Sunday, November 2, 2014

Part D: Skagway's First Frame House

This is part of a series on Skagway's historical buildings. Check the BLOG ARCHIVE for stories about Skagway’s Gold Rush stores, cabins, and homes—and the people who built them, lived in them, and died in them. . .
Ben Moore Home, 1897
(Fifth Avenue, east of Broadway, north side, next door to the cabin)
Ben Moore began building Skagway’s first frame house about the time his father arrived in mid-May of 1897—a simple structure. One and a half stories tall, rectangular, clapboard siding—set directly in front of the cabin. At some point it was absorbed into the house but eventually shifted fifty yards westward to create a backyard. And as Ben’s family grew so did the house—a porch, a kitchen to the east, a parlor to the west. When he and Minnie left Skagway in 1907, Herman and Hazel Kirmse first rented then purchased the home.

Sadly, Ben and Minnie Moore’s marriage was an unhappy one. What began as a pretty love story ended badly. They’d met at a potlatch in March , 1890, near present-day Haines. Ben was twenty, Klinget-sai-yet, fourteen. “She saw me at the same time I saw her,” Ben later wrote. A pretty girl with a delicate appearance and long black hair, “refined and modest,” “a way above any of her class.” She turned out to be Chief George Shotridge’s daughter, to whose home Ben had been invited after the potlatch. He writes of this princess:

"…a bed was made up for me in one corner of the room. I lay there thinking of this meek and modest little native maiden in the next room. No warning whisper came to me to flee and dismiss this child of nature from my mind. Thoughts of home in Victoria and of another girl down there came to mind but were chased away. I was in faraway Alaska, living in the present… Thus it was with me, and thus it was that lifelong unhappiness was brought about for her and for me, and which one’s fault was it? Surely not hers, but mine."

They were happy at first, and in his journal Ben often referred to her as his “little girl bride.” They settled mostly in Juneau, Ben working the canneries and sawmills, transporting freight, occasionally foraying up to Moorseville to continue improvements on the homestead. When they moved up permanently in April, 1896, Benny was four years old, Edith Gertrude four months, and they were happy. Not until after they’d moved into the house, a third baby on the way, that life together began to sour. Some credit Ben’s temper. Others Captain Moore’s prejudice. Certainly Skagway was to blame.

Benny, Francis, Minnie, Edith Gertrude 
Isolated from her family and culture, Minnie endured the lonely, not-so-subtle ostracizing of Skagway’s incoming “Muffin and Crumpet” ladies—who, try as they might, couldn’t welcome a “Siwash Squaw” into their very “proper” Victorian circle. There were exceptions, of course, and Minnie entertained these more gracious folks in her cozy, lovely Victorian home. However, her children were taunted at school, and by 1906 Minnie’s unhappiness ran deep. To escape the terrible unkindness, she and Ben moved to Juneau. To no avail. Plagued by depression and alcoholism, her unhappiness deepened. She and Ben finally divorced three years later. In 1910, she remarried—a plumber from Victoria—and while she may have known some happy years, by 1917 she knew only unhappiness and sadly took her own life.

Which one’s fault was it? Ben had written. “Surely not hers, but mine.”

To stand in the walls of this home one can hear laughter and joy—not all was sorrow. But ultimately, the sorrow sighs—both Minnie’s and Ben’s.

Today the Ben Moore home has been restored to its 1904 appearance, the interior reflecting what it would have been like to visit the Moores in those early days . Too bad pretty Minnie, “refined and modest,” “a way above any of her class,” was not good enough for Skagway’s pioneer women. We might have had a different story whispered from these walls.

If you're interested in more on Skagway, you can purchase my book Skagway: It's All About The Gold. Click on the cover image in the right sidebar to take you to your purchase portal.

