Transcript of podcast episode 67
Josée Arnold (JA): Welcome to “Discover Library and Archives Canada: Your History, Your Documentary Heritage.” I’m your host, Josée Arnold. Join us as we showcase treasures from our vaults; guide you through our many services; and introduce you to the people who acquire, safeguard and make known Canada’s documentary heritage.
Near the Alaskan border with Canada, nestled along the Klondike River in the Yukon, sits the Klondike region. On August 16, 1896, local miners discovered gold there. When news reached the United States and southern Canada the following year, it triggered a stampede of prospectors, forever changing the landscape of the Northwest and of North America.
The gold was discovered on Rabbit Creek, and lay within the traditional territory of the Han People, who had hunted, fished and trapped along the Yukon River for thousands of years. Many of today’s Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, or People of the River, are descendants of the Han-speaking people.
During the early years of the Klondike Gold Rush, more than 30,000 individuals hand mined for gold in the rich creeks, and from 1896 to 1899, over $29 million in gold was extracted from the ground around Dawson City. The excitement quickly petered out after the turn of the century, however, and one by one, miners sold out to large companies, which bought up individual claims.
One of these companies, the Yukon Consolidated Gold Corporation, operated in the Klondike region between 1923 and 1966. The company had a large presence in the area, with hundreds of employees, and amassed a huge collection of valuable geological data, including maps and technical drawings.
Jeff Bond (JB): My name is Jeff Bond. I am the Head of Surficial Biology at the Yukon Geological Survey.
Sydney Van Loon (SVL): I’m Sydney Van Loon, and I’m a placer geology technician with the Yukon Geological Survey. We are based here in Whitehorse, Yukon.
JA: Yukon Geological Survey geologists Sydney Van Loon and Jeff Bond have been travelling from their home base in Whitehorse to Ottawa since 2013, digitizing hundreds of these geological maps of the Klondike region at Library and Archives Canada (LAC). Since the information provided in the maps is extremely detailed and valuable to geologists and historians, and to the few corporations still active in the gold industry, they have been making the information available online. The collection of the Yukon Consolidated Gold Corporation at LAC holds over 1,400 maps and over 400 technical drawings of the Klondike region.
Before we start to talk to Jeff and Sydney, we highly recommend that you go to our Flickr gallery. We have many great photos there from our collection here at LAC, and several pertain to the topics we’ll be covering in today’s episode. You can access the link to the Flickr album in the show notes on the podcast page for this episode. Check it out!
We first asked if Jeff and Sydney could tell us about the Klondike region’s geological background. How did all of this gold end up there?
JB: Sure, I can handle this question. The Klondike is located in west-central Yukon. The area is underlain by rocks that are Permian Age; those are rocks that are about 250 to 300 million years old. They consist of volcanic rocks, sedimentary rocks and also some intrusives of granites and things like that. It’s a metamorphose terrain. So that means there’s been mountain building that’s gone on; the rocks have been exposed to heat and pressure.
In that process, there has been veins of quartz that have been shot through the rocks. That veining process, that component of the geology, occurred roughly around 160 million years ago. That mineralization event essentially is the event that brings the gold into, and concentrates the gold associated with, the quartz veins.
We’re talking about very old rocks in terms of the cordillera in the mountain belts here. The veins are much younger than the actual rock. Then you have, really since that period of time, you’ve had relative stability in the landscape. You had mountain building, and then once the mountain-building events really subsided, you really had a long period of erosion occurring. So, once the gold was then placed into a quartz vein, you have weathering processes occurring in this mountain, this area, that really liberated the gold from the quartz veins and released it into the stream valleys. That process has been going on for roughly more than a hundred million years.
With that amount of time, that amount of erosion, you can build up gold in the valley bottoms, and that’s the process that occurred in Klondike. What we see in the Klondike if you were to visit that region today is a region that is unglaciated, which is unique in Canada. It’s an area that was never glaciated by the ice sheets like most of the rest of the country.
