Rather than whiling away my summer vacation scrounging for jobs in the ever-dismal Saskatoon job market, I packed away all my worldly belongings, stowed them at a friend’s house and set the course north to Dawson City, Yukon.
Dawson City has, for decades, served as a siren’s song to individuals wishing to experience something out of the ordinary. For some the lure is so strong that they leave for Dawson and remain there permanently, never to return to their normal lives. If it seems as though I am giving Dawson City the reputation of some magical enchantress that ensnares people into her unyielding clutches, it is entirely intentional.
With no job and no place to live in Dawson, I left Saskatoon on May 1 in a 1977 Dodge camper van accompanied by two very good friends, one of whom had worked countless months convincing as many of his friends as possible to join him in his return to Dawson City. While at first he had convinced more than a handful of us, slowly people began getting jobs in Saskatoon and changing their minds.
For some, Dawson City hearkens to a time long before ours when people would abandon their homes in search of the immense fortune embedded in the mountainous terrain. While some were more successful than others, the gold rush never truly left Dawson. Even now, the town finds itself in the midst of a second surge of gold mining companies. The modern-day prospectors are searching for gold in an economic climate where precious metals are the only reliable commodity.
Other people, however, may never have heard of Dawson City.
Firstly, Dawson City is not a city. It is a tiny town settled on the bank of two conjoining rivers, the Klondike and the Yukon. Its population averages about 1,300 residents. I say “residents” because, particularly in the summer time, Dawson is besieged by tourists, students like myself, transients, hippies and gold miners.
Because of the extremely busy tourist season, Dawson is well equipped with a number of hotels, bars and museums that serve to occupy the tourists (and the many residents). Imagine a small town with all the best parts of a city: a casino (the oldest in the nation, Diamond Tooth Gertie’s), several bars and taverns, incredible restaurants, a wickedly cheap thrift store and many other little shops. Add those all together and that is the general gist of Dawson in the summer time — not to mention it has a pretty awesome and well-established music festival.
Secondly, Dawson City is not a place for the faint-hearted. You must be able to hold your own at drinking copious amounts of alcohol on a nightly basis, never knowing where your night might end up. You may drink a shot with a severed human toe in it, shocked to see the people around you beam with respect and then award you with a certificate. You may find yourself fishing at four in the morning, then find yourself cooking the fish you recently caught right beside the river. And you most definitely will find yourself at the blackjack table, winning (and more often losing) money all summer.
I can’t truly describe what Dawson is like to someone who hasn’t been there. It was all a hazy, drunken dream world where it seemed nothing could touch you. You slowly start forgetting to pay your bills back home and you discover yourself wondering why you would even want go back to where you came from.