Friday, October 24, 2014

PART C: Skagway Spruces Up

This is the third installment of a series on Skagway's historical buildings. Check the BLOG ARCHIVE on the right for more stories about the town's Gold Rush stores, cabins, and homes—and the people who built them, lived in them, and died in them. . .
A Mud-Sticky Street, Skagway, 1897 
Today’s Skagway is not as she began—a mud-sticky street with a rash of tents and shacks: A “scrap heap of creation” one early tourist described her at the turn of the last century. But once her mud-and-puddle youth was over and early adolescence in full swing, with inevitable self-consciousness (a scrap heap?), she began sprucing up. And her get-rich-quick psyche matured into a more realistic psychology of economic sustainability: Tourism.
Paradise Alley
In 1907 she rooted out many of the old gold rush shacks, and business­ owners moved the better buildings to Broadway, relocating them along the railroad track. Shops and saloons, restaurants, hotels, and sundry offices from Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Avenues were shifted ninety degrees and then reset to face the main thorough­fare, their Victorian false storefronts aligned to make a tidy wall. Curlicues, bright paint, some recessed doorways, elaborate lathing, these ornate facades anchored signs that swung over Broadway to announce the various establish­ments, often displaying decorations like boots and horseshoes, clocks and barber poles to distinguish one from the other. Fire towers and churches were left on the cross streets, their spires and towers breaking the horizon. Brewery chimneys—amidst the hodgepodge of cigar shops, saloons, and cribs (tiny shacks where the lower class prostitutes plied their trade)—were confined to the alleyways with names like Hiroshima, French, and Paradise, an altogether shady business in the shadows, brisk and uninterrupted. But out of sight.

By 1910 the town’s once heady population of 10- to 20,000 (depending on who you listened to) had dribbled to 872. But if the Skagway Commercial Club is to be believed,  she was coming into her own as a port of tourism, editorializing that she was “the natural headquarters for tourists and sightseers..., richer than the imagination can paint, greater in majesty and beauty than the far-famed Switzerland, and unsurpassed in loveliness of nature.” Nested between mountains at the mouth of a glacial river, approachable only by ship, and her only road out a narrow-gauge train track snaking up from the narrow valley floor to the fabled White Pass, she was a gem in the wilderness.

The Rapuzzi Family
Outside Their Washington Grocery Store
Yet there was still a cluttered and disorderly feel about town: mismatched boardwalks, too many seedy alleyways, empty lots vacated by yesterday’s hordes. In an online book published by the Parks Department, Robert Spude wrote that in order to walk down Broadway the pedestrian’s path would meander around the fruit crates at Rapuzzi’s store, by the sandwich sign at the Alaska Steamship Office, under the canvas awnings—some with signs on them—and through a host of space defined by the overflow and overhangs, openings and closing, of each narrow building.

Not the polished look a tourist-flirting Skagway was after.

She evened out her boardwalks, consolidated the red light district to just Paradise Alley between Sixth and Seventh Streets and closed the gap between the beach and Third Avenue by plucking two- and three-storey buildings from other parts of town. When in 1914 the Red Onion Saloon and Brothel was hauled by a single horse from Sixth and State to its present location on the corner of Second and Broadway, Skagway found herself a mature, pretty little town with Victorian false storefronts corseted in tidy rank, flanking the railroad tracks and with the blush of youth and health in her countenance.

The wear of time began taking its toll, however; the sting of winter winds chafing her cheeks, peeling her paint, gravity sagging her storefronts and slanting her floors. The Depression years all but did her in and Skagway’s Chamber of Commerce began talking of a face lift. Not until June 1976, though, did a congressional bill establish the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, a necessary first step if Skagway was to undergo not only a much needed face lift but reconstruction as well. A decade passed. Finally, when she was 86 years old (her downtown core absorbed by the park and well past her prime) she got the first of her reconstructive surgeries in a ongoing historic preservation project that makes today’s Skagway “one of the best preserved examples of the turn-of-the-last-century architecture.” This is the Skagway we see today.

