A “world-startling discovery”

Since 2017, our vaults are officially home to over 80,000 maps and related records from the historic Canada Lands Survey Records collection, totalling 1.5 linear kilometres of archival holdings!

The collection consists of the official survey documents related to Canada Lands and includes Indigenous reserves, national parks, military lands, offshore areas, and Territorial Lands dating to as early as the 1760s.

The survey map below was based on the field books of William Ogilvie, a noted Dominion land surveyor working in western and northern Canada.

Bonanza Creek Map

Placer Mining Claims on part of Bonanza Creek in the Klondike Mining Division of the Yukon Territory
Library and Archives Canada, R214, vol. 2089 (8284 YT CLSR), MIKAN 5012299 / e011202237

The map documents the discovery claim that triggered the Klondike Gold Rush, an event Ogilvie called a “world-startling discovery.” On the bottom-left corner, we can read the names of George Carmack and Tagish Jim. Let’s have a look at an enlarged version:

Bonanza Creek Map, enlarged

We can clearly see the discovery claims made by “Tagish Jim” (commonly known as James Kèsh, or Jim Mason), a member of the Tagish Khwáan First Nation.

James Mason

Portrait of "Skookum Jim" - James Mason

Credit: Int. Harvester, Library and Archives Canada, C-025640, MIKAN 3358565

Mason, his American brother-in-law George Carmack, and his sister Shaaw Tláa, also known as Kate Carmack, are credited with discovering the first piece of gold in Bonanza Creek. It was unusual to have discovery claims made by First Nations prospectors and accepted by mining authorities at the time, which makes these records even more remarkable.

While Ogilvie used the sobriquet “Tagish Jim” in his field books and on his survey maps, Mason also went by “Skookum” Jim (in Chinook trade jargon, “Skookum” means “strength”).

Mason became known to Ogilvie when the latter was surveying the Alaska-Yukon boundary at the Yukon River in 1887-1888. Mason figures prominently in Ogilvie’s memoir Early Days on the Yukon, with the chapter “Discovery of the Klondike” including a section dedicated solely to him.

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