It escaped the glaciations because this particular area of northwestern Canada is quite dry, and the ice sheets never reached the region. The gold deposits were not buried or eroded under the thick deposits of glacial sediments. When you visit the Klondike, it has a different look to it in terms of landscapes that we might be used to in other places in the Yukon: the valleys are quite narrow, there's not a lot of sediment on the landscape in a way. The landscape is dominated by river erosion, stream erosion and really, gravitational processes like landslides and things like that.
Roughly about 2.8 million years ago, we had the first glaciation into the area. It doesn’t reach the Klondike, as I mentioned, but it comes into the area. What it does in terms of the big picture in the Yukon is it diverts and reverses the Yukon River.
The Yukon River used to be a south-flowing river prior to the first glaciation. At that point in time, it reverses the river, blocks it, and reverses it to the north into eastern Alaska. In that process, all of the river valleys that are connected to the Yukon River drop in what’s called the base level. They erode to a lower level after that period of time. That’s why we have these high-level gravels left in the Klondike. They are abandoned in the process of erosion.
What’s important about that particular event and that process of erosion is you concentrate all of the gold that was in the White Channel Gravel. These are very thick deposits of gravel that are upwards of 30-plus metres thick, and the gold within those older gravels, you concentrate that down into your modern flood plain when you have this erosional event.
It was all triggered by the reversal of the Yukon River, really. When you concentrate that volume of gold within the White Channel Gravel into the valley bottoms, you produce a highly economic gold deposit in the valley bottoms.
The Klondike is really characterized by a long history of events that have led to the Klondike Gold Rush and the current situation, where you had very concentrated gold deposits in the stream gravels itself and some of the highest concentrations that have been found in North America.
JA: Did you know that the name “Klondike” evolved from the First Nations word Tr’ondëk, which means “hammerstone water”? Early gold seekers found it difficult to pronounce the First Nations word, so “Klondike” was the result of this poor pronunciation.
By the way, we’d like to give a big shout-out to Kylie Van Every. She’s a Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in citizen and a Heritage Interpreter at Dänojà Zho Cultural Centre in Dawson City, Yukon. Kylie provided us with a solid understanding of the impact that the Klondike Gold Rush had on First Nations peoples in the area, and on their ancestral rights to the land. Thanks, Kylie!
How did the Klondike Gold Rush get started? How was the gold discovered? Jeff tells us.
JB: Prospecting in the Klondike really began—in the Yukon in general, prospecting began in the 1880s. To get into the Yukon in those early days, you would have sailed up the coast from British Columbia or the lower 48, Seattle, San Francisco. You’d have sailed up the coast, and you would have stopped at a place called Dyea.
JA: Dyea (Die-E) was a launching place, where the local Chilkat controlled a mountain path called the Chilkoot Pass. The Chilkoot Pass was a 53-kilometre-long mountain pass stretching from the ghost town of Dyea, Alaska, to Lake Bennett, British Columbia. First crossed by Chilkoot Tlingit traders and later by the Klondike Gold Rush “stampeders,” as they were called, the trail crossed the international boundary between the United States and Canada. The pass was a major trading route and was also used by the early prospectors in the 1880s to gain access into the interior beyond the coastal mountains. This would have brought people into the interior of Yukon and given them access to the river systems that drained into the Yukon River itself.
The Chilkoot Pass was an important milestone that travellers had to conquer in order to reach the Klondike. The trail was one of only three passes in southeast Alaska that could be crossed year-round. It was understood by those using the trail that Tlingit and Tagish packers would be hired to move expedition gear.
The pass is now managed co-operatively by Parks Canada and the U.S. National Park Service.
JB: The prospecting began in the 1880s, and then it really led—people were zoning in and getting closer and closer to the Klondike area itself, just prior to the discovery. You have a few different players that are important in the Klondike Gold Rush discovery, and that is—one of the main prospectors was a fellow named Robert Henderson from Nova Scotia, who was very active in prospecting in the Klondike area just prior to the discovery on Bonanza Creek.
He really alerted George Carmack, Skookum Jim, Tagish Charlie and Kate Carmack about the potential of the area. Those four folks, George Carmack, Skookum Jim, Tagish Charlie and Kate Carmack, George’s wife, were fishing at the mouth of the Klondike River.
