Klondike | The Canadian Encyclopedia



Klondike (also spelled Klondyke). The name is derived from a Gwich'in word, thron-duick (hammer river), and identifies a town, a river, and a range of hills in the Yukon.


Klondike (also spelled Klondyke). The name is derived from a Gwich'in word, thron-duick (hammer river), and identifies a town, a river, and a range of hills in the Yukon. It also is used colloquially (as 'the Klondike') to describe the 'placer' area around what became Dawson City, where gold could be panned. This was the site of the great 1896 gold rush which inspired literature (see Oxford Companion to Canadian History and Literature, Toronto 1967) and, to a lesser extent, music. The gold rush gave rise to such songs as 'Rush to the Klondike' (1897, by W.T. Diefenbaker, father of Canada's 14th prime minister, John G. Diefenbaker), 'I've Got the Klondike Fever' (1898, music by Dr A.L. Shanks and words by Lance Grill), and 'La Chanson du Klondyke' (1920s, by Conrad Gauthier), and to 'The Klondike Gold Rush' (recorded as a folksong by Charles Jordan).

In his book Klondike: The Life and Death of the Last Great Goldrush (Toronto 1958, rev 1972) Pierre Berton refers to drinking songs about personalities of the day (eg, the 'George Cormack Song') and to a Tin Pan Alley ballad, 'He's Sleeping in a Klondike Vale Tonight' (verses from the New York Journal), a Cockney ditty, 'Klondyke' (first published in England's Daily Chronicle), and the song 'Ho for the Klondyke, Ho'. Piano pieces include Klondyke Lancers (1897) by J. Stanton Gladwin, The Klondike Waltz (1898) by Édouard Célestin-Lemieux, Klondyke (1897) by O.F. Telgmann, and The Klondyke (1897) by B.J. Winkup.

With the resurgence of Klondike nostalgia spurred by the Berton book, several musicals were written. Foxy, a US creation based on Volpone but set in the Klondike, with music by the Canadian expatriate Robert Emmett Dolan, was premiered 2 Jul 1962 at the Palace Grand Theatre during the Dawson City Gold Rush Festival and played 16 Feb-18 Apr 1964 at the Ziegfeld Theater on Broadway. Klondyke, by Jacques Languirand (book) and Gabriel Charpentier (music), was premiered 14 Feb 1965 by Le Théâtre du Nouveau-Monde at the Orpheum Theatre in Montreal and was presented also in 1965 in London at the Commonwealth Festival of the Arts and at the Old Vic Theatre. Other musicals include In the Klondike, written by Dolores Claman, Richard Morris, and Michael Leighton after the works of Robert Service and produced on CBC TV in April 1967; Paradise Hill (words and music by Pierre Berton), which opened 3 Jul 1967 for one season at the Charlottetown Festival; Klondike Kate, the story of Kathleen Rockwell, written by Tommy Banks (music), Al Oster (lyrics), and Colin McLean (book) and heard 6 Oct 1968 on CBC radio; and Jack of Diamonds by Phil Schreibman, a 'musical medicine show' set in the Klondike, produced in 1977 at the New Theatre, Toronto. In the 1973 film Touch a Legend, Ian and Sylvia Tyson used the music of the gold-rush days as they travelled the route to the Klondike.

Al Oster recorded several songs about the Klondike, including 'When the Ice-Worms Nest Again' (on the LP The Yukon Stars, 1967, RCI 262), and various artists recorded Yukon and Other Songs of the Klondike (1973, Stamp ST 3-5). Some songs from earlier gold rushes in Canada are collected in James Anderson's pamphlet Sawney's Letters and Cariboo Rhymes (Barkerville, BC, 1869, reprinted 1962). None of these, however, has become traditional.

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