Canadian Historic Sites: Occasional Papers in Archaeology and History No. 26
by Margaret Archibald
"Metropolitan Airs" Dawson from 1899 to 1903
In his annual report for 1899 Superintendent A.B. Perry of the North-West Mounted Police claimed to be
astonished to find so many substantial buildings, enormous warehouses, fine shops, articles of costliest and finest description [in Dawson] . . . The Yukon Council have provided sidewalks, bridges, graded and drained streets, fire brigades, electric street lighting and many other conveniences.1
In that same fall the Dawson Daily News declared proudly that "substantial business blocks have taken the place of flimsy shacks and neat frame dwellings have succeeded the log house. All this indicates a belief in the permanency of Dawson as a mining centre."2 One passing writer openly expressed his surprised reaction to the city's appearance in 1903.
The first sensation experienced in Dawson was that of surprise at the size and appearance of the town. With a population of about 7000, with streets solidly built up for nearly a mile along the river, and business extending back from the riverfront to Third Street; with graded streets, water service and sidewalks and comfortable log and frame storehouses and dwellings, the impression created is one of solidity and permanence, which I venture to say is not generally entertained by those who have not seen this metropolis of the Yukon.3
The self-confident view that Dawson wished to impress on the outside world at the turn of the century was one of stability, prosperity and progress, of rapid transition from a boisterous frontier boom town to a fine Canadian centre of business and industry. Indeed, contemporary journalistic reflections on the town during the period 1899-1903 radiated a booster-spirit aura, a feeling of civic pride in the orderly change of both appearance and behaviour. When corroborated by contemporary pictorial accounts of material changes and improvements, the impression of metamorphosis seems justified indeed. Dawson did not greet the 20th century with the shoddy boom town façade which characterized it in 1898. The new façade was a finer, glossier and more respectable one; it was more in keeping with that of a growing business community in southern Canada (Figs. 28 and 29).
Six lumber mills operated in the town by 1899. By 1903 frame buildings of two and three storeys had replaced log cabin structures in the business section to such a degree that those log cabins remaining in the city's core were singled out by one observer with a touch of historical appreciation.4 In 1899 the first brick building constructed entirely of local materials was erected on Third Street between Third and Fourth avenues.5 It was a cold storage warehouse for the Dawson Warehouse Company, and the building managed to withstand the rigours of permafrost, the greatest hazard associated with brick construction in the north. While the Dawson Daily News enthusiastically heralded brick as the building material of the future,6 only a handful more of these structures was actually erected.
One major factor in Dawson's more respectable appearance was the widening and macadamizing7 of the streets which served the business core; that is, from Front Street to Third, and later to Fifth Avenue for five blocks from north to south. By the time Lord Minto, the governor general, arrived for an official visit in August 1900, the city boasted five miles of graded streets planked at intersections and 12 miles of wooden sidewalks8 (see Fig. 31). The harrowing stories of passageways clogged with mud, pedestrians and animals (alive and dead) were now only memories (Fig. 30). With sophisticated nonchalance, the 1901 Dawson directory described the buggies and carriages which passed freely along the thoroughfares. "A pleasing sight of a summer eve is to see the many handsome turnouts together with several hundred bicyclists lining the boulevard of the waterfront in up-to-date Dawson.9
The extended use of electric lighting was clearly indicative of Dawson's material progress. The Dawson Electric Light and Power Company, incorporated in 1900, replaced several smaller concerns which had attempted, somewhat erratically, to satisfy the city's need for power.10 By the first months of the new century, some of the town's leading trading companies had wired their stores to produce that "clear white light so different from the smokey yellow glare of coal oil lamps." In that same year the entire mining district was served by the Yukon Telephone Syndicate. Two years later, 330 telephones were reported to be in use in Dawson.12 Since some customers along the creeks were as far as 50 miles from Dawson, the installation of a working telephone system was an understandable asset to business.
