Friday, November 22, 2013

Klondike Friday: Mud

I sometime thought that in later years, if I should be so lucky, the thing I would remember most about Dawson, in this summer of 1898, was the mud. The town had been built with no thought for anything other than access to the gold fields. Inconveniences such as being located on a floodplain, on the flats beside one river and at the mouth of another, right at the spot where the rivers would jam during spring break-up, were inconsequential in light of the town’s desperate need to be at the road to the Creeks where lumps of gold waited to be found.
-Fiona MacGillivray, Gold Fever (Dundurn Press).


And a lot of it. Dawson City was built where the Klondike River flows into the Yukon River. A good location for a town, near a waterway, close to the gold fields. But it was also a floodplain. When the ice broke up on the river in May of 1898, the newly arrived townsfolk discovered just what a poor choice of site it was. There are pictures of the Mounties crossing from one building in Fort Herchmer to another in a canoe (sorry can’t find such a picture today, I’ll keep an eye out for it ).

Every tree for miles around had been hacked down for lumber, firewood, and to make room for houses. All that water had nothing stopping it.

The streets were, literally seas of mud. The mud could be as high as a horse’s knees. Duckboards were laid across the streets so people could get across. And mud, as we all know, breeds insects and disease. Never mind what it must have been like trying to keep the floors clean!

GOLD WEB the fourth book in the series, will be released on December 28th.  It is now available for pre-order from all your usual sources including, And don't forget your favourite independent bookstore.  (Pre-orders apply to paperback only. E-books will be available on publication date)

Friday, November 15, 2013

Klondike Friday: Photography

The forth book in the Klondike Gold Rush series, Gold Web, will be released by Dundurn in December, 2013. In this book a photographer arrives in town to set up a business. Angus, being a keen and intelligent young lad, takes a job escorting her around town. Naturally I wanted to be able to describe the equipment and the process of taking a photograph in the day.

I contacted Jared Case at the George Eastman Museum of Photography in Rochester, NY. Jared arranged a tour of the facilities for me and a meeting with a couple of the experts on 19th century photography. It was a fascinating day.

One of the reasons the Klondike Gold Rush is so historically famous, is that it occurred at the beginning of the era of common photography. The camera and all it's equipment was becoming small enough and light enough that it could be taken outside of the studio to photograph people on the street or going about their business. By 1898 there was even a camera for hobbists. It was the Brownie, invented by the abovementioned Mr. Eastman. You took your pictures and mailed the entire camera to the Kodak offices. They developed it and sent back the pictures and a new camera.

Photography was still a clumsy business though, and it was likely my photographer would have used dry plates, rather than film. The dry plate had two sides, so one could snap two photographs before having to change plates. Light was a problem - and most pictures had to be taken in the sunlight or in a very well illuminated room. Otherwise, the photographer required a bowl of magnesium, lit to provide a sudden flash.

In the book, Angus is totally captivated by the new art of photography. What wonders it will show. Corporal Sterling thinks science has a place in the future of policing. Fiona, on the other hand, is most concerned about protecting her privacy. There are still people searching for her, you know.

Here are some pictures I took with my own camera at the museum.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Klondike Friday: Sex and Sin in the Klondike

Dawson City in 1897-98 Yukon might have been a freewheeling town, full of open prostitution, legalized gambling, and saloons that stayed open twenty four hours a day, but somethings remained completely traditional
In the Yukon as in the rest of Europe and North America at the time, there was a very strict social strata, particularly as it affected women.
Married women occupied the top rung of respectability. Some of that respectability varied of course according to the status of their husband. Then came the few businesswomen. Whether wealthy business owners such as Belinda Mulrooney or a dressmaker or the proprietor of a hat shop. Nurses and teachers would have fallen into this category.

Then we hit what was known as the demimonde. And the majority of gold rush women who made their living ‘mining the miners’. The top of those ranks were the headliners in the dancehalls. These women could make a lot of money, but it was an expensive occupation – they provided their own stage costumes and were expected to change them often. The next tier was the chorus dancers. Not headliners but still stage performers. The rung below – percentage girls. These were the women who moved in after the stage show was over to dance with the men for the legendary dollar a dance. One dollar got some lonely sourdough or cheechako a one minute turn around the dance hall and then he could expect his lady to drag him off to the bar to buy a drink – included in the dance price. They got 25 cents out of every dollar dance. Most of these women simply wore their street clothes to work. They would have worked hard too – from midnight to six or eight am six days a week, dancing constantly.

Let’s keep going down. The few independent prostitutes, some of whom ran their business under the guise of a cigar store and the employees of the better class brothels. Below them, the cheaper brothels, and then at the very bottom, the women who worked out of the cribs on Paradise Alley. Many of these poor women didn’t earn much, if anything, at all. First they had to pay for their transportation to the Klondike, then the rent on their cribs, and pay off pimps.

Information on social strata found in Gamblers and Dreamers by Charlene Porsild.