There was an amazing salmon run, apparently, at the Klondike River back in those days. They were also prospecting on the side. They had a conversation with Robert Henderson at the mouth of the Klondike River in August of 1896 or July of 1896 about the potential of the creek called Gold Bottom Creek.
They went over to visit Robert on his claims on Gold Bottom Creek. In the process of going to Gold Bottom Creek, they hiked up a creek called Rabbit Creek. They did a little bit of gold panning on the way. They went over the divide into Gold Bottom, spent some time with Robert there, and then returned to their fishing camp at the mouth of the Klondike River.
On their way back to the fishing camp, they shot a moose for supplies in Rabbit Creek. They followed the same route back that they came up. Then they decided to do a little bit more prospecting. Well, the location where they shot the moose turned out to be an exceptional place to actually dip your pan in the creek or pan some gravel on the side of the creek.
It turned out that the bedrock level was quite high in the creek, which meant that the gold that sits on the bedrock contact between the gravel and the bedrock was quite close to the surface. They managed to get a really, what was a true sample of the pay streak there.
JA: “Pay streak” is a term that refers to profitable pockets of minerals, in this instance, gold, concentrated at or near the bedrock.
JB: They got an exceptional gold pan and made the discovery, called the Bonanza Creek, and went down to record their claims at the local mining recorder office, which was located in a town called Forty Mile, which is just downriver from the mouth of the Klondike River on the Yukon.
They were pretty happy about that, obviously. They went down to Forty Mile. There was a bunch of miners down there that they told about their discovery on Rabbit Creek, now known as Bonanza Creek. That led to the initial rush. This was in August of 1896. The gold was discovered August 16, 1896, by Skookum Jim, who was a First Nation, from the Carcross/Tagish First Nation, which is closer to Whitehorse here, and his relatives were part of that prospecting party and fishing party as well, Kate Carmack and Tagish Charlie.
JA: Relatives Keish and Káa Goox, known also as Skookum Jim and Tagish Charlie, were both Tagish First Nation members. George Carmack had married into the family by wedding Skookum Jim’s sister Shaaw Tláa, also known as Kate. As Jeff mentioned, the gold discovery was made on Rabbit Creek, a small tributary of the Klondike River. It was soon renamed Bonanza Creek, a name that became world-famous. Bonanza Creek is on Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in traditional territory.
JB: So they each recorded a claim at the discovery site, at Forty Mile. They told the other miners about it down there, and prospectors, and that launched the initial rush, really, by local people that were in the area at the time. So this was all happening in the fall of 1896, and that brings in your first few hundred people into the drainage of Bonanza Creek.
They start discovering all these other creeks that are in the area as well at that time, but really they’re focused on Bonanza Creek and an important tributary called El Dorado Creek. And so news of the strike doesn’t get out to the south until the spring of 1897, because there’s no boat going, very few boats going back and forth up the Yukon River at that time.
And really what happens in that first winter of 1896 is all these new miners, all these new claimholders on Bonanza Creek, are sinking shafts in the creek, and that is digging a hole down to the bedrock contact between the gravel and the bedrock, really down to the base of your gravel unit and testing the ground to see how much gold is in the gravel.
So they can do this kind of work in the winter. You basically light a fire, the ground’s frozen, there’s permafrost there, but you light a fire on the ground, you let the fire die out, and then you thaw some of the ground, you dig out your hole, and then you light another fire, and you continue down through the permafrost and gravel until you get to the bedrock contact. And they did this throughout the winter.
JA: How deep were these holes?
JB: And we’re talking about 20 feet roughly, anywhere from 10 to 20 feet would be a typical shaft, wouldn’t you say, Sydney?
SVL: Yeah, about that.
JB: Yeah, and at that time, very difficult digging though because the ground is frozen, the gravels are frozen, but they were used to that in the area in general. The first few miners there were already exposed to that sort of hardship. So they really got a good sense of what was there that first winter. They brought up a bunch of pay dirt from the shafts, and that gravel was washed, and the gold was separated from the gravel in the spring, when the first thaw occurs in the spring of 1897. And that’s when they really realized how much gold was in Bonanza Creek and El Dorado Creek, and it was substantial.