One improvement essential to Dawson's physical survival was the construction of a successful drainage and sewer system with provision for a clean water supply. The excitement of the summer of 1898 had been marred by a serious epidemic of typhoid, as well as by cases of malaria and dysentery, all natural consequences of the unregulated overpopulation of a poorly drained swampy area.13 While a new board of health made initial improvements in 1899, it was not until 1900 that adequate sewer and water supply systems were functioning.14
Probably greater than the apprehension of widespread disease was Dawson's fear of fire. The two huge blazes which roared through the overcrowded business district during the winter of 1898-99 had been ample cause for a constantly alert fire department. By 1901 the increased subscription support of the merchant community had equipped the department with two engines, two hose carts, two chemical engines and a hook and ladder truck; hydrant connections were gradually extended along major arteries.15
In 1901, Dawson had unquestionably come of age. In no section was this achievement more visible nor more enthusiastically praised than in the business community. In fact this group was more responsible than any other for many of the changes which effectively transformed Dawson into an example of respectability. Few of the awed witnesses of post-gold-rush Dawson failed to refer to the sense of "permanency" which pervaded the city in general and its commercial sector in particular. Nearly all made mention of the success of Dawson's prominent merchants, the merchants whose large investments indicated their intentions to remain in the Klondike market.
In a special "Midsummer Edition" in 1899, the Dawson Daily News estimated the combined capital investments of the AC Company, the NAT&T Company and the AE Company (the three leading trading and transportation companies in Dawson) to be $5 million.16 An assessment of 1901 showed that a total of 13 leading business houses were valued at sums between $50,000 and $1.8 million.17
Architecturally, the city's exterior at the turn of the century successfully projected the image of a thriving and prosperous community. The commercial backbone of Dawson was composed of the row of stores, hotels, small businesses and saloons which lined the entire length of the east side of Front Street (later known also as First Avenue), overlooking the chain of docks and warehouses which actually bordered the shoreline. Here the impressive emporia of most of the larger firms, as well as many of the city's finer hotels and theatres, were located on the "line" or boardwalk (so called because of the 12-foot-wide sidewalk which lined one side of that very wide street). Parallel to Front Street and immediately to the east was Second Avenue, an equally busy thoroughfare, where transactions occurred in every field from real estate to confections, from prostitution to embalming. The nucleus of primary activity extended as far as Third Avenue, the street singled out in 1902 as the general artery of the town. Fourth and Fifth avenues consisted mainly of warehouses and residences.
Quite a separate commercial and residential district grew up at the southern tip of the city in an area which owed its sense of isolation to the large tract of government reserve land which separated it from Dawson's core. South Dawson, as the quarter-mile strip was known, housed some of Dawson's more respected small businesses by 1901. Across the Klondike River from this suburb lay Klondike City, maligned from an early period by its universal nickname "Lousetown." The less than sterling reputation of Dawson's younger sister was acquired in 1901, when the Yukon Council ordered Dawson's birds of paradise to nest beyond the city limits. The entire flock lighted in Lousetown. Councilmen were hard-pressed to convince the more respectable and now irate and petitioning residents of Klondike City that Dawson's demimonde had not expressly been ordered to their shores.18
Two- and three-storey frame commercial buildings dominated Dawson's streetscapes. While both the AC Company and the NAT&T Company favoured the simple unadorned structures erected in 1897, the most popular type of edifice still displayed some variation on the boom-town front. Such fronts ranged from plain rectangular shapes to elaborate outlines with peaks, parapets, domes and balustrades, often decorated with highly ornamental friezes and cornices, contrasting woodwork and trim (see Figs. 32 and 33). White seems to have been the predominant colour of building fronts, but the general effect was by no means one of blank space. The series of flat storefronts was broken by any number of variations on the general format of large display windows on either side of an indented doorway. Each store had its own colourful awning, often striped, scalloped or bearing the owner's name. Presumably these awnings were removed in the winter to let in the little sunlight that did appear.
