PhD Dissertations: Michael James Brand, 2003

Transience in Dawson City, Yukon, During the Klondike Gold Rush

The purpose of this dissertation is to gain an understanding of transience in Dawson City, Yukon during the Klondike Gold Rush through a combination of archaeological and documentary data. The period of interest is between 1898 and 1910, beginning with the gold rush and the height of transience in the community and ending with the replacement of individual placer mining by large-scale corporations. The goals of this analysis are to: (1) examine and elucidate the material expressions of transience in the archaeological record; and (2) clarify the position and role of transients in resource communities of the past.

Data for this dissertation was obtained through archaeological survey and excavation on the hillsides surrounding Dawson City and Klondike City during 1998 and 1999. The resulting six archaeological assemblages from residences located on the hillsides around Dawson City are used to compare archaeological signatures of transience in the Klondike to evidence of transience in other mining communities. The artifacts and archival material are used to establish the role of transients in the community and elucidate the transient experience of those who participated in one of Canada’s most significant historical events.

Results indicate the hillsides were marginal areas both physically, and within the social context of the community. Hillside residents lived in small, poorly furnished cabins, and ate a monotonous diet consisting mainly of dried and canned food. They showed little concern with the latest fashionable consumer goods. Instead, their material possessions were practical, portable and durable. Homemade or reused artifacts are also common in the assemblages. A number of significant issues in the community were examined with specific attention to transients, and reveals not only tensions in the community between the permanent and transient portions of the population, but also the means by which transients could, or could not participate. The analysis supports previous archaeological studies of transience that found small assemblages, with a limited diversity of artifact types. Two trends are evident in the assemblages that likely characterize most transient sites: (1) cultural material focused on food preparation and consumption; (2) practical, functional objects in all artifact categories dominate the assemblages.