And so the first gold gets hauled out of the Klondike on the first ships that sail back down to Seattle, San Francisco, in the spring. Probably June or so of 1897, and that really triggers the news and the first stage of the bigger gold rush.
JA: By early 1897, the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in had moved away from Tr’ondëk to a traditional camp downriver called Moosehide. Although the gold rush brought new economic opportunities for the territory’s First Nations people, it also created social and cultural upheaval. Han leader Chief Isaac welcomed the stampeders, but he never failed to remind them that they prospered at the expense of the original inhabitants by driving away their game and taking over their land.
For discovering the gold and starting the Klondike Gold Rush, Tagish Charlie, George Carmack, Skookum Jim and Robert Henderson were all inducted into the Prospectors' Hall of Fame in 1988, and the Canadian Mining Hall of Fame in 1999. Their names are also engraved in the base of the prospector statue that stands watch over downtown Whitehorse at Main Street and Third Avenue.
What was the population like in the Klondike region prior to the beginning of the gold rush? What happened after the news got out? Jeff and Sydney tell us.
JB: The whole region goes from being a few hundred people in the creek to about 30,000 people in the area by later in the summer of 1897. And it takes, of course, people a long time to get there. Really, by the time they’re finding out about it, it’s probably July of 1897, it’s getting into the newspapers. It takes people a while to get their gear together and get on a boat, get up over the Chilkoot Pass, sail down the Yukon River system all the way to Dawson. They’re not getting there really until probably the fall, the late summer of 1897, where they get to the stage, do you think?
SVL: Yeah, and I think that the population really boomed in the spring of 1898, when the population was roughly 30,000 people. So that was probably the most industrious, say, mining season in the upper to early stages of the gold rush. The maximum population, according to the statistics of Dawson, would be 40,000 people, so a pretty substantial community grew fairly quickly in that area from the 500 or so people that would initially have been there.
JA: When news reached the outside world, the Klondike Gold Rush began. The town of Dawson City sprang up practically overnight.
Dubbed the “Paris of the North,” Dawson City became the largest city west of Winnipeg and north of Seattle, with some estimates putting the population at 50,000. Dance and gambling halls, bars, brothels, restaurants and supply stores all made fortunes “mining the miners.” Forty Mile, once the region’s principal community, was virtually abandoned. The gold rush changed the landscape of the Northwest, and of North America, forever, with transportation to the West and North vastly overhauled to sustain the stampede of prospectors. Towns such as Victoria, Vancouver and Edmonton owe much of their development to the Klondike Gold Rush.
We asked Sydney how the gold rush evolved into corporate mining.
SVL: So yeah, initially the gold rush, things were pretty basic in terms of hand mining and panning along the creek. And then, as Jeff already touched on, there was shafting, so people going through the gravel, over the burning-gravel depth to the bedrock contact, and with that came hydraulic operations, so there was the method of using large kind of water cannons to basically thaw the frozen muck, permafrost, above the gravel. So that was excavated, which allowed the gravel to be washed down and liberated from the banks. So there was fairly large hydraulic operations for the next step for mining, and after that fairly quickly dredging operations came in.
So yeah, those days of the individual hand miner was fairly short-lived in the Klondike, and this was, I guess what we’ll spend the rest of the interview sort of talking about, that transition to the dredging.
JA: We’ll be discussing more about “dredging” soon, what it is, and how it works. But first, we wanted to know how long from the initial discovery of the gold in 1896, until corporate mining using hydraulics and machinery came into play.
JB: So there was a bit of overlap for sure. The initial hand mining efforts probably peak in 1901, 1902, something like that, four or five years after the gold rush. So your peak production of gold from Dawson City and the rich creeks like El Dorado and Bonanza by hand method, I believe the highest production totals are from around the year 1900 and 1901, where you have over a million ounces mined by hand.
And so the transition to corporate hydraulic mining starts to occur shortly after that period of time. I’d say around 1905, 1910, you really start getting more of a company feel to the ground. You still have individual miners around, and you always kind of did, but the really good ground, the really rich paying ground, gets sold after that initial extraction of gold is taken.
