September 6, 2010

City of Gold: Pierre Berton, 1950s

Friend Rich left some comments and links to this video. Thanks Rich! Here is the YouTube writeup.

This classic short film from Pierre Berton depicts the Klondike gold rush at its peak, when would-be prospectors struggled through harsh conditions to reach the fabled gold fields over 3000 km north of civilization. Using a collection of still photographs, the film juxtaposes the Dawson City at the height of the gold rush with its bustling taverns and dance halls with the more tranquil Dawson City of the present.



  1. Jeff: Thank-you for making the link for the wonderful Pierre Berton mini film 'front and center' for fellow blogster's. :)

    I just read a fairly humorous paragrapgh in Pierre Bertons 'Klondike Fever'.

    It involves the very honest and 'strictly by the rule book' Canadian land surveyor William Olgilvie....and an Irishshman stampeder named Jim White.

    Here is the eloquently shared by Mr. Berton:

    "As the maximum legal stake was five hundred feet,many oversize claims were chopped down by Olgilvie's survey, leaving thin wedges of land sandwiched in between the new boundries. These fractional claims could be very valuable: one on Elderado,for instance, just twelve feet wide, was thought to be worth between ten and twenty thousand dollars, and another, a mere five inches wide, was sold to the owner of an adjacent claim for five hundred. Jim White, an Irishman from Circle City, was convinced there was a fraction between Thirty-Six and Thirty-Seven Elderado.
    He staked it and used the ground in an effort to bully the owners on either side to come to terms with him.
    He waited on tenderhooks for Ogilvie's survey to set the proper dimensions. In order to 'madden' White, whom he [Olgilvie] considered a scoundrel and and a blackmailer, Olgilvie deliberately delayed the the work. When the ground was finally surveyed, the fraction turned out to be just three inches wide.
    For the rest of his days its owner smarted under the nickname of Three-Inch White.

  2. Great story Rich! Thanks for sharing it.

  3. Fun Question: [I would not doubt Jeff knows the answer :)]. I found this to be a fascinating little tid-bit.

    The Palace Grand Dance Hall in Dawson City was said to be the "most lavish establishment in the North".

    It still stands tody:

    The Palace Grand was restored in 1962. The lobby bar at the Palace Grand "long since vanished".

    Question: During the was the exact location of the original bar ascertained?

  4. You better start doubting... I don't know the answer! Lol.

    I haven't studied Dawson much because there is little evidence Soapy went across the border. At least one letter to his wife does state he was headed to Dawson but it is not certain he ever made it.

    Taking a guess I would say there might be photographs showing the bar. If not, perhaps old timers stories and descriptions were used. Dawson is a popular and well studied location in Klondike history so surely the real answer is out there.

    Jeff Smith

  5. Hello Friends: Here is the answer to my 'Fun Question':

    As per, Pierre Berton in "Klondike Quest".

    *When the building was being restored in 1962...the floorboards were ripped up.
    On the ground below the floor there was a 'golden line ' perfectly outling the shape of the bar.
    Apparently...stampeders opening their pokes, accidently spilled some of their gold dust which fell through the space between the bar and the floor.

    Over time a 'line of gold' was formed. :)

    Of course this line of gold was 'panned' immediately after it was discovered.

    Happy trails.

  6. Wow! That is one-hell-of an answer, lol.

    Thanks Rich!

  7. The 'Mother Teresa' Of The Yukon...was actually a Father.
    Father William Judge. Read just a little about him here:

    Truly a selfless and wonderful human being.

  8. "Three-inch White," lol. Thanks Rich!

  9. Here is a first hand account by early Frank Phiscator. He describes quite vividly, the dangers and difficulties encountered in the 'Rush for Gold Riches'.

    Mr. Phiscator was among the very few who actually found an amount of gold that could change ones lifestyle.... however 'temporarily'.

    I say temporarily because it has been well documented that most of the 'Klondike Millionaires' lost their fortunes or wound up 'beyond the range' [for one reason or another] before their time.

    On a news show I recently heard about a published book that documents how the vast majority of modern day lottery winners either soon wind up broke, or unhappier than before they hit the big jackpot.

    Interesting how human nature remains constant over the centuries.

    Oh....what does all this have to do with Frank Phiscator?
    Shortly after returning to civilization Mr. Phiscator killed himself in a San Francisco hotel room.

  10. I went to the site you listed and read the very interesting but tough story...

    It reminded me of the funny but true quote by Klondike stampeder and comedian, W. C. Fields, "It was the greatest time of my life, and I hope it never happens again."

    Jeff Smith


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