Raisa Patel | Special to the News
Residents of Dawson City kicked off Discovery Day weekend Aug. 18 with a glittering discovery of their own: the opening of a decades-old safe that wound up containing traces of gold.
The safe was forced open with pry bars wielded by Premier Sandy Silver, Dawson City Mayor Wayne Potoroka and Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in Chief Roberta Joseph. The three uncovered a variety of items used for recovering gold including copper trays, an empty iron box, pieces of wood and what is thought to be a small piece of coconut matting.
“I’m happy it wasn’t empty,” Potoroka said. “I’m always amazed at how much interest people have in the Klondike and how it really captures people’s imagination when we pull things like this out of the ground.”
The discovery was nearly considered a bust until Grant Allan — a prospector with claims in Dawson City — decided to sift through some of the dust and matting from inside the safe. After a few moments panning in the Yukon River, Allan emerged victorious — the small samples yielded tiny pieces of gold he estimated weighed a tenth of a gram. He believes more gold will be discovered if the rest of safe’s remnants and contents are panned.
The mysterious cargo was revealed during a public unveiling on Front Street following a lively parade.
An excavator first struck the rusty safe at York Street and Second Avenue Aug. 4 while construction for a new pumphouse to collect and treat wastewater was underway. Workers from B.C.-based construction company Chute Creek Contracting removed the safe from the downtown site before it was handed off to Dawson City’s public works department.
Ahead of the safe’s opening, crowds flocked to the downtown gazebo where the reveal took place, chattering excitedly with strangers and friends about what could possibly be inside.
“We’ve heard about 10 guesses already today,” said Cheryl Scobie, a visitor from Hinton, Alta. “I think it will be some sort of deed, like land deeds or titles.”
“Hopefully there will be a poke of gold in it, but I think it will be more records or paperwork,” added her husband, Ken Scobie.
While the amount of gold discovered was a little less than many hoped, that doesn’t mean the other unearthed objects carry no historical interest.
“It’s mostly the story that goes along with them that has the historical value,” said Yukon archeologist Ty Heffner, who dated the items between the years of 1900 and 1950.
“It seems like what was mostly in there was a few pouring trays. They’re triangular-shaped trays with one open end where you could fill them with a powdery substance — possibly gold — and then pour it onto a scale or something like that just for transferring a fine material from one spot to another.”
The safe was found where a series of buildings owned by the Northern Commercial Company — an Alaskan general store corporation — once stood. The buildings were destroyed in a fire in 1951. Gold was sometimes used as payment at the store, something Heffner says could explain why the relatively worthless items were locked up for safekeeping.
“If they were used for transferring fine gold, then the gold itself probably would have been stored in a safe like this one,” the government archeologist said. “Maybe the tools for using that gold or accepting that gold as payment would have been kept in the same place.”
Whitehorse resident Michelle Wolsky said that ultimately, the contents of the safe aren’t as important as bringing people together.
“I think it’s just an interesting part of Yukon history. Whether it was something or nothing, it was still a cool event and a good community event. It’s all part of what can be discovered in the Yukon.”
So far, there are no plans to further examine the rest of the artifacts, though locals are eager to know how much more gold can be recovered.
The safe and its blackened contents were carted back to the public works department following the unveiling, where it will remain until a local office, establishment or historic site expresses interest in the items.
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