Yukon Gold shines a light on Dawson’s placer miners

Gold miners are a tight-lipped bunch. Neighbours don't talk about their gold, or how much money they make.

Gold miners are a tight-lipped bunch. Neighbours don’t talk about their gold, or how much money they make.

So when a TV producer approached Dawson City’s Knutson family and asked if they’d be willing to have cameras follow them around in order to tell the story of real-life gold miners, Marty Knutson’s first response was “there’s no goddamn way I want to show-off what I do.”

Karl Knutson, Marty’s son, figures it’s because mining’s a private enterprise, and it always has been. The younger Knutson, more open to new ventures, convinced his father to give the TV show a chance, and “before we knew it, there were cameras in the yard.”

The push-and-pull between father and son is the crux of the conflict in the Knutsons’ scenes of the resultant reality TV show, Yukon Gold. The younger Knutson says it’s natural drama. He says there’s not a lot he can teach his dad: “His way is likely the right way. But I can be stubborn and so can he.”

The Knutson son’s goal is to prove he can lead a crew on the second season of Yukon Gold. Knutson says the show is a true portrayal of life in the gold fields, and the late spring and low gold prices of last year plague each of the four crews depicted on the reality-drama.

The show came into existence as a result of producer David Paperny’s trip to Whitehorse to lead workshops during the Available Light Film Festival a few years back. Paperny met “some miners who were great storytellers.”

Paperny says the story of real gold miners had yet to be told on TV, which is a result of the isolation of the Yukon goldfields, as well as the aforementioned culture of privacy amongst the miners. But the producer said, “the more I got to know them, the more I wanted to work with them.”

Paperny was allured by the pure fact that “these people make money by digging gold out of the dirt.” And, as so many storytellers have been, Paperny was swept up by life in the North, and the culture of the gold miners. He says nothing is scripted or set up: “we just follow them around and document them.”

Knutson says of the camera people, “It’s kind of stupid, you know, you got the three stooges there all the time, you don’t want ‘em there, but when you see yourself on TV it’s kind of interesting.”

The miners are followed around by cameras, and they participate in the editing process. Paperny says the discussion and negotiations are endless. “We make hay with problems, or challenges they face, but we don’t stretch it out, otherwise our partnership won’t last.”

Nobody is sure if there will be a third season of Yukon Gold; it depends largely on the rating of the second season, which premiered Feb. 26 on the History Channel.

Knutson doesn’t know that he’d be willing to participate in a third season, even if the second one goes well. He says, “they’ll drive a placer miner nuts, being in your face all the time.” He says it’s weird to be under the microscope, and for people to know how much money he makes.

On the other hand, Knutson says it’s nice for people to know what it’s like. For him “mining is the end all, and everything. I had a great childhood, growing up mining. I’d like my kids to grow up like that.”

He says one thing he’d like to see on Yukon Gold is the work his crew does to reclaim the land, after it’s been mined. They don’t just leave it a mess.

Knutson says a lot has changed since his father started hand-shafting for gold in the 1980s. Technology has evolved, and so have regulations. He says it’s good that people have to be responsible for the land, but he says there are some safety regulations he could do without – like having to wear a helmet when there’s nothing above his head.

Paperny says the miners he met are proud of who they are, they want to keep mining: “they call it a social right to mine, and getting the story out there is part of that.”

Meagan Deuling is a Whitehorse freelance writer.

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