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Yukon History

This northern Canadian territory's history is marked by what is often regarded as the world's greatest gold rush.

Bering Straight

Around 1840, two explorers from the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) arrived in the area with the aid of maps and information from Sir John Franklin and other early European explorers. Six years later, HBC coined the name "Yukon," from the Loucheux Indian word "Yuchoo," meaning "the greatest river."

As evidenced by the gold discoveries of the early 1870s along the tributaries of the Yukon River bringing prosperity to the area. In 1876 pioneer George Carmack discovered rich gold deposits on Bonanza Creek, a small tributary of the Klondike River, which connects to the Yukon River.

Only miniscule amounts of gold had been mined prior to this discovery, thus leading to the great gold rush of 1897. With the gold rush came miners and gold seekers from all over Canada and beyond, disrupting the peace that the indigenous people, such as the Athapaskan Indians, had enjoyed for centuries.

At the peak of the gold rush, the nearby settlement of Dawson flourished making it the largest city in Canada west of Winnipeg. Located at the confluence of the Klondike and Yukon rivers, Dawson was estimated to have a population of 40,000 at its height.

Territorial Status, the Decline of Gold, and Yukon's role in World War II 

Gold Nugget

Yukon continued to prosper during its first few years as an official territory, but by 1906 there was little gold left for individual miners to recover. As these miners departed Yukon, large companies with expensive dredges and other advanced mining techniques infiltrated the area.

The depletion of gold resulted in a population that plummeted from 27,219 in 1901 to 8,502 in 1911. Ten years later, it plunged to a low of 4,157, returning Yukon's economy to its former state.


As the gold discoveries ceased, copper ore was mined near Whitehorse, Yukon's current capital city, during World War I. In the 1920s and 1930s, silver and lead deposits were discovered and mined in the central plateau region of region of Mayo.

Trapping emerged as an important activity in the 1930s as a result of high fur prices, but the economy continued to struggle and only 4,914 people were counted in the 1941 census.

During World War II, Yukon experienced a second boom with U.S. military projects such as the construction of the Alaska Highway, stretching from Alaska to Alberta and representing a new overland route through Yukon.

Coupled with the Alaska Highway, the WWII building of the Canol pipeline facilitated access to oil at the Whitehorse refinery bringing new people, exploration, development and tourism to Yukon.

An influx of tourism led to a permanent non-native population surpassing the indigenous population for the first time. Much of this activity occurred in Whitehorse, which replaced Dawson as Yukon's capital in 1953.

Over the years Yukon's economy continued to revolve around the mining industry, which proved to be unstable. In the mid-1980s, every producing mine in the territory closed as a result of poor market conditions. Despite its instability, mining, along with trapping and tourism, continues to fuel Yukon's economy.

Yukon Today


History buffs can experience Yukon's past by following the trails of the gold rush miners and visiting Dawson City to relive the famous Klondike Gold Rush. With Northwest Indian peoples representing approximately 25% of the province's population of 31,000 people, tourists can interact with Yukon natives whose cultural and linguistic traditions are more than 1,000 years old.

Regardless of the season, Yukon is known for its fascinating artists, entertaining concerts and festivals. Artistic talent and creativity-provoking Canadian landscapes combine to create Yukon's uniquely vibrant cultural scene.

From kayaking to dog-sledding, Yukon offers a myriad of activities for adults and children alike. The welcoming Yukon locals are anxious to share the territory's deep-rooted history, culture and tradition with all visitors to the area.


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