Notice. No franchises. No golden arches, no Walmart, no Kentucky Fried. Not even a theater. Nothing to disrupt the illusion of yesteryear. Well, one disruption—Radio Shack down on Fourth, better known to the locals as the tanning salon, single booth in the back. Okay, one other disruption. But not in the historic district. The Harley Davidson shop up on 8th and Broadway falls into a block that simply has to “look” historical. Besides, it's not really a Harley Davison. It only sells T-shirts. And there is one other teensy-weensy exception. On the window right across the street from the old train depot you’ll see a Starbuck’s logo. Don’t let it fool you. This is just another jewelry store where Mr. Star and Mr. Buck, I hear, are still selling their latt├ęs and espresso. The rumor going around town is that when they landed in Skagway in 1897 they discovered their entire ton of goods to be nothing but 2,000 pounds of coffee. They’re still trying to get rid of them. But leave these three exceptions out of it—Radio Shack, Harley Davidson, and Starbucks—the rest of the town is  authentic, which makes walking down Broadway and some of the city’s side streets a step back in time. You can tromp the wooden boardwalks and touch the walls of living history. What do they tell?

“a gem in the wilderness”
They tell a lot. Echoes beckon, linger, and whisper in every doorway, up the stairs, and all around. 
If you're interested in more on Skagway, you can purchase my book Skagway: It's All About The Gold. Click on the cover image in the right sidebar to take you to your purchase portal.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

PART B: Skagway's First Cabin

This is part of a series on Skagway's historical buildings. Check the BLOG ARCHIVE for stories about Skagway’s Gold Rush stores, cabins, and homes—and the people who built them, lived in them, and died in them. . .
Skagway's First Cabin
photograph by Brenda Wilbee
Twenty-one-year-old Ben Moore filed the 160-acre homestead along Skagua Bay in 1886, but it was his father’s dream, and to all who’d listen, the old man would predict a pack trail through the pass, followed shortly afterward by a wagon road, eventually a railroad track. Very few agreed. 
“Well, I hope the undertaking you folks have started here will fulfill your expectations," was one remark, "but I am afraid you are losing time and energy here in this." Ben writes: “These were the same discouraging remarks we always heard about our Skagway Bay wharf and land location.”
Ignoring the naysayers, Ben and his dad worked diligently (though sporadically) to “prove up,” diverted by the need to fund themselves, earning money by piloting steamships or working in sawmills and salmon canneries—and appealing to financiers and hiring help whenever they could. Ten years they bumbled along like this, coming and going. Finally, April 1896, Ben decided to move his family up permanently. 
“My wife and I,” he wrote, “worked together fixing up the log house, chinking it better, putting in a good window, a back and a front door a rough floor, and making pieces of rough bunks and furniture out of poles.” Shortly afterward, his father announced some pretty good news: He’d finally gotten financial backing, some English Company.

Skagway 1896
Library of Congress LC-USZ62-122304 4-75
In exchange for half interest in the property, they’d receive a cash advance of $1800. Under the newly formed Alaska and Northwest Territories Trading Company (AandNWTT Co), Ben headed for Juneau to purchase 6,000’ of lumber, a couple of cows, two horses, chickens, pigs, some blacksmith’s tools, shingles, groceries. He returned with George Buchanan, formerly of Enumclaw, WA, along with two native youths, John Jack and Dick Hindle.
And then Skookum Jim found the gold on August 17, 1896.
By August 17 of 1896, "Mooresville" had just gotten started, boasting only the small cabin, a lean-to blacksmith shop, a bunkhouse, and a rudimentary wharf. It would be a year, however, before anyone from the Outside could arrive. Ben and the newly formed AandTWTT Company had the fall, winter, and spring to get their ducks in a row. 

White Pass Trail Is Open:
        Porcupine Hill

  Library of Congress

Compelled now by a sense of urgencyand with an additional $50,000 from London, coupled with supervisors and hired hands sent up from Victoria—"Moorseville" started to take shape: An expanded wharf, a saw mill, another bunkhouse; the trail widened along the river’s west bank, bridges going in over the creeks and across the river up the east side. A frenzied time.
Captain Moore, now seventy-five years old, wrapped up his affairs and arrived mid-May to a hive of production under management of his British-appointed directors. He headed up the trail with two helpers. By July he had ten to fifteen men on the job. Mid-month, on the 14th, he declared White Pass Trail open. On July 29, the stampeders arrived. Ten years he’d waited. Ten years.
Two hundred miners tumbled off the Queen onto his dock. Within a days, hundreds more. Within a week, a thousand more flooded his beach with all the flotsam of selfish humanity. A fellow by the name of Frank Reid borrowed some surveying equipment and proceeded to plat “Skagway” on top of “Mooresville.” 