Photographs taken at the turn of the century provide contrasting impressions of store-front signs. The majority show either letters neatly painted on building fronts or unspectacular sign-boards affixed over the central doorway. In one photograph, Front Street is festooned with carnival-like banners proclaiming the remarkable bargains to be made in various nearby shops. Perhaps Front Street tradesmen were among the offenders singled out in a Dawson Daily News editorial early in 1900 which complained of "those objectionable signs and banners, especially those transparencies with lights" (Fig. 34). As Dawson prepared for the upcoming visit of Lord and Lady Minto, the more "objectionable" visible aspects of trade were ordered to be removed.19
In the long run, this enforced and somewhat uncharacteristic tidiness did not prevail in Dawson. A photograph of Second Avenue taken in 1904 (Fig. 33) reveals a muddle of signs, competing with wires and lamp standards, on rooftops and overhanging the sidewalks true manifestations of urban North American enterprise. One element of the tableau peculiar to Dawson in the long rain-free days of summer was the transaction of business outdoors. Tradesmen extended their shelves, crates, barrels, kegs and racks beyond the display windows and out onto the plank sidewalks. During a closing-out sale (a regular summer occurrence over the years) the heaps of goods and "selling out" sign boards spilled over the sidewalk to the street itself, in open defiance of the city's legal standards of respectable appearance.
Another unique feature of Dawson's skyline was the preponderance of huge corrugated iron warehouses scattered throughout the city. By 1901 these structures numbered nearly 50, with a total capacity of some 50,000 tons.20 Even the earliest warehouses of the AC Company measured in size from 30 feet by 50 feet to 30 feet by 190 feet.21 A good proportion of the entire capital investment in Dawson lay within these warehouses, as well as its means of survival for any entire year. The very presence of these enormous buildings was, understandably, impressive (Figs. 28 and 35).
When surrounded by such visible signs of prosperity, Dawson residents, more than those of any other Canadian city, must have continued to reflect upon the transience of fortune, the fickleness of the paystreak. Even the most optimistic among them must have realized just how tenuous was the validity of the city's nickname, "the Paris of the North." Only the more cynical among them, however, would have dared to interpret the town's newly gleaming exterior as a by-product of the much sought-after goal of Dawson merchants, the lasting market. Without this one promise of security no investment concern would have stayed in that isolated northern valley.
The fact that they did stay represents the second phase in a cycle of resource development. In proposing this theory, H.A. Innis suggests that the phenomenon describes the slow death of a primary resource leaving in its wake secondary industries, once urgently needed, as the basis of a new but somewhat less productive economy.22 Given the undoubted value of the Kondike's primary resource, as well as its inaccessability, the capital outlay in the opening of the industry was both extensive, immediate and necessary. The unusually high wages offered to miners in the first year of the rush,23 the immediate influx of established transportation and trading corporations, the exorbitant cost of land and commodities and the immediate construction of a rail connection all signaled heavy initial capital investment.
In the service industries such investments could be repaid only if increasingly efficient methods, firm markets and high prices prevailed.24 Using Innis's hypothesis, one can appreciate the influence of the Dawson merchant group as agents of change. Their eager support of urban improvements was evidence of a sustained effort to maintain business at a reduced overhead.
While operations were certainly made more efficient on many counts, there were several basic aspects of doing business which remained costly, to the chagrin of businessmen and, of course, of the consumers who ultimately suffered unrelieved high prices. Rail and water transportation companies provided increasingly good service to Dawson, but the WPYR rates were still sufficiently high in 1901 to provoke what was essentially a boycott of the line by both merchants and passengers in the city.25
The lesson taught by one million dollars' worth of damage by fires had prompted businessmen to subscribe to a good fire department. Nevertheless, insurance rates remained high enough to be prohibitive 5 to 10 per cent in 1902.26 Commercial buildings in the city core continued to be practically uninsured; risks were taken only on stock in corrugated iron warehouses. The general opinion was that these rates, too, were unnecessarily high.27
High insurance rates, coupled with rents which managed to reflect the prosperity of the past rather than the present, ensured continuing high storage rates. More than transportation, this matter of rents uniformly affected all merchants, large and small.28 The territory's Crown Timber and Land Agent, the official landlord of Dawson's waterfront properties, was singularly guilty in failing to reduce the rents of docking and storage facilities to a level in keeping with Dawson's post-boom economy. A petition to the agent in 1904 from the broker who had taken over the Seattle-Yukon Dock waterfront lease begged him to consider that the contract had been made during boom times "and certainly from a mistaken view of the permanency of the business then prevailing." With the change in conditions, the rental value of the property had fallen to one-third of its original value.29
For many of those who remained in the Yukon after the gold-rush, permanency was forever an illusion; northern commerce, however rationalized by technical progress, could never yield sustained profits or security. For them, economic survival was possible under one prevalent condition: consolidation. This constitutes the theme of the history of the mining industry during the period; claims and capital were amassed in order to apply modern technology rather than expensive labour to the full exploitation of secondary gravels.