There’s more left, they don’t get it all, and then they start to sell out their claims. So the first round of claim holders start to sell out to people that are accumulating ground or are starting to build larger blocks of ground, and then you start to see the hydraulic concessions released as well, which is a little bit more of a complicated story in terms of the politics of the Klondike, but there is overlap between the initial hand miners and the hydraulic miners, for sure, but it’s part of the transition towards dredging.
JA: It was in the early 1900s that two large companies moved into the Klondike: the Canadian Klondike Mining Company and the Yukon Gold Company. The Canadian Klondike Mining Company built and operated the first dredge on Bonanza Creek in 1905.
So just what is “dredging”?
SVL: Very basically, a dredge is an apparatus used for digging up gravel underwater by scooping. What it does, it’s fairly simple. It’s a barge that sits on its own pond, and it digs up gravel from the bottom of, in this case, in a stream. It has a bucket line. So these buckets turn around a chain and dig up, take a scoop of that bottom every time a new bucket makes contact with that gravel. That bucket line is then drawn up to this dredge. On the dredge, there is a big cylinder, which is called a trommel. The trommel’s spinning on this floating dredge, and it has a screen.
As the gravel gets put into the front of this big spinning trommel, it gets washed with water. Through that process using gravity and water, the finer components of the gravel get lost through the screen, typically a 3/4-inch screen or something, so any finer particles fall through the screen.
Once all the material has been moved through the trommel, it is washed. Washed pretty clean, to wash up these smaller fragments. These larger components of the gravel is then put on a conveyor behind the dredge and stacked behind it. The dredge just keeps moving forward, chewing through, and processing more gravel.
JB: There’s a big component of the dredging process that both Sydney and I can speak to you in terms of what was occurring to prepare the dredging companies to actually mine a section of ground. There was lot of forethought put into what area they’re going to dredge, how they went about finding those areas, and then how they went about preparing the ground to dredge them.
JA: To see images of dredges from our collection, head over to our Flickr gallery for this episode.
During the early years of the Klondike Gold Rush, more than 30,000 miners hand mined for gold on the rich placer creeks. Much of the gold was simply too difficult and expensive to remove using hand-mining techniques. While hand miners were working hard, promoters and investors were looking for long-term mining possibilities in the Yukon.
One by one, individual miners sold out to large companies, which installed dredges on the creeks. The conveyor buckets dug to bedrock and turned the valleys into mounds of gravel.
As Sydney mentioned, promotion of the Klondike fields brought in two large companies, the Canadian Klondike Mining Company in 1905 and the Yukon Gold Company a few years later.
The dredges were a very efficient means of mining for gold.
The dredge moved along on a pond of its own making, digging gold-bearing gravel in front, recovering the gold through the revolving-screen washing plant, then depositing the gravel out of the stacker at the rear. A dredge pond could be 300 feet by as much as 500 feet wide (approximately 90 by 150 metres), depending on the width of the valley in which the dredge was working. The operating season was on average about 200 days, starting in late April or early May, and operating 24 hours a day until late November.
SVL: Those two companies were active in the drainages. Mining using dredges, largely. They were conducting exploration and determining what ground was profitable to dredge. It wasn’t until 1923 that the Yukon Consolidated Gold Corporation, which we refer to as YCGC, they were formed.
What they did is that they amalgamated these companies operating in the Klondike. There was actually more than those two, but those two were the largest industrial companies. YCGC came in, and they bought out obviously those two, and other smaller operators willing to sell. We’re not exactly sure how many that encompassed.
They really moved in in a big way and took over the Klondike. They were active in the Klondike until 1966. The YCGC company itself ran up to 12 dredges in the Klondike, although not all those dredgers were operating at the same time, but they had a pretty industrious mining operation.
JB: There was over 700 people employed in the Dawson City area by the company for upwards of 40 years. Dawson City from 1923 onwards really became a dredging town, a mining town. Most people worked for Yukon Consolidated Gold Corporation or the service sectors that supported it and the bit of course, government officials in town and things like that. YCGC really became the job in town for many decades in Dawson City.
