As the Klondike Gold Rush (1896-1899) went on, continued prospecting and the influx of stampeders bound for the boomtown of Dawson City fueled a demand for transportation. Most made the treacherous journey by foot and boat, but in 1898, work began on a narrow-gauge railroad that would serve as a vital link to the coast—and to the rest of the world.
Completed in 1900, the White Pass & Yukon Route (WP&YR) Railway was a marvel of engineering that spanned 175 kilometers, from Skagway, Alaska, to Whitehorse, Yukon. It took a total workforce of 35,000 men to overcome some of the most challenging terrain and complete “The Scenic Railway of the World,” the steepest pitched railway in Canada.
As a freight, ore and passenger carrier, WP&YR drastically shortened the journey in and out of the Yukon’s interior and facilitated the flow of goods. Freight could be offloaded in Whitehorse then ferried down the Yukon River to Dawson City, while gold could be loaded onto barges and sent upriver to Whitehorse, where it was loaded onto WP&YR trains bound for the coast.
The WP&YR was reopened as a tourist attraction in 1988 and excursions continue to run on the lower portion of the original line. It is a lasting reminder of the Klondike Gold Rush era, when the feverish search for riches paved the way for the Yukon to join Confederation and made Canada one of the world’s leading gold producers; but the gold rush also irrevocably altered both the landscape and the lives of the Indigenous peoples who lived there. The legacy of the Klondike Gold Rush is complex, and the effects, both good and bad, are still being felt today.