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Playing It Loose In Dawson City, Yukon

Updated on March 29, 2009

 You would figure that in a creaky bar in Dawson City, the historic Yukon headquarters of the 1896 Klondike Gold Rush, the conversation would be where the best creeks are to pan for gold, or observations about the effect of global warming on this subarctic land. Actually, the subject of the evening was how the former city mayor was being charged for charging. The charging in question was over $300,000 on the municipal credit card, which the mayor had just admitted he had been “very loose” with.

The banalities of everyday life have filtered all the way up to Dawson City, a ramshackle town 800 miles north of Seattle which is noted for being Mile Zero of the Alaska Highway and that effectively only exists on tourist traffic these days: usually a long line of dusty RVs and four wheel drive vehicles on the storied trek along the great gravel road to the Arctic. Long gone are the gold stampede days when well over 40,000 people called Dawson City home. Less than 5% of that number remain these days, living in a town that is a crazy quilt mixture of century old tilting, sagging buildings straight out of a spaghetti western and relatively featureless modern structures.

Yet old Dawson City does have its charms. The list of memorable places you can visit includes legendary author Jack London’s Cabin which is now an interpretative center right down the road from where another great author Robert Service has his. Dawson City is definitely a writer’s town as famed Canadian author and journalist Pierre Berton’s home is also located here and is now a Writer’s Retreat owned by the Yukon Arts Council.

The Dawson City Museum has some very impressive displays of the Gold-en Age, and the Klondike variety show at the Palace Grand Theater is also very entertaining. However, you’ll soon likely head for Diamond Tooth Gertie’s Gambling Hall, where you can engage in a vicious cutthroat game of Texas Hold’Em with a couple of scraggly-bearded authentic Yukon ol’ timers, a New Yorker senior citizen with his lovely wife/girlfriend/daughter (?) and a Japanese man wearing a diamond Rolex, RayBans and a Maui Lani Golf Course cap.

Whatever you do, don’t try to join the Sourdough Saloon Sourtoe Cocktail club. It requires that you drink a cocktail with the absolutely revolting frostbitten toe of a long dead miner in the glass and then down the drink until the toe touches your lips. The official motto is “You can drink it fast, you can drink it slow… But the lips have gotta touch the toe.” If you do that, you actually get a little numbered certificate card. It’s not worth it, thank you very much.

Golf lovers can play the northernmost real greens on the continent at the Top Of The World Golf Course which on the longest day of the year holds a Midnight Sun Tourney which tees off, surely enough, at midnight. You might want to play your 9 holes quickly since the Golf Course’s owner has just defaulted on a half a million dollar loan from the Yukon Government and the spectre of foreclosure may be on that Midnight Sun horizon. But, hey, it’s Dawson City, and it seems that everybody plays it “very loose.”

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