Yukon Nuggets

1899 Yukon Nuggets

Dawson City fire 1899



Dawson City hit the big time in May of 1899. The isolated gold-rush mecca was on the North American map. But the news was not good. A massive city fire made the front pages of newspapers across the United States . On April 21st, a raging blaze consumed about three quarters of the town - leaving piles of smoking ashes where once stood clapboard emporiums.

News reports quoted the son of the Mayor of Seattle, who said that hundreds of miners, gamblers, shopkeepers and saloon men were now sleeping in the snow. He said that panic broke out as the fire expanded and the uncontrollable blaze consumed thousands of tons of provisions.

Firemen brought out their only fire engine but their lack of ability to handle the apparatus, coupled with insufficient water, made the battle hopeless. The Bank of British North America had a flimsy vault that did not withstand the heat, and all the papers in it were destroyed.

The loss in the bank alone was estimated at one million dollars. Cabins where miners kept their supply of dynamite were blown up. The report was not kind to Dawson’s noted houses of ill-repute. The newspaper story blamed the conflagration on Dawson’s "curse."

Twice before, drunken woman had caused fires during quarrels, said the story. This one was no different and had its origin in an apartment over a saloon. Small shopkeepers, said Hume, were a tragic sight as they tried to save their hidden buckskin bags of gold while scantily clad women suffered from the biting gale that blew in off the Yukon river. Other shopkeepers tried to save their belongings but were often indistinguishable from looters. And it seems there were plenty of those.

The Mounties declared Marshall Law and patrolled the ash-covered streets. Still, thieves were plentiful. In the miserable days ahead, saloon owners who managed to save their supplies were doing a roaring business and charging three or four times the already exorbitant rate for a shot of whiskey.

Incredible as it seems, one hundred and ten buildings were destroyed. The financial loss in the Dawson city fire of 1899 was estimated at four million dollars in the days when the fixed price of gold was sixteen dollars an ounce.


A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.

Les McLaughlin

Les McLaughlin

As storyteller, radio man, and music producer, Les proved a passionate preserver of Yukon heritage throughout his life — nowhere more evident than as the author and voice of CKRW’s “Yukon Nuggets,” from its inception until his passing in 2011.