1979 Yukon Nuggets
The Dawson Flood of ‘79
In the spring of 1979, ice jams in the Yukon, Indian, and Klondike rivers caused the build-up of water to over-flow the make-shift sand-bag dykes on the riverfront in Dawson. Around midnight, in spite of efforts to shore up the dykes, the water poured over the banks, enveloping the town and causing extreme damage.
In the morning, as people paddled around town in canoes and small boats, the real extent of damage became clear. Houses floated off their foundations. The water smelled of diesel and sewage. Parks Canada artifacts bobbed down the streets. Trailers were turned upside down by the silty, ice-choked waters. Propane tanks littered the streets.
The waters subsided later in the day. A hole was cut in the dyke to let the waters return to the Yukon river. Then the cleanup began. Parks Canada had 20 properties in the flood plain. Some emerged intact while others floated off their foundations. Over $ 200,000 dollars in damage was recorded by Parks Canada alone.
A dozen homes were written off. Some priceless artifacts from both public and private collections disappeared forever. The Yukon government created a disaster assistance program, flying in over 20,000 pounds of food and equipment the day after the flood. About 270 damage claims were filed, totalling over 2 million dollars. It took most of the summer to restore the town to some semblance of order. But for Parks Canada, restoration projects lasted for years.
It wasn't the first flood in Dawson City's history. Since 1898, 22 floods were recorded, but the one in the spring of 1979 went down in history as one of the worst.
A CKRW Yukon Nugget by Les McLaughlin.