Stella Leventoyannis Harvey

Yukon – Part 2

But the Artic chart memorializes more than men of rank, power, blood or property. The real immortals, whose names are sprinkled throughout the Artic on bays and bights, capes and channels, are those who dared and sometimes died so that the map might take form. Pierre Berton, The Artic Grail  

Everything flows and nothing abides, everything gives way and nothings stays fixed. Heraclitus

In my trek through the Yukon this summer, I was fortunate to visit Dawson City. A small town more than a city, Dawson is an historic community where the Klondike and Yukon Rivers converge. It was home for thousands of years to the Han People (now known as the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in). It was also the site of the 1896-1898 Klondike Gold Rush, which turned Dawson from a First Nations camp to a city of 40,000 people in 1898. Dance halls and saloons, cabins and stores were built to accommodate the influx of gold seekers.

I’m not sure I could truly imagine their excitement then, as I walked the streets of Dawson City in my life of relative comfort now, but I tried to put myself in their shoes, the shoes and footsteps of the Gold Rush stampeder.

Walking on the boardwalks, peering into the windows of some of the refurbished buildings, stepping around puddles in the muddy streets, I imagined a heyday of excitement. It was a place of promise. Dreams of prosperity lay before the stampeders, close enough for them to grab. What did they think about? Or were they too busy doing, rather than thinking?

Alongside the restored buildings, I sauntered past several boarded up ones. Shops that I imagined once teemed with economy now stooped to one side as though the weight of their past success and failure wouldn’t be endured much longer. Did the people who once owned these places wonder how long their good fortune would last? Does anyone, then or now, ever think about the impermanence of life? I try not to. I guess that’s why I keep myself perpetually busy. I will need to do something about that. Maybe. Someday.

By 1899, the gold rush ended and people left Dawson City. In 1902, only 5000 citizens remained. The population shrinked further after WWII and languished at between 500 and 600 people throughout the sixties and seventies.

Mining remains one of the town’s main industries. Tourism is the region’s other major business. In fact it is Tourism that brought about a spike in population. In 2011, some 1300 people lived in Dawson City.

I loved this historic community for its boardwalk and muddy streets, for a past I could only piece together through what remains. I loved hearing about its history and reading the stories of those who have gone before me. I loved the sense of community: tourists leave in the winter, the community remains doing what it has always done: living, playing, working, being.

And I loved this place because it reminded me of an important lesson I sometimes forget when I’m busy checking things off my ‘to-do’ lists or railing about another dumb government decision or worrying about wars and other disasters. Nothing is permanent. Life turns on a dime or a nugget of gold.

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