Beautiful Dawson City is the prime specimen of a Yukon gold-rush town. Since the first swell of hopeful migrants more than 100 years ago, many of the original buildings have disappeared, victims of fire, flood, and weathering. But plenty remain, and it's easy to step back in time, going to a performance at the Palace Theatre, erected in 1899, or stepping into a shop whose building originally served stampeders. In modern
Dawson City, street paving is erratic, and the place maintains a serious frontier vibe. But it's also a center for the arts—the town's yearly summer music festival is one of Canada's biggest—and as the last touch of civilization before the deep wild, hikers share tables with hard-core miners at the local restaurants.
In the years leading up to the turn of the 20th century, Dawson was transformed from a First Nations camp into the largest, most refined city north of Seattle and west of Winnipeg. It had grand buildings with running water, telephones, and electricity. In 1899 the city's population numbered almost 30,000—a jump of about 29,900 over the previous few years—which all but overwhelmed the Tr'ondëk Hwëch'in, the First Nations Hän-speaking people that inhabited the area. Their chief, a man named Isaac, who is still revered as the savior of the culture, moved his people from the confluence, where they had hunted and fished for thousands of years, to the village of Moosehide a few miles downstream. The town they left behind grew into a place where a fresh egg could cost the equivalent of a day's salary down south, and where one of the most profitable jobs was panning gold dust out of the sawdust scattered on saloon floors.
Today Dawson City is home to about 1,800 people, 400 or so of whom are of First Nations descent. The city itself is now a National Historic Site of Canada. Besides being one of the hippest, funkiest towns in the north, Dawson also serves as a base from which to explore the Tombstone Territorial Park, a natural wonderland with plants and animals found nowhere else, living in the spaces between high, steep mountain ranges.