[ Panning for Gold ]

Panning for Gold, A.C. Warner, 1899, Univ of Washington, Warner 206a

On August 16, 1896, four people—an American miner, a First Nations man from the Yukon, his sister, who was married to the American, and his nephew, were looking for gold on a creek that flowed into the Klondike River, a few kilometers east of the present town of Dawson. One of them—no one is sure which one it was—looked into the waters of the creek and saw something glittering. Turning over a rock he (or was it she?) saw gold lying “thick as cheese” in the cracks between the rocks and stones. The others came rushing, and with shovel and pan, dug more gold out of the water. Dancing for joy, they realized that they were suddenly rich, that they had found the rich deposit of gold that men and women had been seeking for more than twenty years in this northwestern corner of Canada.

What they did not realize was that their discovery had launched one of the greatest gold rushes in world history. Over the next two years, nearly 40,000 people would come from all over the globe, from as far away as Australia, to the Yukon, which was made a separate Territory in 1898. Dawson, which was a swampy patch of mud in 1896, within two years became the largest town in Canada west of Winnipeg. Hundreds of millions of dollars of gold were taken out of the ground, first by individual miners working mostly by hand, and then by corporations using large machines. Large-scale commercial mining went on in the region until 1964, and the creeks are still worked on and off, especially when the price of gold rises. It was one of the most dramatic and colourful episodes in Canadian history.

This site explores the question “who was responsible for starting it all?” The mystery does not lie in the fact that no one has any idea who made the great discovery that resulted in the production of millions of dollars worth of gold. The mystery is that there were several candidates—five to be exact, including a Canadian who was not present but who might have told them where the gold was —all of whom have claims to the honour of being the discoverer. They all have claims, yet only one claim can be accepted, for there was only one discoverer. It is up to you to assess the claims and, based on the evidence, choose a winner.