1980 Yukon Nuggets
Klondike Gold Dredges
It was the summer of 1966. It was the year they shutdown the Yukon Consolidated Gold Corporation – YCGC. This conglomerate had dredged the Klondike creeks near Dawson City since the turn of the century. Now those great squealing hotel-like hulks would dig for gold no more.
In 1966, just one gold dredge worked the creeks of the Klondike. They had been an incredibly efficient means of getting gold out of the ground. Consider that, in 1904, YCGC operated seven dredges and took more than 24 million dollars worth of gold from the creeks. That’s when gold was 16 dollars an ounce and the entire Canadian federal budget was 64 million dollars.
I spent part of that summer of ’66 in Dawson, talking with people who had been with the company all of their working lives. YCGC was Dawson City. There wasn’t much else. With the company going, the economy of this once booming town would no doubt suffer badly.
It was quite a sight to see one of those dredges – like great grey monsters, floating in a small lake created by the dredge itself. They looked like rustic old floating hotels. Huge buckets dug down to bedrock at the front of the dredge, then dumped the ground into the bowels of the dredge where the sand and rock were sifted through a mesh screen system.
The gold stayed on the shakers and was cleaned up by hand. The dredges literally turned the ground upside down digging to bedrock, sometimes as deep as 60 feet, then depositing the excess gravel out the back of the dredge. Thus, the creeks and riverbeds around Dawson City were turned upside down.
The dredges picked up more than sand, gravel and gold. Walter Troberg told me about the amount of mastodon ivory they used to collect. It was considered a nuisance and often disposed of by throwing it back into the pond or carting the stuff away to the bush. These great mastodons, which looked like huge hairy elephants, had roamed the region thousands of years before.
The tusks were pure ivory and worth a fortune today. Who knows how much ivory ended up in the dredge ponds or the bushes? Walter said they often picked up old whiskey bottles, sometimes intact, with whiskey still in them. He also found many old coins from the mid-19th century, lost in this gold-bearing country long before the Klondike rush of 1898.
Dredgemaster Johnny Hoggan told me how the dredge worked as we watched old No. 7 doing her final clean up that summer of 1966. I can still hear the screeching, grinding sound of the buckets on their huge chained pulleys, being pulled through the dredge and depositing this treasure inside the contraption.
The dredge which was the last to operate on the Klondike creeks that summer of ’66 now stands as a museum… a monument to ingenuity of an early time when gold in the Klondike made Yukon history.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.