Commercial operations followed a parallel development. In 1901, Dawson's business was estimated to be securely in the hands of the following eight firms:
1) McLennan and McFeely, wholesale and retail hardware (reported to have done the largest business of any firm in 1900);
2) The AE Company, general merchandise department store;
3) The Trading and Exploring Company, general merchandise;
4) Seattle-Yukon Trading Company, general merchandise;
5) AC Company, general merchandise;
6) NAT&T Company, general merchandise;
7) Ladue Company, general merchandise, and
8) Ames Mercantile Company, general merchandise.30
After this list had gone to press, the AC Company effected a merger within this group, leaving no doubt as to the only solution to the problem of duplicated overhead and services. On 1 June 1901 citizens were shocked to learn that the AE Company, Dawson's great emporium and owner of "the most magnificent and best appointed retail store and offices north of San Francisco" had been taken over by the AC Company.31 Along with it went the Empire Trading Company. Four days later the president of the Seattle-Yukon Trading Company arrived in town to hand over his firm lock, stock, steamer and warehouse to the new company. The result, effective all the way along the Yukon River, was the formation of two new corporations, the Northern Commercial Company (the NC Company), which was to deal with mercantile concerns, and the Northern Navigation Company to handle shipping. W.D. Wood, the president of the Seattle-Yukon Trading Company, explained his part in the amalgamation in rather magnanimous terms: "We disposed of our holdings because we did not desire to oppose a movement the prime object of which is to decrease the cost of living in this northern country."32
Lois Kitchener, the historian of the NC Company, states that in 1901 no transportation company in the north broke even, and that the years 1901-03, despite appearances to the contrary, were not good ones for the newly merged firm.33 Records are no longer available to provide evidence for this statement. Nor do Dawson newspapers offer confirmation, unwilling as they were to prick illusions of stability by admitting the existence of bad times among the city's largest investors.
While Commissioner Ross's report to the Department of the Interior for 1902 contains the usual booster bravado on the subject of commerce, Congdon's report in 1903 reflects seriously on the real state of business for the majority of merchants.
Business generally in Dawson has been passing through a somewhat critical stage. Formerly, when enormous profits were usual, men in business made small fortunes in a year. Many of these . . . not unnaturally concluded that increased investments meant corresponding increase of profits, and put into business all available assets, including those arising from excessively liberal credits . . . Business is certainly on a more substantial basis now, although this result has only been obtained after the unfortunate results to many former large operators.34
An obvious feature of this state of affairs was the inevitable decrease in Dawson's population. The depletion of high-grade gravels had gradually turned placer mining from a labour-intensive operation into a highly mechanized industry. While the legendary prospector of the Yukon valley had been an independent operator, the majority of his counterparts in 1898 were wage earners. If the widespread unemployment of the winter of 1898-99 had not driven them back outside, the Nome strike later that year offered them a second chance at the easy riches and independence which had probably lured them to the Klondike in the first place. An estimated 8,000 left for Nome over the winter of 1899-1900;35 after the mother lode had been discovered in the Tanana district, 2,000 to 3,000 more evacuated Dawson for Fairbanks.36 In consequence, the city's population, estimated at 18,000 in 1898, dropped to 10,000 after the Nome discovery, to 9,142 in 1901 and to approximately 7,000 by 1903.37 With the exception of the 1901 figure (which comes from a Dawson census) these are approximations made by resident journalists. As such, they are statistically unreliable but the general trend they record is obvious.