SVL: One interesting part about YCGC is that it’s extremely unique for Canadian mining history and the fact that it was the only large-scale placer mining operation of its type in Canada. Like I said, the first operation that really purchased a lot of ground and really hit placer mining in a large, substantial way.
JB: It’s pretty unique that way, for sure. It’s important for listeners to understand the difference between placer mining and hard-rock mining. Placer mining is, as I mentioned in the intro bit there, it’s free gold that’s weathered out of the bedrock. It’s gold that was contained in veins in the rock in the bedrock. Through processes of weathering, you release that gold; it collects in the stream valleys.
Whereas hard-rock mining is mining gold that’s still contained within the bedrock itself. They’re really two different types of mining. We’re really talking about placer mining here, and that’s free gold. To this day, you can still stake a claim for placer rights or what was called hard-rock rights, which is called a quartz claim.
You can still stake claims to this day for either of those, but they are separate. They’re not held under the same claiming process.
JA: The Yukon Consolidated Gold Corporation Limited (YCGC) was established in 1923 and operated in the Klondike gold fields until 1966.
YCGC was initiated and controlled by A.N.C. Treadgold, an Englishman who spent most of his life trying to control the bulk of mining in the Klondike. He had financial backers, which included not only prominent Canadian businessmen but also such international financers as the Rothschilds and Guggenheims.
From 1932 to 1966, they processed 205 million cubic yards of gravel and produced $58.8 million in gold, which is approximately 1.68 million ounces. In modern value, using a gold price of $2,000 Canadian an ounce, that would equate to $3.4 billion worth of gold!
Like we mentioned in the intro to this episode, Sydney and Jeff recently came across hundreds of geological maps of the Klondike region at Library and Archives Canada. Since the information provided in the maps is extremely detailed and valuable to geologists, historians and mining companies, they decided to travel to Ottawa to scan each of the maps and make the information available online. So far, the geologists have scanned hundreds of maps and thousands of pages of geological data; including 12,000 exploration drill holes. The data in these maps from the 1920s will be useful to miners working in the Klondike region today.
The Yukon Consolidated Gold Corporation was responsible for creating these maps. How did they collect the geological data to make them?
SVL: Within the company, there was a robust team of geologists and engineers, labourers, drillers, cartographers, all these people on the ground. Once they conducted drilling or they had dredge production data or any sort of geological information, they would come back to their main camp in Dawson City, which was Bear Creek.
It’s an interesting stat, because we don’t know how many cartographers were employed, but they sure pumped out a ton of data. The maps and the textual report that this company was able to produce is pretty mind-blowing.
JB: It was a very well-organized company in terms of documentation, and the mapping process of the data collection actually was impressively well-organized and really helped them succeed.
JA: How did these maps end up at Library and Archives Canada? Are some still out there?
SVL: There’s still a large portion. As you can imagine, there’s still families living and mining in the Dawson area. We believe there’s still a decent amount of these maps floating around locally. The bulk of that data set, the YCGC data set, was transferred to National Archives in June 1970. There was a bit of shuffling there between the Yukon archives in Whitehorse, and the head office for YCGC was actually located in Vancouver, so it took a couple years, but finally, by 1975, the majority of the records for YCGC have been housed in National Archives in Ottawa.
JB: This was all following the closure of the suspension of activities in the area by the company. They stopped mining. They had all this data from decades of work starting really from 1905 and potentially earlier that they had consolidated.
There was vaults really of data that had accumulated through the exploration process and the development process of these dredging operations. A huge amount of information that they didn’t want to lose. Thankfully, they got in touch with the Archives and coordinated the transfer of information.
JA: Like we mentioned, the Yukon Consolidated Gold Corporation operated in the Klondike gold fields until 1966. Increasing material and labour costs into the early 1960s, combined with the shrinking gold reserve price, saw the company’s profits significantly reduced. The last time a dredge turned in the Klondike was November 15, 1966.
SVL: To give you an example of that gold price, gold in 1923 was $21 an ounce, and it slightly fluctuated to a high of $35 an ounce by 1966, so it didn’t match what the increasing labour and material costs would have been at that current date. That gold price for those that maybe don’t follow that is substantially lower than our $1,900 Canadian. No, more than that, …
JB: $1,900 U.S.
