Sunday, June 12, 2011

Dawson City, Yukon

We’ve been resting in Dawson City from our drive on the Dempster Highway.  That drive really did a number on my back, so I haven’t felt perky enough to do much sightseeing around town.  Gene went exploring on his own yesterday.  Here’s his story.

Toured a little of Dawson City.  Parks Canada has several historic sites here, there is a large, active City of Dawson Museum.  Several buildings dating back to the 1901-1908 heyday including some twisted and swaying from permafrost thawing beneath them when they were heated and occupied.

Robert Service cabin
Judi wanted me to write about the Robert Service cabin.  The cabin is a small log cabin of two rooms with a wooden floor and dressed wooden walls.  The floor was covered in the day with painted canvas.  The best thing about it was the sod roof.

Jack London cabin
I saw 3 such cabins (sod roof that is) on Eight Avenue…Service, Jack London and another private home.  Service’s cabin is on its original site while London’s cabin was moved to Dawson from out in the bush where the Palmer River flows into the Klondike River.  London actually lived in it a year trying to strike it rich as a miner, and it was very basic.

Service arrived in 1908 and left 1912.  He was already a successful writer and journalist.  His verse was aimed at the mass market and tapped into a new, growing wave of “popular literature” that was being peddled in cheap magazines of the era.  Service did not claim to write poetry but verse.  He liked to inject humor and have a catchy phrase that could be quoted by his readers.  Some critics called his writings doggerel.

Service arrived after the gold rush (pick, shovel, sluice box) when the big machinery (dredges) and wage labor miners were the main players.  His stories were based on the tales told him by the locals.  Some of the tales were even true to a certain degree.  He left when signs of obvious decline in the town were becoming evident.  His abandoned cabin immediately became the largest tourist draw in the Yukon.

Leaving in 1912, Service never had the opportunity to meet Ruby.  Ruby purchased a boarding house down the street from the bank.  (Coincidence?)  She had been a madam in Paris, Honolulu and elsewhere before arriving in Dawson City.  She was soon up to her old “tricks”.  From 1923 to 1961 Ruby ran her establishment with the city government and the RCMP looking the other way.  Many believed such services were required for the miners working the dredges in the summer season.  The miner received $5 for a 12 hour shift, while Ruby’s house charged the same $5 for a single encounter or $20 for a full evening of companionship.  In 1961 the town charged Ruby with running a riotous house to which she pleaded guilty.  She ceased operations but still holding the boarding house license the building was returned to its original purpose.  Her 1923 boarding house license ($50) is on display.  She never retired and died at age 84.

In fairness I should note that Bombay Peggy had a similar establishment in the north end of town.  That building has been moved downtown a couple doors down from Ruby’s.  Bombay Peggy’s has been turned into a quite nice inn and pub.

During the gold rush not only were some ladies gold diggers, Frank Ladue had a house on Front Street.  He converted it to a saloon and restaurant in 1908.  He charged for a meal of beans, stewed apples, bread and coffee $5.  (Does that number sound familiar?)  The same meal in Seattle would be, at that time, 15 cents.  He sold out after 18 months and returned to NYC with $90,000 to marry his childhood sweetheart.  We had a dinner of fish and chips there on Thursday evening.  Excellent!

For the record there were 4 people involved in the original discovery of gold in Bonanza Creek.  Yukon Charlie, Socum Jim, the other guy, and the wife of one of the 3 men.  (Can you tell I am doing this from memory? )  No one knows for sure which of the 4 actually found the gold first.

So that’s Gene’s story.  There’ll be more on Dawson City in another post.

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