While shrinking markets presented a setback to the whole community, larger firms were clearly in a better position to weather the storm than were the rank-and-file storekeepers. They had greater flexibility to cope with changing demands and conditions for many of them were anchored to established outside businesses.
It is therefore understandable that the NC Company of San Francisco had sufficient capital to maintain its posts all along the Yukon River, and could consequently profit from both the Nome and Tanana strikes. The Ames Mercantile Company and the erstwhile AE Company, both of San Francisco, were also able to command something of the Nome market by opening branches there. The Pacific Cold Storage Company of Tacoma, Washington, maintained branches in Nome, Dawson and along the river. The NAT&T Company of Chicago and Seattle was also a long time proprietor of a chain of Yukon River stores and trading posts. It opened branches at Grand Forks (at the confluence of Bonanza and Eldorado creeks) and on Sulphur and Dominion creeks in order to tap the market in the heart of the Klondike district more fully.38 Such was the pattern of a commercial system serving the placer gold-mining frontier. Like the goldseekers themselves, company stores could be found at the site of the most lucrative strikes. The operation of such branches helped offset the inevitable rise-and-fall economic cycle of any single gold town. The Vancouver hardware dealers McLennan and McFeely acted quickly in establishing outlets not only in the Klondike but in Atlin and Bennett, British Columbia, as well.39 As the initial rush through this area died off, McLennan and McFeely closed its operations near the Yukon headwaters to concentrate instead on the Dawson trade. All these companies could, to some extent, offset the vagaries of the Dawson market by operating branches throughout the territory.
In several articles of correspondence in 1903 and 1904, the Dawson Hardware Company referred without regret to the slump in shelf hardware sales. A conversion in mining equipment occurred as the industry gradually turned to hydraulic operations. Like its competitor McLennan and McFeely, Dawson Hardware was large enough to adapt itself to the transition by producing and selling larger items of machinery.40
Dawson, the reigning "gold rush town," unhappily surrendered her title to Fairbanks in 1903. In one important aspect, however, the older city did benefit from this rush, and its wholesale merchants were the men to reap the profits. Dawson's short shipping season necessitated year-round storage, which in turn produced the aggravating problem of slow-moving or dead-end stock which was impossible to unload on a decreasing population. A sudden strike in the north, with its concomitant and immediate demand for all sorts of provisions, put Dawson jobbers briefly in the fortunate position which their Seattle and Vancouver antecedents had occupied half a decade earlier. While this later rush was neither as large nor as sustained as the Kondike one had been, the immediate impact on overstocked merchants was a healthy one. Dealers whose surplus goods were American were especially fortunate, for their stocks could enter Alaskan territory duty-free.41 In 1905 there were 24 bonded warehouses in the city with goods destined for Fairbanks. The customs collector at Dawson claimed that year that the previous season's trade with Fairbanks had earned Dawson wholesalers no less than $750,000.42
The city's wholesale-retail firms made the most of Dawson's natural position as the entrepôt for the Klondike hinterland. While dealing in some retail trade themselves, an increasingly large part of their business was ordering and shipping complete lines of goods from outside for resale to retail outlets in Dawson and the creek centres.43 At the same time, it was more convenient (if not necessarily cheaper) for these merchants to buy their goods from local wholesale dealers. They could at least count on suitable lines of commodities, insured storage and more charitable terms of payment than they might obtain from outside firms. Above all, the worrying trials of long-distance ordering and shipping could be left to those larger businesses better equipped to recover or absorb possible losses.