SVL: … $1,900 U.S. gold price per ounce that we have today.
JB: Had the gold price spiked as it did in 1980, perhaps the company would have maintained operations, but by the late ’60s, early ’70s, there was still quite a local price that couldn’t keep things going.
JA: What is the purpose of this digitization project that you are currently embarking on with LAC?
SVL: We were really encouraged by the modern mining industry to review and look at the potential of these historic maps. Most miners active today, particular in the Klondike, are aware, they drive by these dredgers, they see these dredge piles outside the town, their great-grandfathers or grandfathers ran the dredges in those days. People were really interested in that data. Being housed in national—in the archives in Ottawa, it was a bit challenging for somebody to undertake the reviewing and possibly scanning and all that process.
We started—the first trip occurred in June 2013, and then it’s been five trips so far. Most recently, Jeff and I conducted a trip in December last year. We’re still—basically, we were pulling any map that may contain any geological information, and with these maps, we can directly support and help the miners determine what ground has been mined, and where potential mine ground exists outside the areas that haven’t been mined yet.
JB: One of the main focuses of the project was to bring the data back to the miners in some format. Sydney’s done a tremendous job in spending countless hours filing through the various maps and reports to identify the valuable pieces of information that then she requests scans of.
She's really bringing back these scans, these PDF scans of the maps, which she’s handing off to a digitization team here that can help capture the key information on those maps that we can bring into a geographic information system, a GIS platform for easy manipulation and viewing.
JA: So far, since their first trip in 2013, Sydney and Jeff have had over a thousand maps digitized, and almost 300 textual documents as well. The textual documents could include reports associated with the maps or prospecting summaries.
Today, an average of 160 active gold-mining operations are operating throughout the territory, with the bulk of operations present around Dawson City. These placer mines range in scale, with the average mine employing up to five people. Modern placer gold production is approximately 80,000 crude ounces per year.
Is all of this data in the maps and textual documents still accurate and valuable today?
SVL: Yes, it’s very much so. I particularly have done some GIS work where I digitized, or with the assistance of contractors, have digitized drill holes, and I’m able to basically reconstruct gold distribution in a drainage. In doing that, you can basically target a drill hole, if it’s drilled quite well, and if there was a lot of gold in that sample.
I could go to, say, the miner mining there now, and he will actually—could outline a cut for that current year using the aid of those drill holes, and it’s proving to be incredibly accurate. Despite its vintage, it’s kind of neat. There have been enough miners now in the Klondike that are pretty impressed with the reliability and the accuracy, and the sheer volume of data that exists in this YCGC data.
Basically, we selected any map or textual documents if they mentioned anything about gravel or gold or claims, dredges, mock shafts, exploration, anything that might help us today, and those maps they can be anything from drill maps to dredge maps, as to where the dredge actually went. You have “stripping sign,” so the process that occurred prior to when the dredge became active in a drainage. They had to strip off the overburden because it was too deep for them to reach the bedrock contact without doing so.
Other maps are simply the baselines, the original claims where they laid—what area they encompassed. You have maps about historic ditches and even historic workings pre-1923 of YCGC map. They did a really good job of capturing maps pretty much about the landscape, even landscape features.
JB: The cartography work is fantastic. I have to say when I was there with Sydney last December looking at some of these maps, I kept getting very distracted by the craftsmanship that the cartographers were employing in these maps. They’re just really, really pleasing to the eye. There’s a lot of artistic talent that obviously went into the mapmaking itself, and there are some real gems of information contained within many of them.
There’s the obvious information that Sydney has mentioned, and then there are all sorts of other things too, that are important to recognize, like where there was cabin locations on some of the more outlying creeks.
A cabin location can indicate where somebody was focused and working, and perhaps where a better gold showing might occur.
One thing, that when you walk around in the hills in the Klondike today, miners generally are very aware that there’s old-timer—there was old-timer activity, they call everything the old-timer activities. This is old prospectors that were up in the hills sinking shafts and all these types of things, but there’s really very little documentation about what that old-timer activity really looked like.
