Eggs were $2.50 a dozen and potatoes sold for $1 a pound, but a box of oranges could fetch $75; and a single watermelon as much as $35.
During the Klondike Gold Rush certain supplies such as fresh fruits were considered luxuries in Dawson City. And luxuries were scarce.
A smart businessperson could make a good living bringing in goods and selling it to hungry lonely miners who had lost their taste for dry bread.
That’s just what Paul Mizony’s family did.
Mizony was just 16 in 1897, when his entrepreneurial parents heard rumours of a great gold strike in the North. To him it “sounded like a great adventure.”
The family landed at Dyea flat broke and worked as cooks until they had enough money to set up their own shop.
“Father bought a stock of general merchandise in Skagway and we headed for Sheep Camp, which was about 15 miles up the valley from Dyea,” Mizony wrote in his memoir, A Boy’s Impression of the Stampede into the Klondike During the Days of 1898, which he donated to the MacBride Museum of Yukon History in 1955.
“While my parents ran the store, I was established at the foot of the famous Chilkoot Pass … I had a tent and inside was a rough board counter with a small Yukon stove … I sold pie, doughnuts and coffee.”
From his tent Mizony had a clear view of the miseries endured by stampeders who crossed the Chilkoot Trail in 1898.
“Those who could afford it had their goods packed by horse or mule train. Accidents would happen and if it was serious they would be put out of their misery and hauled off to the side of the trail,” wrote Mizony.
“When the winter snows came they were covered over, and it was not unusual for some stampeders to find that they had pitched their tent over a carcass of one of these animals, especially when the snow started to melt from the heat inside the tent.”
Soon news came from the Klondike that big money could be made selling goods in Dawson City.
In April, the family bought a load of luxuries, packed their things and headed north.
“We were now on the way to the Klondike; little did we know what problems were ahead of us,” wrote Mizony.
“Hundreds of stampeders who rushed to Alaska and down to the Klondike, expected all they would have to do was to pick the nuggets off the ground, and some even thought they grew on bushes.
“They did not realize that there would not be enough claims for everybody, also there was not enough work for everyone.”
Weeks later they arrived in the Klondike capital, one of the many boats and scows tied up along the waterfront.
It did not take long for word to get around and the family had sold out of goods within a week. The coin of the realm was gold dust and, at the time one ounce of dust was worth anywhere between $15 and $19, according to Mizony.
For about a month the family tried to find a suitable place to set up a long-term business without success.
So they decided to go back to the United States and return the following year with a new stock of merchandise.
They sold all of their personal effects in about three hours, and boarded a steamer heading south.
The family returned to the Yukon a few more times over the next few years until, in the summer of 1902 Mizony found the Dawson markets overstocked.
“Thousands of other stampeders had somewhat of the same experience, but with this difference,” wrote Mizony.
“Each trip that my parents made to the Klondike region, they made money on their ventures, while a great many people not only lost all of their possessions, but a large number lost their lives.”
This column is provided by the MacBride Museum of Yukon History. Each week it will explore a different morsel of Yukon’s modern history. For more information, or to comment on anything in this column e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.