Whatever advantages the system might have offered the retailer, his permanent subjugation to the jobber or wholesale supplier, local or distant, was universally uncomfortable. In an article defending a retailers' purchasing cooperative in Ontario, the Canadian Grocer, always a friend of the individual merchant, sympathized with the retailer's difficult position.44 The lot of the small merchant in the shadow of the large wholesale firm was brought sharply into focus by the Nugget during its war against the WPYR in July 1901. Not only did the WPYR charge more than the traffic could possibly bear, the crusading Nugget claimed, but it gave preferential rates to certain wholesale shippers. Although its charges were never substantiated, the paper cited the firms McLennan and McFeely, Palmer Brothers (general merchandise, wholesale and retail) and T.G. Wilson (wholesale groceries) as examples.45
The percentage of Dawson's wholesale or jobbing trade which actually went to the large multi-purpose companies, to the wholesale-retail dealers in specific fields (hardware, dry goods, groceries, meats or drugs) or to the amorphous group of wholesale importers and commission merchants ("do you want to buy or sell anything?") can only be guessed at. The only generalization one can hazard is that the initial distribution of goods in Dawson became the prerogative of an increasingly limited number of local jobbers.
The move toward consolidation within the Dawson merchant community is not to be interpreted as a simple and drastic reduction of the number of merchants participating in the trade. On the contrary, the number of merchants in the city directories of 1901, 1902 and 1903 is overwhelming and a numerical decline is not uniformly evident in this period. (See Appendix G. Note, for instance, the number of grocers and produce dealers, as well as hardware merchants.) One striking figure is that of 135 merchants and traders without definite fields or locations of business whose names appear in the alphabetical list of Dawson residents for 1901.46 In what way these men and women did their business we have little or no indication. The number of these mysterious traders drops sharply to 41 in 1902; by the time the 1903 lists were prepared, they seem to have disappeared altogether. Those few names which reappear do so in connection with well-defined trades in groceries, hardware, second-hand goods or confectionery.
The incorporation of the city of Dawson in 1902 was undoubtedly the prime cause of their disappearance, for with it came taxes and enforced licensing of all businesses. Especially significant in this case was the increase in fees for transient traders47 from $150 per annum to $500.48 The annual spring scramble from the upper Yukon River to supply Dawson with its first perishables was a lucrative business, and these traders represented a get-rich-quick system which seemed to show little regard for contributing to the growing community. License fees were constantly evaded, but by June of 1902 the law had caught up with the most blatant offenders, with the full support of the outraged merchant community.49 By August, the heavy license fee was uniformly imposed. Since these scow traders were not residents of the city, there is no official record of their number, and no indication of their reaction to the unavoidable fees. One suspects that they, like the small permanent traders who suddenly fled Dawson, took this as provocation to push on to richer frontiers.
Two possibilities exist to explain the next moves of these traders. The more probable of the two is based on the idea that most individual entrepreneurs did not last long on the frontier. They were likely to return, richer or poorer, to the "civilized" heartland they had originally left. This is especially probable in the cases of those adventurers who had had no previous commercial experience. Mr. Bob Bloom, once of Dawson and Fairbanks and now of Seattle, has suggested a second possibility. Mr. Bloom was one of those Dawson traders who did survive incorporation, but who sold out his hardware stock to join the rush to Tanana, not as a merchant but as a miner. Bloom claimed that the true northern trader was merely marking time, buying and selling to support a much more fundamental quest. When the moment came, Bloom felt little remorse in leaving Dawson, but he was to turn again to the life of the general trader many years later in Fairbanks. Just as the Alaska-Yukon directories do not reveal the cycle of Bloom's frontier occupations, so we are left to imagine how the lives of those on its pages labelled simply "trader" or "miner" must have passed through similar patterns.
A third explanation of the fate of Dawson's floating merchant population, and the most popularly accepted one, is that they moved en masse to the creeks, in particular to Grand Forks.50 This is hard to accept for a number of reasons. First, Grand Forks was itself incorporated as the town of Bonanza in 1902; thereafter it imposed its own increases in licensing fees, including a fee of $500 for transient traders.51 Second, the directories for the years 1901-03 show very little increase in the number of merchants doing business in Grand Forks (see Appendix H). Third, none of the 135 small Dawson merchants and traders listed in 1901, or the 41 listed in 1902, appear in subsequent listings for Bonanza in any capacity.