We’re always trying to piece together where that activity occurred, what was happening, where people were located, because if you can understand where the old-timers worked, you might be able to stumble across a discovery. There are bits and pieces of information in some of these old maps the YCGC constructed that do contain a bit of information about some of the work that was occurring prior to the dredging.
JA: How is the digitization being funded? Which organizations are involved in this project? Jeff tells us.
JB: We needed some support from the federal government to help with the project, and we have had excellent support from the Canadian Northern Economic Development Agency, CanNor. There was a program called—the acronym was SINED, Strategic Investment in Northern Economic Development, we used SINED for quite a few years to help with the travel and digitizing costs for this project. It’s a little bit—this project was a little bit outside of what we were used to doing as the Yukon Geological Survey. It was a bit unique.
We didn’t necessarily have the internal funds to proceed with it. We’re very thankful to CanNor for stepping up and being a strong partner through this. It’s certainly helped the industry up here. It’s really benefited historians as well. Between the Yukon government, and paying Sydney’s salary and mine to work on this project, CanNOR has been a really strong partner.
JA: We asked both Jeff and Sydney why they think it’s important to make this data available online to the public.
SVL: Particularly for the modern mining industry, this is basically free exploration for them. I really can help direct a lot of those miners that are active in the prominent Klondike drainages. That aside, it’s very neat for us to work with that data. Geologically, we can put together surficial geology and distribution, like look at the gravel thickness, and stuff like that, which is interesting on our end.
JB: I’m modelling the gold distribution as well. It’s quite interesting to understand how the gold deposits were making the distribution of these gold deposits in these valleys prior to mining, and now we can reconstruct that with this drill-hole information, and that, in turn, can help you understand what gold distributions by looking in valleys that are online today in a particular area.
SVL: It also helps us determine some additional exploration targets, like if we see some really high gold grades in a drainage for some particular reason, we can look at maybe what the tributary influence might be to that. There’s definitely step-out exploration. Another interesting thing is these maps also include the historic pipelines and old work, town sites, and whatnot. From a historian part of the sense, it’s pretty neat for people to reconstruct where old town sites were.
Aside from that, also the value for Yukoners to know how much mining has occurred, and how extensive and how impressive an operation like YCGC was, and just as Jeff mentioned, the sheer beauty of these maps. I have them printed on my walls at home. They’re just beautiful works of art. I think the value is that it can be really appreciated and valued by a lot of different industries, and a lot of people, and not just Yukoners, but I think when the listeners maybe dive into what we have available, they might be pretty impressed with what you find.
JA: To view a sample of some of these amazing maps, head over to our Flickr page. You’ll find the link in the show notes on the podcast page for this episode.
To see all of the digitized maps, drill holes, claim boundaries and more, all linked up to an interactive web map, head over to the Yukon Geological Survey website. We’ll include a link in the show notes as well, to make it easier for you.
Any final thoughts, Jeff?
JB: I think it’s important for the listeners to understand that Yukon is a gold mining district in the country. It’s one of our few resource industries. That’s one of those industries that we have up here, and it’s a pretty important part of the history as well. Obviously, tourism has become a big part of the Klondike now in more recent years, but gold mining is still the bread and butter of the resource industry in many places of rural Yukon.
It’s important to also just reiterate that there have been some new discoveries made as a result of using this historic data. There’s been discoveries made outside the areas that were dredged that were explored by the drilling in those early days, and we’re seeing more and more of our clients pick up the information and use it in their analysis of their grounds and their claims. They’re finding more resources as a result of the preservation of this material at the Archives.
JA: If you’d like to learn more about Yukon geological maps here at LAC, please visit us online at bac-lac.gc.ca. On the episode page for this podcast, you’ll find a number of related links, including our Flickr album, which highlights a selection of maps and photos from our collection.
Thank you for being with us. I’m Josée Arnold, your host. You’ve been listening to “Discover Library and Archives Canada—where Canadian history, literature and culture await you.” A special thank you to our guests today, Sydney Van Loon and Jeff Bond. Special thanks also to Isabel Larocque and Kylie Van Every for their contributions to this episode.
This episode was produced and engineered by David Knox.
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