The Home Front: The Yukon’s Economy During the First World War
Keywords:First World War, Klondike, Yukon, Gold Placer Mining, Dawson City
The Northern Review 44 (2017): 31–49
The Yukon—and Dawson City in particular—saw a decline in population and gold production between 1915 and 1918, and there was a continued decline in fortunes into the 1920s. Some of the economic woes were due to a shift from labour-intensive mining to large-scale dredging and hydraulic mining. Then whole creeks were abandoned when placer miners went to war. The Yukon economy was largely dependent on a few large companies that were adversely affected by war-related inflation and the rise in production costs, a demand for metals and minerals other than gold, and a shortage of equipment and labourers. Gold production fell during the war and there was no other industry to take its place. The Yukon’s federal operating grant was reduced by more than half in 1918, reflecting the territory’s slump in production. The Yukon government had a limited ability to hire returned soldiers for scarce labour or office positions. The final blow to the economy of what was then Yukon’s largest community was the sinking of the SS Sophia and the loss of many prominent Dawson citizens. After the war, services were inefficient, gold was fixed at a low price, and expenses were high. Large tracts of valuable mining land were owned by companies no longer interested or able to mine it. The First World War was not directly responsible for the Yukon’s downturn in fortune, but the effects of the war certainly hastened the decline. This article is part of a special collection of papers originally presented at a conference on “The North and the First World War,” held May 2016 in Whitehorse, Yukon.
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