Six things not to be missed in Dawson; From panning for gold to watching can-can, town is quirky and fun
Title: Toronto Star
By: Josephine Matyas
Date: Apr 26, 2012
Publication Type: Daily Newspaper
DAWSON CITY, YUKON-The best mindset to pack on a visit to the Yukon is to be flexible and think outside the box. And nowhere is that more true than in quirky Dawson City, a frontier town that boomed (and then busted) with the fortunes of the Gold Rush of 1898. These days, Dawson City's fortunes are on the rise again as tourists venture north to walk wooden sidewalks lining dusty streets, live a little history and be immersed in a landscape where they live by the creed: "There are strange things done in the midnight sun."
Strange or not, here's what you don't want to miss:
1. Pan for gold
In 1898, the population of Dawson City exploded - from just a few chilly souls to more than 30,000 - as goldseekers streamed in from the south in search of a lucky strike. Within the year, most left penniless. But that shouldn't stop you from grabbing a pan, standing ankle deep in a rushing stream (rubber boots provided) and screaming when you find the tiniest speck of glitter amongst the grit and pebbles. It'll give you a small taste of what the Gold Rush stampeders faced. (Well, sort of. You get to drive or fly back south. They had to walk most of it, carrying heavy packs.) GoldBottom Mine Tours.
2. Slurp the toe (or not)
Everyone heads to the Downtown Hotel to participate - or at least witness - the very strange tradition of the Sourtoe Cocktail. Picture this: Gotta-do-it types line up for the chance to throw back a dram of liquor in which there sits a dehydrated, preserved human toe. To gain admittance to the Sourtoe Cocktail Club, the toe must touch your lips as you drink. Really. You couldn't make this stuff up if you tried. Even if you don't participate, there's an air of spectator sport in just watching the ritual. If you pass the test, you'll join more than 60,000 club members.
3. Want to feel inspired?
Who knew that tiny Dawson City was home to a trio of literary powerhouses? You can tour a few of the artifact-stuffed abodes where these writers holed up through the long, Arctic nights. It's just a five-minute walk from downtown to Authors on Eighth (the locals call it Writer's Block) where the cabins of Jack London and Robert Service, and the childhood home of Pierre Berton are all within a stone's throw of one another. A large, gentle dog London met in Dawson City was
the inspiration behind his classic novel, Call of the Wild. Service's sod-roof, log cabin is run by the interpretive staff of Parks Canada. Berton's former home is now used for a Writer in Residence Program.
4. Can-can girls and casinos
Casinos in the south were just a pipe dream when they opened the doors at Diamond Tooth Gerties, Canada's first legalized gambling hall. The casino is named after the famous dance hall queen of the Gold Rush era. Diamond Tooth Gertie (born Gertie Lovejoy) stood out from the crowd by the sparkling diamond she'd wedged between her two front teeth.These days, locals and visitors flock to Gerties to relax over a drink, try their luck at the tables and slot machines, and watch Gertie and the Gertie Girls dance three times nightly.
5. Walk the history walk
In Dawson City, they like to say "truth is stranger than fiction sometimes." The Parks Canada Visitor Information Centre on Front Street is the departure hub for themed walks of the dusty downtown streets, led by costumed heritage interpreters. They've got the keys to get you into historic buildings such as the original Post Office, where men would line up for hours, waiting for a crucial connection to the outside world. Another stop is the impressive Palace Grand Theatre, home to entertainment from vaudeville acts to silent films. You'll get to poke about the nooks and crannies backstage.
6. Festivals for every season
Dawson City is a town of year-round festival action. And did we mention quirky? How about the Midnight Sun Golf Tournament, held in June close to the longest day of the year. Canada Day is marked by the Yukon Gold Panning Championships. And July 20 to 24 is the 34th annual Dawson City Music Festival - a highlight on the Canadian grassroots music circuit and much-loved by Dawsonites (who have been described as "the colourful 100 per cent"). In the fall, there's the Great Klondike International Outhouse Race.
JUST THE FACTS
ARRIVING It's a long, once-in-a-lifetime drive along some of the country's most historic and scenic highways (including the Alaska Highway, Top of the World Highway and the Klondike Highway). Or you can zip in by air on Air North (flyairnorth.com) or Air Canada (aircanada.ca).
SLEEPING Dawson is packed with historical properties including Bombay Peggy's, Yukon's only restored brothel. bombaypeggys.com. A more mainstream option is the Eldorado Hotel. eldoradohotel.ca
WEB SURFING travelyukon.com
Caption: Illustration: • Interpreter Janice Cliff regales visitors with stories of strange things done in the midnight sun. Diamond Tooth Gerties is one of Dawson's most popular attractions. Guests play slot machines, roulette or table card games - or just enjoy the show.
Josephine Matyas for the Toronto Star