For various reasons, a steady amount of business was done on the creeks. The activity at Bonanza in particular was enough to cause some Dawson tradesmen to take notice, for the creeks seemed to be growing progressively more independent of the centre.52 In the light of this development, the commercial relationship between Dawson and the surrounding creeks bears further examination.
Bonanza, located some 12 miles from Dawson, was able to offer most of the services necessary to its own survival. As the largest of the creek towns (its population was 4,133 in 1900),53 Bonanza was described by one visitor as being actually busier than Dawson itself. From the directories, it is obvious that no other creek offered the variety of services found in Grand Forks. Men working on such distant creeks as Sulphur, Dominion and Gold Run, well over 30 miles from either Dawson or Bonanza, had to purchase their supplies at one of these small creek centres.
Despite the presence of some local merchants on the more distant tributaries, several diaries and personal accounts report long trips (albeit only annual or semi-annual ones) into Dawson to buy the season's supplies. One such account by a miner from Sulphur Creek, 35 miles from Dawson, speaks resignedly of the muddy June trails which stretched the journey into a two-day trip. Lower food prices and the opportunity of exchanging the drudgery of mining for Dawson's urban excitement made the long trip worthwhile.54 After a 25-mile trip into Dawson to place his yearly order, one miner commented with unconcealed awe on "some American Trading Company in which you could buy almost anything you needed."55 While complaining bitterly about prices, the miner marvelled at the rapid delivery of goods. "I'd hardly be there myself before the store's dog-sleds would arrive with all that I ordered. The whole supply would be delivered to the door without any extra charge."
Until 1901, travel on the creek roads was arduous; consequently the cost of freighting goods was outrageously high. Summer rates varied from 25 cents to $1 per pound, depending on the distance of the destination from Dawson. Winter rates dropped by one-half, since the frozen trails were considerably easier to negotiate.56 The miner from Sulphur Creek quoted above tells us that an article which cost 50 cents in Dawson was worth $1.50 once it had been transported into camp.57 According to H.A. Innis, it was possible to pay ten times the Vancouver or Victoria price for an article just to transport it to an outlying creek.58 As the transportation of heavy equipment such as steam thawers, pumps and boilers became increasingly necessary, the annoyance of bad roads intensified.
As early as 1899 the Yukon Council had realized the need for better roads, but an adequate network was not completed for several years.59 By 1901 there were daily stage connections to the creeks, and the 25 cents per pound summer rate to Grand Forks had fallen to a more reasonable 3 cents per pound.60 Dawson's business with the creeks that year was active enough to support eight freighting companies on the circuit. In 1903 one visiting writer spoke grandly of the fine government highway to Hunker Creek and of the many six-horse stages that ran frequent trips into the territory. "Hence," he concluded, "Dawson takes on metropolitan airs, and considers herself the new metropolis of the far north and Yukon valley."61
Not all the general merchants on the creeks resigned themselves to Dawson's superiority. As roads improved and rates fell, so their ability to compete increased. Dick Craine of the Last Chance Hotel, General Store and Museum on Last Chance Creek put an advertisement in the Dawson Daily News late in the winter of 1900, announcing that "I will compete in prices with any house in Dawson. Come and get my prices. Pack train and delivery in connection. Give me a chance on your freight."62 About a year later, the Nugget referred with a certain sympathy to the small Dawson merchants whose businesses were stagnating because of increased competition from the creeks.63 According to the Nugget, the success of these outlying traders was largely due to the exorbitant storage rates charged in Dawson at the time, rates which creek traders were able to avoid if they met their consignments right at the docks. No evidence remains, however, to indicate the ultimate success of these creek merchants in avoiding the Dawson wholesale middlemen.
