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Yukon Description

Yukon History

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

Bering StraightIt is believed that ancestors of the Amerindians crossed a bridge over the Bering Sea from Asia approximately 10,000 to 25,000 years ago, establishing the Yukon as the first inhabited region of Canada.

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 NuggetBetween 1897 and 1904, over $100 million worth of gold was uncovered from the depths of the Yukon River. In 1898 the Canadian Parliament passed the Yukon Act, officially establishing the Yukon Territory, separating the proliferating area from its northwestern counterparts and creating a commissioner and legislative assembly. Police ensured Canadian jurisdiction over the territory.

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.


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About the Author

John Moen is a cartographer who along with his wife are the orignal founders of worldatlas.com. He and his wife, Chris Woolwine-Moen, produced thousands of award-winning maps that are used all over the world and content that aids students, teachers, travelers and parents with their geography and map questions. Today, it's one of the most popular educational sites on the web.

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This page was last updated on July 12, 2016.