Gold rush in Skagway

I am back from North America visiting family and a few goldrush sites in Alaska and the Yukon (see my entry from 22 May).

To make it short, my visit to Skagway, Alaska was a disappointment — despite (or maybe because of) my high expectations.

Skagway turned out to be a town that lives nearly entirely from the anstorm of tourists coming from up to six large cruise liners that berth in the harbour each day. The town consists more or less of one main road, less than a kilometre in length and dedicated entirely to making visitors part from their money.

The facades of the buildings evoke the historic scene of ancient Skagway a hundred years ago when thousands of stampeders got on the way to the Klondike region in order to become rich. But the atmosphere is less that of a heritage-saturated town and more that of Main Street Disneyland where souvenir shops and restaurants are after a different kind of gold: tourist dollars.

The term “Klondike” is little else here than just another brand.

Skagway image

So what about the Klondike Gold Rush National Park then? Well, it speaks volumes that at first we had some trouble actually finding it. It consists of little else than some more historic “scenery” and shop windows behind which there is an exhibition – and the inevitable shop.

The historic experience is dominated by a famous train, the Whitepass and Yukon Railway, originally built in 1898 and leading up a steep and scenic pass towards the Yukon and its gold. Today the railway is no longer viable as a means of transport and has instead become one more (expensive) attraction for the cruiseship passengers. The train timetable corresponds to the cruising schedule, and the trains seem to depart and arrive directly at the piers, passing the restored railway station along the way…

In sum, I did not get much sense in Skagway of gold rush history and archaeology. This was different in the Yukon. What I encountered there I will report soon.

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