The sphere of Dawson's commercial influence extended well beyond the Kondike River and its tributaries. By 1902 the 307-mile Dawson-Whitehorse road had been completed.64 To the Dawson supplier, this meant not only that winter goods would have a better chance of arriving intact but also that the completed road would give rise to an uninterrupted chain of road-houses to be stocked. Needless to say, Whitehorse jobbing grocers had much the same thoughts of possible gains. Fort Selkirk, at the junction of the Pelly and Yukon rivers, some 175 miles from Dawson, seems to have emerged as the dividing point between the Dawson- and Whitehorse-dependent posts.
While the division of spoils of the Yukon River trade was fairly clear-cut, spheres of influence along the tributaries were more hazily drawn. The Stewart River posts are a good example of this. An entire general store outfit (for the Stewart River Trading Company) and numerous individual consignments were sent out by steamer from Dawson in 1902.65 At the same time, the North West Mounted Police detachment on that river was supplied through Whitehorse. The year 1902, incidentally, marked the first occasion on which the Mounted Police stocked their posts with goods "from home corners," as the quartermaster put it in his announcement to the Dawson Daily News.66 This must have come as good news to both Dawson and Whitehorse companies which might acquire contracts.
As the railhead, Whitehorse enjoyed a certain degree of commercial activity on its own. It was never as wealthy as Dawson, for there were no mining operations in the immediate vicinity. Yet a strike at nearby Kluane Lake in the fall of 1903 provoked a great deal of excitement among Whitehorse residents. The new strike was located on a headwater lake of the Yukon River, just over 100 miles west of Whitehorse by overland trail. Since Whitehorse, as the railhead, received freight on a continual basis all winter long, it was in a good position to capture the Kluane market. At this point the general merchandise trade in that community was well under control in the hands of four major dealers. In conjunction with a handful of specialists in hardware, men's clothing and groceries, this group monopolized the services in the new camp. Whitehorse itself was virtually deserted that fall.67 Its citizens had spent too long a time as mere spectators to others' stampedes: they were determined to have an active hand in this one.
The propitious effect of the Tanana strike on Dawson suppliers has already been mentioned. Through a highly controversial point of Canadian customs policy, these same suppliers enjoyed a continually strong market in those downriver camps which, though in American territory, were closer to Dawson than to Saint Michael. Merchants in these communities (such towns as Eagle, Chicken, Steel Creek and Ramparts) soon became frustrated when they tried to ship in American goods. The shortest route was undoubtedly the upper river one; that is, the railroad through Canadian territory. Canadian bonding procedure required that duty on American goods be paid, to be refunded when such goods re-entered American territory. But after coping with miles of red tape in the customs office at Victoria, the receiving merchants found the refund almost impossible to extract. American goods were still a large part of Dawson's stock at this time (see "Satisfying the Sourdough Appetite,") and victimized merchants soon discovered that it was much simpler to buy from Dawson wholesale dealers. An added advantage was that these goods could enter Alaskan territory under an Amerian regulation as "American goods returned duty-free."68 Ironically, customs irregularities had helped to flood Dawson with American goods in the first place. Now it was Dawson's turn to benefit from similar confusion on the other side of the border.
If H.A. Innis's hypothesis that the initial Klondike boom period was followed by a time of economic adjustment is accepted, then one can legitimately view commercial activity in the period 1899-1903 in terms of reduction and consolidation. This trend was most profitable for the larger wholesale and retail establishments which could better adjust to the change. The diversity of their activities would ultimately be the factor which left to them the fulfillment of Dawson's role as Klondike metropolis. Conversely, such commercial progress was apt to be disastrous for the plethora of now-redundant traders and small merchants who had once jammed Dawson's streets, for their stake in metropolitan prosperity was a peripheral one indeed.
Such an insistent stress upon commercial consolidation might create an unnecessarily bleak picture unless a related view of Dawson in this period is also considered, for during these same years Dawson blossomed. A number of experienced and specialized storekeepers had built up known and respected businesses by maintaining high quality in their commodities and by stocking lines as varied as could be found along any main street outside. Variety and quality were more than anyone had dared hope for in the rough and ready days of "tent city" hawkers. They were qualities which Dawson merchants learned to provide.