Paris of the North


By June 1897 the new town of Dawson had a population of some 4,000, by June the following year the population had grown to over 25,000.

By 1898 Dawson became the “Paris of the north” the biggest city west of Winnipeg and north of San Francisco, with all the amenities of the outside world. On June 13, 1898, Yukon Territory was formed out of the western part of the Northwest Territories encompassing the Yukon River water shed. The Yukon was governed by Ottawa, with a Commissioner who had his headquarters in Dawson

The new town of Dawson, was now the capital of the new Yukon Territory. With elaborate theatres, hotels, saloons. Dance halls. Fine stores selling all the things that were available in the stores in the rest of Canada and the United States, including the latest fashions from Paris.

Four major religious orders erected churches, Anglican, Presbyterian, Methodist and Roman Catholic. By 1900 Dawson had electricity, water and sewer, and telephone, and in 1901 was connected by a telegraph system to the rest of the world.

When gold was found on the beaches of Nome Alaska, in 1899. It was estimated that by spring 8,000 left Dawson for Nome. In 1900 Dawson had a population of 5,400.


Once Dawson got established It wasn’t long before the people of started agitating to have the town incorporated, they were fed up with the Government from Ottawa and Regina, running things with no say in the regulations, taxation etc.

If the town was incorporated as a city then they could elect a mayor and council, that way they maybe they would have a say in the running of the city. Agitation started in early 1898 for incorporation. Finally in January of 1902 Dawson became an incorporated city, and a Mayor and council elected.

Much of the material in this document is taken directly from the news papers of the day, as it was written at that time. The reporters then had a different way of expressing the event that they wrote about, an effort has been made to keep these items as they were written; There were no papers until 1898.


Dawson was in fee heyday when thanksgiving day 1897, arrived. Two dances were on the program, and the youth and beauty of the olden days were gathered in a maelstrom of uproarious enjoyment. The Opera house was packed to the doors, the M&M, owned by Pete McDonald, was the other center of conviviality, and money was spent with reckless abandon which characterized the sourdough of 1897.

A sea of happy faces met the eyes of the onlookers, and tile proprietors visage outshone the most joyous, and why not? This was the night he was square with the world He had just completed his house at a cost of $15,000 and on that very night he had made the final payment on the establishment. Between the hours of 9 and 12 o’clock of the night he paid $1.900 which left him clear with the world, owning, besides the building and fixtures, a $20,000 stock of liquors.

The dance went on until early morning, when suddenly the cry of fire was raised. A man rushed down from the upper story and reported that the house was on fire. Effort was made by every one to extinguish the fire by bucket brigade, a hole had to be chopped in the ice of the Yukon for water but it was of no use the fire Bad gone beyond a bucket brigade. Within a few minutes the building was burnt to the ground and was followed quickly by other buildings. The Opera house, the Dominion. The fire in one night had wiped out the center of town.

The fire made the people of Dawson aware of the necessity of having a fire brigade. A meeting was held in the office of J. J. Rutledge. The A. C. Co. (Alaska Commercial Co.) And the N.A.T.& T.Co. (North American Trading and Transportation Co.) sending representatives, as well as leading men of the city taking active part. This meeting was held on March 10th Subscriptions were made and over $20,000 was raised the equipment was ordered on March 15th by the N. A. T. & T. Co. the apparatus arrived in Dawson on the 10th of July, 1898, and was put out on the street in front of the N. A. T.& T. co’s store the money not being forth coming for its payment.

The subscribers would not put up the money with out assurance that the Government would take the equipment from them. This was settled when on October 14,1898 a fire started. A fire had started on the upper floor of the GreenTree Hotel, the post office was next then the Woldron hotel. The fire spread in three directions up and down the street and towards 2nd Ave.

The fire fighting equipment was still in crates in front of the store. A group of men took it on themselves to put the Ahem Steam Pumper together, it did not take them long to get the steam pumper in working condition and pumping water from the river on the fire, slabs of bacon were used as fuel and anything else that was handy. (From a history of the Dawson Fire department 1902 by E. J. Fitzpatrick)


The Territorial government had decided to give $5,000 to St Mary’s Hospital and another $2,500 for one of two purposes, to be used for the improvement of the main street, or to go towards the purchase of fire equipment that had been ordered. A large first class steamer, a large double cylinder chemical engine, half a dozen hand engines and buckets, grenades

and hook and ladders galore. The total cost of this fire fighting equipment was $12,000. It was decided that the street would be left to the people to work on, seeing how they are only unfit for 3 or 4 months. Fire prevention was needed year round. (Klondike Nugget July 12, 1898)

All this fire fighting equipment came in on the steamer Portus B. Weare, on August 10, 1898.

The cost of the equipment for the fire department landed in Dawson was $18,000. Only $9,000 was available to pay for it the rest was yet to be raised. In the meantime the equipment sat in a warehouse still in crates, the steam pumper had to be assembled and the chemical engine tanks had to be filled. (Klondike Nugget July 12, 1898)

©John Gould


5 thoughts on “Paris of the North

  • B.A. Markus

    Hello John,

    Eight years ago I was visiting Dawson City for the Folk Music Festival. At one of the meals provided at the St. Mary’s Church for the musicians (I think it was the St. Mary’s) a priest whose name I don’t remember told me a story about a Grey Nun who disappeared with a man from Dawson City during the Gold Rush. There was a Montreal connection, which is why the priest told me the story, and I have been regretting not writing down more of the tale. I wonder if any of this rings a bell and/or if you would direct me towards some historical source that might satisfy my curiousity. Thanks for all your interesting work and greetings from Montreal. B.

  • Admin Post author

    Hi, Sorry for the tardy reply. You might try the Dawson Museum, they might have resources you’re looking for.

  • Maggie Martin

    We have a nursing home resident who remembers visiting Dawson City to find the gravesite of his aunt who died in a hospital fire with a few other nuns. Apparently, the nuns bodies were re-buried in a town cemetary.

    Can you give me any information about the fire, the hospital and the nuns? Thank you.

  • John

    The Wayward Nun was my grandmother. Also known as Sister Mary of the Cross. She ran the hospital, the man was Dr Bettinger.

  • John Livingston

    JOHN – Saw your post today. The hospital where your grandmother worked was established by my uncle Father William Judge. I just bought a book on the Internet which has a large terrific picture of your grandmother and tells her story with Dr. Bettinger. Would be happy to get you a copy. Do you know where she is buried? JOHN Livingston

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