. Sadly, the book is currently out of print, but there are still copies available in various Yukon outlets.
Used copies are available through various online re-sellers, at prices ranging from $50 to $220.
Gould’s book has lots of photos, drawings and diagrams (108 photos in 106 pages) but it also has a lot of text. There are three major sections, subdivided into from three to six chapter headings. These cover the setting, the methods and the types of gold extraction techniques.
In a sense, you could say that Frozen Gold tells about the early days, skips right over the corporate era of the dredges, and continues on with methods which, though modified by time and more advanced equipment, are directly descended from those used by Gould and his family over three generations.
It’s a story that will probably continue, even as the next rush overtakes us.