Canada 150: Dawson City

On leg three of my cross-Canada road trip, I drove from Edmonton to Dawson City with a friend. And it was on this trip that I learned a valuable lesson about travelling that has stuck with me ever since.

Always (always, always!!) do your research before you leave home.

My friend and I, both living in Toronto at the time, decided to drive to Dawson City from Edmonton instead of Whitehorse because we both had people we wanted to visit in Edmonton. We flew separately, a few days apart, and I booked us a rental car at the Edmonton International Airport where I would meet her.

I still remember the exact moment the sinking feeling formed in the pit of my stomach. Spread out on the floor of my brother’s living room was a road map that I had been using to calculate how long it would take us to drive to Dawson City. (This was back in the olden days, folks, long before Google Maps.) I started at it in disbelief. Turns out that, even after flying across four provinces, my friend and I were only halfway to the Yukon from Toronto. We had a 36-hour drive ahead of us.


But you know what? It was a stunning road trip. We spent our first night with an aunt of mine who lived on a farm in northern Alberta, stopped for a minute the next day in Dawson Creek, BC, to take our obligatory photos at Mile 0 of the Alaska Highway, and camped that night near the BC–Yukon border where we soaked our weary bodies in Canada’s second-largest hot springs at Liard River.

On our third day, we pushed on until we finally arrived at Dawson City around 1 a.m. My sister, who was working in Dawson for the summer, was up and waiting for us.

I was running on adrenalin by that point and nowhere near ready for bed, so my sister took me to the top of Midnight Dome for my first view of the town. It was early July and at that hour it was dusky, but light enough to understand why they call it Land of the Midnight Sun. I took this photo of the view of Dawson City and the Yukon River from Midnight Dome the next day.

Dawson City

Dawson City was the epicentre of the Klondike Gold Rush. After gold was discovered in 1896, an estimated 100,000 people poured into the area, hoping to make their fortune. Almost overnight, Dawson became the largest city west of Winnipeg and north of Seattle.

It was over as quickly as it started. The miners moved on to Alaska after gold was discovered there in 1899. Gold mining still goes on in Dawson today, but most of the town’s economy is based on tourism, which celebrates its Klondike past.

The Klondike Gold Rush transformed all of Western Canada, however. The population of Vancouver doubled and Edmonton’s tripled in those few short years as both cities served as gateways to the Klondike.

Just as Edmonton did for my friend and I.

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