The Jewish Impact of The Gold Rush

The Call of the Wild. The Spell of the Yukon

“Immortalized in the tales of Jack London and the poems of Robert Service, the north has lured the dreamers, the seekers, into its lair for more than a hundred years.  However, it was before London, before Service, that the lure of the Gold Rush called out.” (F. Jampolsky)

The research conducted about the Jewish community during the Klondike Gold Rush of 1898 began with the discovery and restoration of the Jewish Cemetery in Dawson City, Yukon, Canada  – in 1998, 100 years after the Gold Rush. The identification of those interred in the cemetery inevitably led to questions about the others who participated in the Klondike Gold Rush, what they did during their stay, and the impact they had when moving on to other communities, or returning to their families that they left behind in search of fame and fortune.

The pictures below will bring you back to what it was like in the Yukon and to be involved in the Klondike Gold Rush, Yukon, Canada.

Getting to the Gold Rush:

Climbing to the Chilkoot Trail.

Registering in Yukon for Gold Rush Permits. 

It was a treacherous journey for people getting to the Yukon. There were several routes, but one of the most popular was taking a ship to Skagway Alaska, U.S., preparing to hike over the Chilkoot Trail, and then, once in Yukon, Canada, getting on the Yukon River for more than 550 kilometers to Dawson City – it took months to get there. The prospectors, and others such as the retailers, travelled during the winter months so they would be ready for the summer prospecting season.

Those who took the journey were responsible for bringing their own food and other supplies. The list you see below, called “A Yukon Outfit” is a list of the supplies that were needed to live and work in the North - it was about one ton of provisions. Climbing the ice carved stairs (see above) to get to the Chilkoot Trail people carried about one hundred pounds on their back at a time.

Can you even imagine such a challenge, such determination?

Preparing to climb the Chilkoot Trail -  Skagway, Alaska,.

Camping on the Chilkoot Trail.

An Ad about where to get supplies.

The Cooper & Levi Store - Seattle Washington, U.S.

A list of supplies.

During the Gold Rush:

There are many stories about the Jewish presence during the Klondike Gold Rush - stories about people such as:

Joseph Barron (1887)

Joseph S. Barron, followed the stampede of 98, came from Winnipeg, Canada, and mushed into the Yukon via the White Pass route, bringing with him a stock of merchandise.

David Oppenhimer

The Oppenheimer brothers’ involvement in Vancouver, Canada was pivotal in the development of the city.    

Image courtesy of Wadds. Bros. Studio [Publicdomain], via Wikimedia Commons

The infamous Diamond Tooth Lil who was really Honora Ornstein from a prominent Jewish family in Butte, Montana. 

She was born in 1880 and died June 20, 1975

And Others Such As:

Downtown Dawson City - 1898.

Shopping for supplies.

When the liquor runs out - what next?

Other essential supplies.

After the Gold Rush:

There are many amazing stories about the impact of the Jewish presence after the Klondike Gold Rush. 

Stories about people such as:

Sid Grauman: Sid’s father, David Grauman wanted to try building a theatre in the North. He and Sid headed for the Yukon in 1898, when Sid was 19. Sid went to work helping his family make a living in Dawson City, Yukon, Canada. He started as a paperboy, selling newspapers for a dollar each.

Sid liked to tell the story of a store owner who bought a newspaper for $50.00. He would then charge miners to listen to him read that paper out loud! This was one of the events that gave Sid the idea that he could make a living entertaining people.

Sid saw his first movie in the North, and when he and his father moved to California, they went into the theater business. Sid’s most famous theater was Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Los Angeles.

While the theater was being finished, a movie star came to visit Sid at the theater. She accidently stepped in wet cement, leaving a footprint. Sid decided that he would ask other movie stars to put their hand and footprints in cement outside the theater. Soon, many movie stars wanted to get an invitation from Sid to visit the theater and leave their hand and footprints – this is today the Hollywood Walk of Fame and gets over 4 million visits each year.

Sid was also part of the group that created the Motion Picture Association in the United States and the Academy Awards celebrations.

Max Hirschberg – who rode his bicycle to Nome Alaska in 1900, (more than 1,200 miles) on the frozen Yukon River became famous for his exploit as being the motivation for developing extreme sports.

Robert Bloom - was the personification of the travelling salesman heading out to the creeks to supply the miners with essential items. He went to Fairbanks when the Gold Rush moved west and became a critical part of the Fairbanks Jewish Community

Jacob (known as J.B.) and Abe Barron- the two brothers went to Chicago, to be with family there and attend university. They became Lawyers, then settled in Calgary, Canada, created the Barron Law Firm, and made history building the first high rise building in the west and helping the oil industry set up in Alberta.

Jack Levy – Jack spent 12 years in the Klondike before returning to Victoria, B.C., Canada where he opened a restaurant and promoted baseball.

Maurice Schwartz – ‘Moxie’ returned to Indiana selling expensive suits for men, but he was quite a gambler, couldn’t pay his debts, and ran away to New York.

William Gross – after returning north Gross established a chain of movie theatres in Fairbanks and other towns in Alaska

And Dr. Sigfried Moritz Hartman, who was a dentist in Dawson, returned to Victoria and he was known to have made the first set of artificial teeth in Victoria, for Judge Henry P. Crease.

To name just a few …

This  is the front cover of the booklet, which is being expanded to include more stories and information, that travelled with the Historical Display. 

The revised Booklet with many, many, stories will be available by December 2023.

The Most Northerly Jewish Synagogue:
Those Jews that moved to Fairbanks Alaska were the forerunners of the most northerly Jewish Synagogue in the world.

As the Gold Rush wound down in Yukon from 1900 to 1902 many prospectors followed it into Alaska. Some of the Jewish participants settled in Fairbanks, such as Robert Bloom, and helped to develop the Jewish Community there, and others that moved on to Anchorage and other areas did the same.

The picture below is an example of that impact.