Skagway: Gateway to Gold

The little frontier town of Skagway sits at the end of a fjord carved out by glaciers in centuries past. The town was birthed as the 19th century rolled into the 20th and man discovered gold in the Yukon River. The Klondike Gold Rush was on and the quickest way to the gold fields from the West Coast was up the Inside Passage to the head of Lynn Canal (misnamed as it’s actually a fjord) at Skagway. Once in Skagway, would-be miners had to hike 45 miles over the mountains to Lake Bennett and then float another 555 miles down the Yukon River to the gold fields.

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A railroad through the mountains would help. Enter Mike Henry who proclaimed “Give me enough dynamite and snoose (chewing tobacco), and I’ll build you a railroad to hell.” Big Mike convinced investors and two years, 450 tons of blasting powder and $10 million later, the White Pass and Yukon Route opened for business. John and I joined newfound Aussie friends, Steve and Katrina, on a train trip this morning. The views were amazing….

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In 1922, a wealthy coal baron from Detroit, George Buchanan, began sponsoring trips to Alaska for young boys. Decades later, the Buchanan boys paid tribute to their benefactor by painting their slogan on rock face along the railway.

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It took more than 35,000 men to engineer and construct the White Pass & Yukon Route. Many of the workers joined the effort to earn the $500 they needed for a grubstake (a year’s supply of food and equipment) to go mine for gold in the Yukon. At 30 cents an hour, it took a while. The gold played out…most never struck it rich….but the railway they built remains.

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