In 1898, there was no radio, no television, no Facebook or Twitter, no satellite communications or news networks. There was the newspaper. And it comes as no surprise that newspapers appeared in abundance in Dawson City.
There was the Yukon Midnight Sun, the Klondike Nugget, the Dawson Daily News, the Klondyke Miner and Yukon Advertiser, the Record, the Gleaner, the World, the Free Lance, and the Labour Advocate. At one point, Dawson had its own “Fleet Street,” with three newspapers located next to each other on King Street.
Some were short-lived, others lasted longer. One of them, the Dawson News, lasted 54 years. They were the mirror in which the community could view itself, the chronicle of people and events, and window to the world beyond.
But which newspaper was the first? Some might argue that the Klondike News was the very first. Published April 1, 1898, it was the brainchild of Arizona Charlie Meadows. It was a nifty piece of self-promotion that featured businesses and people prominent in the rapidly growing boomtown. But it was really a vanity piece published Outside and widely distributed to eager readers, thirsty for information about the remote Klondike region. Arizona Charlie is said to have made $50,000 off this one-issue newspaper.
Others might claim that the first newspaper issued in Dawson was produced on the typewriter of George M. Allen on May 27, 1898, but it was, in fact, only a single copy and would hardly be considered a real newspaper. I have before me, a copy of the earliest legitimate newspaper ever published in Dawson City. Its pages are yellowed, but complete.
On June 11, George B. Swinehart issued Volume 1, Number 1 of the Yukon Midnight Sun, a weekly. The Sun beat out its competition, the Klondike Nugget, by five days. This original newspaper was printed in three columns on a lightweight press Swinehart had brought with him over the White Pass. The eight-page first edition was printed in a letter-sized format 21 centimetres by 28 centimetres on both sides of a single larger sheet of newsprint folded to the small dimensions.
A month later, a larger printing plant, with a larger press, arrived in Dawson from St. Michael, aboard the steamer, John J. Healy. The edition of the Sun for July 18 was a larger sized four page spread, seven columns per page, 45 cm by 58.5. Henceforth, the Sun was published in this larger format.
When the Yukon Midnight Sun was first published, there was no established link to the outside world by telegraph, so all news from abroad was a few weeks old by the time it reached Dawson. Volume 1 Number 1 of the Sun included several articles about the Spanish American War. Admiral Dewey reported a continued blockade of Manila. A separate account describes food shortages in Manila and a Spanish naval captain who was to be shot for not putting up a resistance against the American fleet.
Local news focused upon gold output for the year 1898, estimated to be between ten and twenty million dollars. One miner on Eldorado Creek estimated that he would produce a cool million from his two claims. Eldorado was expected to exceed gold production on Bonanza Creek, despite three times as many claims being worked on Bonanza. Gold output from other locations, including Hunker, Bear, Dominion, Gold Run, and other creeks, was expected to be between one and two million dollars.
Applications had been made to supply electricity, telephone and water to Dawson. (The first electric lights came on in October, with more expected when additional generators, currently stuck in the ice floes upriver, reached Dawson). There were advertisements for baking powder (one for Price’s, another for Royal brand), several saloons (Miner’s Home, The Dominion, The Aurora, and The Opera House, The Pioneer, and The Combination), Hotels (The Hotel Northern, the Yukon Hotel and the Klondike Hotel), and various mining brokers.
One large advertisement announced the opening of The Pavilion Theatre on June 13. Billy Huson’s orchestra would provide the musical accompaniment. Huson had brought in the first piano, from Juneau, dismantled for easier packing, over Chilkoot summit, earlier in the year. Featured acts included Jacqueline and Rosaline (more popularly known as Vaseline and Glycerine), Blanche La Mont, Lucille Elliott, Freddie Breen (the Irish comedian) and Dick Maurettus.
The Pavilion brought in $12,000 dollars on opening night. Charlie Kimball, the owner, was delighted at this new way to make money (he was a miner) and started to celebrate. Over the next three months, he would make, and spend, $300,000, but when he sobered up from this spree, he had lost his theatre and dance hall and was left with nothing.
In its first editorial, the Yukon Midnight Sun promised better things to come. The next issue (which came out June 20) would be larger (12 pages), and the format would be increased from three columns to seven when the new printing plant arrived in July.
The Yukon Midnight Sun editorial promised it would be a “clean bright sheet, free from domination by any class, clique, or organization. It will be reliable on all subjects at all times: reflect the social and business life of the city and be an intelligent exponent of the great mining and other valuable interests of the Yukon valley.” The Sun continued to publish until it shut down in 1906.
The Yukon Midnight Sun may have been the first newspaper ever published in Dawson, but it was not the first ever published in the territory. I can thank history hunter Gord Allison for bringing that to my attention. A single issue of the Caribou Sun was published at Caribou Crossing (today: Carcross) on May 16, 1898. While on his way to the Klondike with a wave of thousands of eager stampeders, George Swinehart found himself stranded at Caribou Crossing, like all the others, waiting for the ice to go out. But Swinehart had ink in his veins. Rather than sit idly while waiting for the ice to clear, he put together the solitary issue of the Caribou Sun.
Luella Day described what she saw, in her book, The Tragedy of the Klondike. Swinehart had set up his tent on the ice, press and type at the ready: “Whatever news came into camp was handed him by the recipients of letters and so the whole company had the benefit of various items of impersonal gossip from the East. I bought the first copy and stood by the press and saw it coming off, paying 25 cents for it. This being the first paper published in the Yukon, the editor, proprietor, compositor and proof-reader took my quarter, the first he received, and set it in a mortise in the feed-bed of the press.”
A copy of that newspaper is archived in Juneau, and I can hardly wait to see it.
Michael Gates is the author of six books of Yukon history. His book, From the Klondike to Berlin, was shortlisted for a national book award. His latest book, “Dublin Gulch: A History of the Eagle Mine,” is now available in Yukon Stores. Michael is the Yukon’s first Story Laureate.