Canada lost Pacific coast access to the Yukon in the boundary decision of 1905 (see my March 25 post: Boundary Established). Canada might have lost the entire Yukon during the 1897 gold rush if Minister of the Interior Sir Clifford Sifton and the Northwest Mounted Police had not taken prompt action.
During the gold rush the boundary question had not been decided, so Canadians were able to reach the Yukon through Skagway and Dyea. When the prospectors reached the Yukon they had to buy licences costing $10, and the annual renewal fee went as high as $100 for a time. They also had to pay royalties on the gold they obtained, and one man could stake only one claim in the Klondike. American prospectors had to pay 35 per cent import duty on goods they brought with them. They were very angry about the taxes and restrictions, but Canada pointed out that it was costing $390,000 a year to keep law and order in the Yukon. The Mounties did keep law and order in their usual remarkable manner. No one was allowed to carry a gun, gambling establishments were closed on Sundays, and criminals were sent out of the country.
The position of the Yukon boundary was so unsettled that Sir Clifford Sifton decided to look into it himself. He travelled from Ottawa with a group of officials and landed at Skagway on October 9, 1897. One of the members of the party was Major Walsh of the Northwest Mounted Police who had kept Chief Sitting Bull in check (see my May 6 post: “Custer’s Last Stand’s” Sequel). Major Walsh set up posts in the Lake Bennett-Lake Tagish area, and Sifton ordered another detachment of Mounties under Major Steele to police the entrances at the summits of the passes. This was done in February 1898.
The police arrived just in time because the United States was planning to send troops into the Yukon. If the Americans had gone in to police the area, it is likely that they would have remained and the Yukon would have been lost to Canada.
To read more on today’s post, I suggest going to the Skagway Stories blog and look around while you’re there – great stories!
“This is the law of the Yukon, that
only the Strong shall thrive;
That surely the Weak shall perish,
and only the Fit survive.
Dissolute, damned and despairful,
crippled and palsied and slain,
This is the Will of the Yukon; –
Lo, how she makes it plain!”
– Robert W. Service, 1907
“I am the land that listens, I am the land that broods; Steeped in eternal beauty, crystalline waters and woods. Long have I waited lonely, shunned as a thing accurst, Monstrous, moody, pathetic, the last of the lands and the first.” – Robert W. Service, 1907