Replatting "Moorseville"
Broadway,  August 1897, Skagway, AK

U of WA Special Collections
LaRoc 386_4865

The Moores and the AandNWTT Co. objected. They posted notices. They sent around their wharf manager with warnings. But their complaints were run up a flagpole of indifference and left to snap in the wind.

Ten years it had taken Captain Moore to see this day—sorry fruition. He and his London backers filed a lawsuit for full recovery of their stolen property; it would take three years to resolve.

And today, the bitter acrimony more or less forgotten, the original cabin that marks the start of "Moorseville"/Skagway sits empty and silent, its wall lined with newspapers that remind us in faded headlines and yellowed columns the tale of unsavory greed and theft.

This, however, is not the end of Skagway's story.

Not by a long shot. One cabin became many, and, in the end, the Moores owned 25% of their assessed value. 
If you're interested in more on Skagway, you can purchase my book Skagway: It's All About The Gold. Click on the cover image in the right sidebar to take you to your purchase portal.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

PART A: In The Beginning. . .Before Skagway

This is the first installment of a series on Skagway's historical buildings. Check the BLOG ARCHIVE for stories about the town's Gold Rush stores, cabins, and homes—and the people who built them, lived in them, and died in them. . .

"Here we will cast our future lots
and try to hew out our fortune."
sketch by Brenda Wilbee
The bigger story of Skagway begins when no one lived in it, not even the native Chilkoot of the Tlingit* Nation. The natives preferred the more sheltered inlet two bays to the west—and their little village of Dyea* at the foot of their ancestral trade trail. A man had to be daft, they all figured, to settle in Skagway. Who but a crazy man could put up with such a ferocious wind whipping off the pass at forty and fifty miles an hour, with the bite of the arctic in its teeth?

Skookum Jim, Ben Moore, Capt Wm Moore
sketch by Brenda Wilbee
Such wind did not stop Captain William Moore. 

A seasoned steamboat builder and gold miner, Moore had made and lost at least three fortunes—Peru, California, Colorado, Washington, BC, Alaska. He knew too, like a lot of other folks, that the big gold was yet to be found somewhere in the Canadian Yukon way up north. When, in 1887, an Interior Tagish man by the name of Skookum Jim showed him a “secret” trail through the formidable mountains—uncontrolled by the Chilkoot—Captain Moore visualized a new kind of fortune. He’d plant a town, open the trail, charge a toll, sell city lots, build a wharf, charge docking fees. He was not too old to make another fortune; only this time he’d mine the miners who would surely be stampeding through.

His son Ben Moore wrote in his diary dated October 20, 1887:
[We] arrived at Skagway Bay at 10 a.m. and ran our canoe up in the creek about a quarter of a mile, then put up our tent and camped at the foot of a little bluff on the beach, where a small creek comes down and joins the large creek on the right-hand or east side of the bay.
 He later wrote about that day: 
I have never forgotten my father’s words to me. ‘Here,’ said he, ‘we will cast our future lots and try to hew out our fortune,’ as I struck my axe into our first tree. 
Later we reconnoitered up the valley a way and put up notice of location for one hundred sixty acres upland, and measured off six hundred feet for a wharf site and placed our notice on the same. We ran across numerous old deadfall traps for bear and other animals, a short distance up the valley. My father also said on this occasion: ‘I fully expect before many years to see a pack trail through this pass, followed by a wagon road, and I would not be at all surprised to see a railroad through to the lakes.’
Son Ben filed the 160-acre homestead under his name and for the next ten years father and son “proved” up, building a rudimentary cabin, wharf, sawmill, platting city lots, and widening the trail. They worked tirelessly, coming and going for ten years, adding a bunkhouse, a cookhouse, earning money as needed by piloting steamships or working in the sawmills and salmon canneries. Ten years they worked and waited, preparing for the invasion of stampeders who would storm the beach once the gold was found.

