1895 Yukon Nuggets
It was a fine salmon river, that’s why the local native people hammered stakes into the riverbed to make fish traps. Because of this practice, they called the river Trondek, a word roughly meaning hammer-water. The first written reports about the river came from Michael LaBerge, when he was surveying the region for the Western Union Telegraph Company. That was way back in 1867, when the company thought it could build a telegraph line all the way to the Bering Sea. LaBerge called it the Deer River, after the native word Trondek. When Frederick Schwatka made his famous voyage of discovery down the full length of the Yukon River in 1883, he called it the Reindeer River. The miners in the region seemed to prefer the word Trondek, though they, like others, had a tough time pronouncing it. Over time, the pronunciation evolved into ‘Klondike’.
When the first Mountie Charles Constantine visited the region in 1895, he upheld the miners choice, and the river became known as the Klondike River. In 1898 the Canadian Permanent Board on Geographical Names made it official. Over time, the entire region around Dawson and the creeks became known as the Klondike. And history would record the rush to the riches of the goldfields as the Klondike Gold Rush. That word and that phrase are now known worldwide, but let’s stop and think for a moment. What if Inspector Constantine had accepted Frederick Schawtka’s name for the river? I guess today we’d be talking about the Reindeer Gold Rush of 1898. Pierre Burton may have written a book called simply ‘Reindeer’, instead of ‘Klondike’. And the Reindeer visitors’ association just doesn’t have a ring about it…
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.