The days of the lone gold miner were fading. A single person, cutting into the permafrost and panning out the results, no longer had much hope of striking it rich. The Klondike Gold Rush was waning. A new day was coming: the day of the corporate dredges. Only the big boys could play this game. Dredge #4 was the Corporate response to gold mining in the Klondike.
The Klondike Gold Rush
Almost 100,000 prospectors traveled from their homes around the world following the lure of gold in the Yukon. The Klondike River, a tributary to the mighty Yukon, drew men, and even a few women, to its promise of wealth. Local miners discovered gold in August of 1896. When news reached San Francisco a year later, the prospectors stampeded over snow-covered mountains and down the mighty Yukon River to Dawson City. Most of these failed to gain anything. A few became very rich.
As the gold near the surface petered out, it was no longer effective to use small tools and huge man-hours to extract the flakes from the permafrost. The answer to this quandary would be either give up and walk away, or come at the problem with all the ingenuity and equipment that rich men could muster. And so they created the huge dredges to turn over the soil and retrieve every last flake of dust.
Gold Mining Claimed by Rich Men and Big Machines
In 1913, The Canadian Klondyke Mining Company (CKMC) began operation of Dredge #4 assembled near Ogilvie bridge. The location is very close to the current location of the Klondike Highway, as it enters Dawson city. This site was only about a mile from the site where George Carmack, Skookum Jim, and Dawson Charlie discovered gold in 1896, kicking off the Klondike Gold Rush.
The dredge cost the CKMC $134,800 to build. During its operation from 1913 to 1959, it pulled $86,000,000 dollars worth of gold from the permafrost soil above Dawson City. Over that 46 year period, the Company moved and reconstructed the dredge twice. Because it was so successful, two additional dredges were constructed by the CKMC during 1914.
The Workings of a Massive Dredge seen in Dredge #4
The dredge is a floating excavator, eight stories high and 2/3 the length of a football field. It moved forward about 1/2 mile a year, following the gold up the stream.
After each move, the workers first anchored the dredge in place using large logs buried deep in the ground. Electricians wire power from a hydraulic power plant nearby to run the large chain of steel buckets.
Then, when everything is installed for the season, the dredge starts its digging.
When the buckets dig into the ground, huge quantities of soil are brought up, dumped into hoppers inside the dredge.
From the hopper, the material is moved into a rotating drum. Huge amounts of water are run through the soil separating the fines from the larger gravel. The larger pebbles were then dropped out the back of the dredge, leaving long tails of tailings still marking the passage of the dredge to this day.
Then the fines were further separated into sluices and filtered through cloth mats.
Four men operated the dredge, 24 hours a day, 200 days a year. At its peak, the Company employed almost 800 men, operating 11 dredges.
The End of an Era
By 1966 all dredging in the Yukon had stopped. Increased wages and the fixed price of gold made the dredge impossible to operate at a profit. After 50 years of incessant noise caused by the dredges, the air was once again silent.
You can see all that is left of the era of the dredges in the miles of tailings left in its wake. You can also tour the one dredge left up on Bonanza Creek waiting for visitors to explore the history of the end of the Klondike Gold Rush.
Parks Canada developed the site of Dredge #4 as a National Historic Site, which you can tour during the summer season. Watch the video about the work of rebuilding the dredge.
You can visit the dredge site and take a tour through the inside of the dredge
Contact: Goldbottom Mine Tours