Ten years none other than  Skookum Jim found the gold.

It took a year for news to get out. But by July, 1897, the rush was on. The first 200 miners tumbled off the Queen onto Moore Wharf on July 29, 1897. Within days, hundreds more swarmed the beach. Within weeks, thousands.

Skagway's First Stampeders / July 29, 1897
sketch by Brenda Wilbee
Skagway evolved into a city like any other, with villains and heroes and entrepreneurs. The Moores made their fortune, as did a lot of other people. Today, more than a hundred years later, Skagway remains a viable town, growing out of its gold rush roots. And while only a handful of gold rush towns exist intact, Skagway is one.
If you're interested in more on Skagway, you can purchase my book Skagway: It's All About The Gold. Click on the cover image in the right sidebar to take you to your purchase portal.

* Pronounced Cling'kit
* Pronounced Die'ee

Friday, February 7, 2014

John Healy: An Irony In American and Canadian History

Healy and Wilson Trading Post, Dyea, AK

Johnny Healy is an interesting man in Skagway history; he said she'd never amount to anything. He also has an interesting history with Canada and the Mounted Police.

A whiskey trader, Indian fighter, entrepreneur, he came to Dyea, AK, in 1885 and started a trading post at the foot of the Chilkoot Trail--the famous torturous path twisting up though the steep Coastal Mountains. A trickle of gold prospectors had been using the trail, headed into Canada's Far North and her promising gold strikes. Healy saw an opportunity to cash in with a strategically placed trading post. So he and pal Wilson built Healy and Wilson. A year later Captain William Moore and son Ben arrived, setting up their homestead next door in unoccupied Skagua, 1886.  

"A waste of time and resources," Healy told them. "Nothing will come from such dark and windy desolation." The future, he said, which any nincompoop could tell you, lay in Dyea and the Chilkoot Trail. We all know just how wrong he was. Skagway is a pretty little town that sees close to a million visitors each summer while Dyea’s ruins lie buried by a hundred-year-old forest. What most don't know, though, is that Johnny J. Healy was one of the driving forces behind the creation of Canada's Mounties in 1873/74. Yes, true.

Fort Whoop Up, Canada West
the flag is not America's stars and stripes
Healy was a rather notorious whiskey trader in Canadian history, working out of Montana. He ran the nefarious Fort Whoop Up in what is now Alberta, Canada, near present day Lethbridge. His whisky—watered down with red pepper, ink, Jamaican ginger, tobacco, and black strap molasses—was decimating the Blackfoot. To establish law and order and protect the First Nations, the Canadian government formulated the now famous Northwest Mounted Police in 1873 to drive Healy and the other traders back across the border. Their primary target, Fort Whoop Up—and Healy.

When the Mounties arrived after a six-month trek in 1874, their collective resolve sharpened by an epic journey of deprivation and hardship, they expected one heck of a fight. All they got was Dave Akers—a fur trapper the fleeing Healy had left in charge.

“Been expecting you,” said Akers, “supper’s on.”

The irony is that years later Healy, after having made his way to Dyea, partnered in 1892 with big money in Chicago to create the North America Transportation and Trading Company in Canada's Yukon. But it was becoming a dangerous place up there, more and more gold being found by the steady trickle of American prospectors. He, among others, began writing Ottawa, asking for police protection from this growing element of American lawlessness. One more time, in 1895, the Mounties showed up. This time not to run him out, but to protect him.

The ultimate irony is not that Healy once ran from the Mounties and then begged their protection, but that he ultimately took credit for the relatively peaceful settlement of Canada West. "The Mounties got on well with the Indians," he boasted, "because I already whooped 'em." 

If anyone's interested in more about this interesting and arrogant man, his autobiography is now available, Life and Death on the Upper Missouri: The Frontier Sketches  by Johnny  Healy, edited by Ken Robison.

