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To an America still reeling from an economic depression and unemployment, the lure of gold was irresistible. Citizens from all walks of life quit their jobs, with 1,500 people departing for the gold fields in the first 10 days of the Klondike Gold Rush in the summer of 1897. The banks of the Yukon Territory’s Klondike River soon became crowded and people realized that gold may lie just over the border in Alaska.
A few “overlanders” elected to take the All-Canada route, a long, arduous journey from Edmonton, Alberta, to Dawson City, Yukon. Others chose the 3,000-mile journey by boat to the mouth of the Yukon River at St. Michael’s; this “rich man’s route” had the disadvantages of being costly, and the northern waters were frozen throughout much of the year. The “poor man’s route” was a shorter voyage up the inside passage of British Columbia and the Alaskan panhandle to Dyea or Skagway, over the Chilkoot Trail or White Pass. Fearing mass starvation, Canadian authorities soon required each person entering the Klondike to bring one year’s worth of supplies. Seattle prospered as a result, becoming the “Gateway to the Gold Fields.” 70% of would-be prospectors purchased their supplies in Seattle, and the town underwent booms in transportation and shipbuilding. Between 1890 and 1900, the city’s population nearly doubled.
Seeking a shorter route to the interior, prospectors bought into a scheme devised by the Pacific Steam Whaling Company, which ran a cannery at Orca Bay and a small trading station at Port Valdez. Pacific Steam brought fish from Orca Bay (modern Cordova) to Seattle year-round, and now saw the opportunity to supplement their income by bringing prospectors north, advertising an “All-America Route” from Valdez to the interior via the Valdez Glacier and Klutina River. Newspapers and outfitters collaborated in the advertisement of this route. Unfortunately for the prospectors, the All-America Route was neither as easy nor as profitable as advertised. Nevertheless, by March 1898, Valdez had sprung up into a tent city of 700-900 inhabitants.