Klondike King went from rags to riches, to rags

Big Alex McDonald, known as the Klondike King, was one of the lucky and shrewd few who came out of the Klondike with millions in gold in 1898. Just how many millions he had varies between seven and 27, depending on the source.

Big Alex McDonald, known as the Klondike King, was one of the lucky and shrewd few who came out of the Klondike with millions in gold in 1898.

Just how many millions he had varies between seven and 27, depending on the source.

McDonald thought that the money would last, but he ended up dying alone and in debt, less than 10 years later.

McDonald was born in Nova Scotia in 1856, and came to the Yukon a poor man in 1895 – three years before the Klondike Gold Rush began.

He prospected in Forty Mile and headed for the Klondike when gold was found in 1896.

He bought a half-share of a claim on Eldorado Creek for a sack of flour and a side of bacon and, as his wealth grew, he increased his holdings little by little.

Like a clever stock market investor who diversifies his portfolio by buying many different stocks, McDonald spread his holdings around many different claims.

By 1898, he owned interests in 75 mines and he had hired a small army of men, whom he paid well, to work the claims for him.

Though he had success on the Klondike creeks, he realized that many men did not, and he cautioned gold-seeking men against going to the Klondike with inflated hopes and dreams.

“Too many men went in there last spring who expected to come out again in the fall with a fortune, and because they failed they are inclined to see every thing in that country through badly smoked glass,” McDonald told a newspaper reporter in 1898.

“I have been in there three winters and four summers and I know what it means to pack heavy loads on my back from creek to creek in all kinds of weather.”

Along with his business acumen, McDonald was also known for his good-looks and his generosity.

When the Dawson City’s Catholic Church burnt to the ground in 1898, McDonald supplied the funds to rebuild.

“It would be difficult to find a more plain, unassuming matter-of-fact man than Mr. McDonald,” reported the St. John Daily Sun in October 1898.

“He has secured the confidence of the entire Yukon community by his policy of ‘square’ dealings, and his marvellous success, which many have been pleased to attribute to ‘blind luck’ is really and in fact the exercise of his shrewd, hard-headed good horse sense.”

In 1899, 45-year-old McDonald travelled to London, England where he met and married the 20-year-old daughter of a policeman.

“Their marriage was arranged in the quickest possible time, because of McDonald’s business affairs, which necessitated his return to the Yukon almost immediately,” reported Toronto’s Daily Mail and Empire on February 10, 1899.

“The bridegroom is a big, stern man and looks the typical miner. The church was filled mostly with youngsters, who stood up on the benches with mouths agape eyeing the Klondiker.”

McDonald returned to the Klondike to oversee his business ventures, which, sadly were in decline.

Unfortunately, McDonald, like

so many other miners, thought the money supply would never end.

Over the next decade, McDonald became obsessive about purchasing claims, many of which had proved to be worthless. Poor business decisions and the Yukon’s boom-bust mining cycle nearly bankrupt McDonald.

Sadly, he died of a heart attack while chopping wood near his cabin in the Clear Creek area in 1909.

At the time he had $30,000 in assets, but it was not enough to cover his debts.

McDonald was buried in the cemetery in Dawson City.

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 lchalykoff@macbridemuseum.com.

Just Posted

Yukon RCMP concludes investigation into fatal Haines Junction ambulance crash

RCMP spokesperson confirms no charges are being laid

Kaska Dena Council not a rights-bearing group, YG argues in hunting consultation lawsuit

KDC says the Yukon government has the duty to consult before issuing hunting licences for Kaska traditional territory

Yukon COs kill 3 bears attracted to ‘waste’ stored at Whitehorse junkyard

‘If it can smell like food (a bear is) on it, and it’s happening all over the place.’

YG bars Dawson City’s retired dentist from providing emergency services

Government can’t get its story straight over why Helmut Schoener can’t use hospital dental suite

Fox family in Whitehorse neighbourhood could face removal this fall

‘The foxes have been here a lot longer, and we’re the invader’

Great Northern Tournament returns for fourth medieval combat event

‘Every year it grows a little more and we get a little better at it’

Chilkat Challenge Triathlon holds second race

Dozens of racers paddled, biked and ran from Mosquito Lake to Chilkat State Park

YESAB report urges traffic lights at Alaska Highway intersection

Lower speed limits suggested ahead of new gas station construction

Yukon government denies it owes substitute teachers unpaid wages

The Department of Education filed responses July 5 to five lawsuits launched against it by substitute teachers

Some women won the marriage lottery in the Klondike

Others did not fare so well in love

The wonderful world of Airbnb Whitehorse

Wonderful for tourists and homeowners at least. Renters? Not so much

Yukon researcher contributes to climate change adaptation report

‘We really worked to weave consideration of different ways of knowing through the report’

Whitehorse singer Sarah MacDougall’s new record sounds like scenery

‘Just getting out of town slightly, you can see a lot of beauty’

Most Read