Reminder: My book, Skagway: It's All About the Gold, will be released this spring. See information on the right sidebar for ordering.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

KLONDIKE, The Real Story

Yes, I get it. When you're telling a story, you utilize literary license to showcase the bigger truth of the story. You fudge a little on dates, maybe ignore conflicting or immaterial information, certainly beef up events that weren't necessarily meaty. However, in the recent airing of Klondike, I found the Discovery Channel to be so far off in their rendition of the 1897-98 Klondike Gold Rush that all semblance of reality has been smothered and buried beneath a swift and suffocating avalanche perpetrated by Hollywood. I'm sorry because an opportunity was lost to tell the real story.

The purpose of this essay is not to reveal the historical inaccuracies (chalk these up to literary license) but to address a plot development that flew in the face of truth. While portending to tell the story of the world's most iconoclastic gold rush in history, Klondike simply echoed yet another episode of Gunsmoke and the "wild wild American West". It's my contention that we can fictionalize anything we want--but when we do, "based on actual events" no longer is an option. Or it shouldn't be. Because when we distort reality so drastically, truth is not served. Viewers of Klondike are now under the impression they know all about Canada's Gold Rush. Do they
View of the Yukon and Klondike Rivers
Lower right: First Nation's fishing camp 
vacated for Moosehide
Upper right: Dawson City
Thronkdike Whech'in
Let's begin with the invisiblization of Dawson City's First Nations people--the Throndike Whech'in. 

They were replaced by Alaska's Tlingit--a coastal Native American band who, as a group, never went to Dawson City. In reality, the enterprising Tlingit were far too busy making money off the incoming gold miners, charging them an arm and a leg to haul gear and grub over Chilkoot and White Passes. And while there are written and oral histories portraying the Tlingit as warriors, nothing historical suggests that the Throndike Whech'in ever were. They in fact retreated from the gold rush to their little village of Moosehide, downriver from Dawson City. Yet the mini-series shows the Throndike Whech'in (simulataneously mistaken for Tlingit) going after the Mounties, slicing throats and shooting rifles. Really? No. The Throndike Whech'in never went after the Mounties; the Mounties never went after them. Why should they? The Mounties historically had a good relationship with the Natives. To invisibilize an entire group by mixing them up with someone else--and assigning a violence not theirs--is to deny the very existence of an ancient and noble people and to spit in the face of truth

Fort Constantine, Mountie Detachment
Forty Mile, Yukon, Winter 1895
Shall we tackle the Mounties next? Portrayed as violent thugs who came after the fact, hauling a cage? what? they were apparently at the mercy of Canada's Minister of the Interior, a supposedly arrogant, corrupt, and even more violent thug who loved to brow beat the Mounties. 

To start, the Mounties did not arrive after the fact. For two decades, prospectors had been pulling bits of gold from the Yukon creeks; it was only a matter of time before the really big stuff was found. History being a good indicator of the future, Canada in 1895 sent up 20 Mounties to Forty Mile (Yukon government seat) as preemptive strike against any lawless Americans that might swarm in. When the gold was found, Canada immediately sent up more men. And in February 1898, Superintendent Sam Steele arrived to take over all Yukon Mountie operations.

There was no cage.

As to the violence assigned the Mounties? In way of background, they were formulated in 1873 under the model of the Irish Constabulary; meaning they were empowered to make up  laws as they went along, to carry them out, and to execute punishment. By the time of the Gold Rush came along their power was more limited, but they still had authority to run a tight ship. All business in Dawson City was shut down on Sundays, as was prostitution. Drunkenness was forbidden, the guilty assigned to the wood pile. Mores serious issues involved the famous one-way order out of town. More importantly, the Mounties served less as law enforcement and more as servant to the needs of the citizenry. Superintendent Sam Steele writes:
Sam Steele, Dawson City, 1898
The more than 30,000 persons, everyone of whom had received assistance or advice, had passed down the Yukon. Over 150,000 dollars in duty and fees had been collected, more than thirty million pounds of solid food…had been inspected and checked over by us. We had seen that sick were cared for, had buried the dead, administered their estates to the satisfaction of their kin, had brought on our own supplies and means of transport, had built our own quarters and administered the laws of Canada without one well-found complaint against us.
The Mounties did a good work and were well respected. They certainly did not hold a gun to an old man's head, let alone a child's, behaving like the terrorist thugs. To portray Canada's early Force as nothing more than an American army of blackguards so common in American history spins a story of nonviolence into its opposite.

