Yukon Nuggets

  • Arthur Thornthwaite sitting on a rock at the top of Tantalus Butte near Carmacks. The Yukon River is in the background. Date: ca. 1920. Yukon Archives. Claude & Mary Tidd fonds, #7714.

  • One of the old Tantalus Mines on Yukon River. Yukon Archives. Finnie Family fonds, #219.

  • Tantalus Coal Mine, Y.T. Yukon Archives. John Patrick Kingscote fonds, #37.

1982 Yukon Nuggets

Tantalus Coal Mine


When Lt. Frederick Schwatka, of the US army, made his famous journey of discovery down the Yukon River in 1883, he was baffled by the many bends in the river around what is now Carmacks.

He kept expecting to reach a bald hill - or butte - but again and again, the river took him away from his elusive geographic feature.

He wrote: " a conspicuous bald butte could be seen directly in front of our raft no less than seven times. I called it a Tantalus Butte, and was glad enough to see it disappear from sight".

Tantalus was a son of the Greek God, Zeus.

The Northern Tutchone people had a less heavenly name for the hill. To them, it was known as Gun Tthi, or worm hill.

Legend has it that a giant worm lived in the hill. If people made too much noise while travelling on the river, the worm would cause a bid wind that would swamp their boats.

In 1887, the famous Canadian geographer, George Dawson, reported that coal outcrops in the area provided a source of fuel for prospectors and trappers.

At the turn of the century, Captain Miller, who operated the steamer Reindeer, discovered a coal deposit six miles from the Five Finger rapids.

A Dawson City newspaper reported that: "The mine is located right beside the river and Captain Miller has already built a wharf 115 feet long. The quality of the coal is very good and fit for general use. He will soon be able to get out about twenty tons a day. He certainly has a bonanza as coal, in that section of the Yukon, will be a godsend to steamers and railroads".

However, it turned out that the coal was of poor quality, with a high ash content. The White Pass railway, which was expected to become a major buyer, brought its coal from Vancouver by ship instead.

In 1903, Captain Miller sold the mine to the Fiver Fingers Coal Company and then opened the Hidden Treasure coal mine just above Carmacks.

By 1906, the mine, now called the Tantalus Coal Mine, produced just over five thousand tons. In 1907, production rose to ten thousand tons per year.

Although the quality was better here than at the Five Fingers deposit, the few steamboats that tried to use it soon resumed burning wood.

After 1918, production at the Tantalus mine dropped to a few hundred tons per year, primarily for use by homes and businesses in Dawson City.

In 1922, the mine was closed and thus began a series of openings and closings from 1938 to 1967, including mining coal for heating the plant at the United Keno Hill mines in the Mayo area.

In 1970, the Anvil Mining Corporation re-opened the Tantalus mine, using the coal at their Faro lead-zinc mine for heating.

In the mid-1970s, production peaked at about eighteen thousand tons per year. The Tantalus Coal Mine shut down for the final time in 1982, when the mine at Faro closed.



Tantalus Butte is an important part of Yukon history. George Carmack built a trading post at the foot of the Butte in 1893, with the idea of developing the coal seam. Three years later he and his two partners discovered gold on Bonanza Creek, and his dream of a coal mine obviously lost its glitter.



His flirtation with coal mining is commemorated today, however, in the community named Carmacks, the town that grew up near his trading post and the Tantalus Butte coal deposit.


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.