1949 Yukon Nuggets
When gold was discovered in the Atlin region, everyone naturally assumed that it was part of the Yukon. It wasn’t. But even today, Atlin is more closely associated with the Yukon than its real home, British Columbia.
In 1898, prospectors Fritz Miller and Kenny McLaren struck pay dirt on Spruce Creek, and Discovery City, a town six miles east of Atlin, sprang up. In the next few years, a four-mile stretch of Spruce Creek yielded more than $25 million in gold including one incredible 83-ounce nugget discovered in 1899. Big as a loaf of bread, they said.
Fortune hunters, many of whom had originally come in over the Chilkoot Pass, poured into the district in 1899, hauling tons of supplies over mountains, and across Atlin Lake by boat.
At first, gold inspectors thought the Atlin strike was in the Yukon and recorded the first Atlin gold claims according to Yukon law. The miners were furious because they felt shortchanged when it later became clear that, because the strike was in B.C., it was subject to B.C.’s laws.
Still, the town of Atlin emerged with neat streets, hotels, stores, offices, and saloons. Discovery bloomed and died as Atlin became the hub of local and government business.
Apparently, the miners removed most of Discovery’s buildings to dig through every bit of dirt and gravel once the original gold claims were exhausted.
Gold mining continues to this day, but by 1915, promoters were looking for something else. That year the White Pass started Atlin’s tourist industry when they brought 125 tourists to the region. But accommodations were not very good for people intent on spending big bucks traveling to one of North America’s most remote locations.
White Pass decided they needed some luxury. In June 1916, construction began on what would be a magnificent hotel on the shores of Atlin Lake.
Getting material to the site was not easy since it had to be carried to Skagway by ship, then by the train to Carcross, on a boat to the short rail portage at the end of Taku Arm, then by boat again across Atlin Lake to the construction site.
By the summer of 1916, the hotel hosted 422 guests. The company was so impressed that, in the fall, seven more rooms were added and a steam heating plant was installed. In 1917, the lake steamer Tarahne was built - the first gasoline-powered propeller-driven vessel in the White Pass fleet.
By 1921, 700 guests were entertained. Business was brisk.
In the spring of 1928, the vessel’s length was increased to 36.4 meters. Larger engines and new propellers increased her speed to 12 knots. Now guests could tour and see the extraordinary scenery of Atlin Lake in high style.
Gold mining and tourism remained the cornerstones of Atlin’s economy, but both were prone to ups and downs. In the midst of the depression, the White Pass abandoned the Atlin tours in the mid-1930s, closed the hotel and beached the sternwheeler.
Jobs disappeared and the population dwindled. In early years, Atlin may have been home to ten thousand inhabitants.
In the 1960s, the population fell to about 100. Today, it is about 500. Traces of Atlin’s original 10,000 inhabitants have been reclaimed by nature as most buildings were crude wooden structures. But observant visitors can find many remnants in and around the village, on mountain slopes and in remote valleys of this northern Shangri-la.
Photos by Rolf Hougen's Ltd
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.