William Ogilvy
Klondike would have us believe that William Ogilvy, Canada's Minister of the Interior, was sent to boss the Mounties around. 

Ogilvy was sent to the Yukon a full decade before the gold rush, as a surveyor, his job being to define the American/Canadian boundary. When the initial rush took off, he was asked by the locals to survey Dawson City, and, as the rush intensified, was asked by the miners to resurvey their claims to avoid errors, claim jumping, and any kind of violence. He did this willingly and without bribery, and you'll not find a single miner denigrating Ogilvy. He was, and still is, regarded (along with Sam Steele) as a real hero--a man of integrity and utmost honesty. Neither he (nor Steele) ever made a dime off the millions of dollars of gold floating around. Ogilvy certainly didn't dictate orders to the Mounties, nor did he luxuriate in hot baths while threatening Sam Steele. And he most certainly did not order the hanging of an innocent "Tlingit" man and his little boy.

When a plot line relies on murder and mayhem to tell the tale, a line is crossed from telling Canadian history to obliterating it. There were only three homicides in Dawson City, population anywhere from 30,000 - 40,000, and which Sam Steele reported as being "unpreventable." There was no Count to viciously and brutally reign havoc. And in the gold fields, not a single murder. True. A rather unique and significant detail somehow missed--a detail that defines the Klondike Gold Rush

All story is always about truth. It's why we have literary license, so we can bring focus to truth without cluttering it up with messy, minor details. But in this case, the creators of Klondike went far beyond literary license when they buried the real story under a rubble of misrepresentation. A whole people were invisibilized and maligned; Canadian law enforcement was assigned historical American policy; heroes were  stripped of honor, presented as hooligans; nonviolence was ambushed by violence. Such misrepresentation bothers me--because the purpose of all story is to tell the truth. Make something up, you're still bound to universal truth. When you advertise "based upon actual events," you are obligated to embrace the fundamental truth. Klondike, however, is a case of spinning truth into everything it wasn't, spinning gold, if you will, into mere straw. 

Viewers of Klondike think they now understand Canada's gold rush history of the Far North. They do not. The Klondike is not about murder and mayhem and selfish greed, but of heroism amidst hardship, of ordinary men and women who, for the most part, rose above their greed and selfishness to live in unprecedented cooperation--people who collectively pulled off the most peaceful gold rush in world history.

That's the Klondike story. 

About Me: When expressing my contention with this mini-series to an American, I have received feedback that it's offensive. As if I'm somehow denigrating Americans. Let me clarify.
I am Canadian by birth, American by choice, and for thirty years I've researched the intersection of  Canadian/American history. I'm fascinated by the two countries' similarities, differences, and ironies. For instance, American's Great Northern was engineered by a Canadian while Canada's Canadian Pacific was engineered by an American. I've also lived in both countries, was schooled in both countries, and have called British Columbia, Quebec, Michigan, Iowa, Arizona, Washington, and California, not in that order, home. Bee-bopping back and forth across the border a lifestyle, I've come to believe that Americans and Canadians have a singular defining difference that colors just about everything.
Canadians have always viewed community as more important than individual rights; whereas Americans have always regarded individual rights as primary. It's why Americans fight against gun control while Canadians scratch their heads and wonder what the fuss is about. It's why Americans fight universal health care while Canadians see health care as their fundamental, inalienable right. Neither position is right or wrong; they just happen to be different. 
Yet it's this difference that inevitably comes into play whenever an American tries to write Canadian history. It's inconceivable to most Americans that the development of Canada West was relatively nonviolent. Canadian history, written by someone south of the border, inevitably becomes filtered through the American lens of  frontier violence. The fact that law enforcement and First Nation issues were far less heavy handed in Canada is not something that occurs to an American for the very simple reason that it was not part of the U.S.'s rugged heritage of individualism. 
My disagreement of Discovery Channel's Klondike is not aimed at Americans but at the presumption of brutality that's so foreign to Canada. I don't care what country you're standing in, truth is important. Without it, we distort our collective heritage.