Impact of the Gold Rush
Ages 14-16

MysteryQuest 24

Impact of the Gold Rush

Author: Warren Woytuck

Series Editor: Roland Case

A critical thinking challenge for students, ages 14–16

Return to top of page

On August 16, 1896, a few kilometres east of the present town of Dawson on a creek that flowed into the Klondike River, a prospector turned over a rock and found gold as “thick as cheese.” This discovery launched one of the greatest gold rushes in world history.

What made the Klondike Gold Rush particularly dramatic was the tremendous amount of gold that was found. Hundreds of millions of dollars of gold were taken out of the ground, first by individual miners working mostly by hand, and then by corporations using large machines. The chance of sudden wealth lured thousands of men and women to this remote part of the continent. In the course of a few months, Dawson changed from a mudflat to the largest town in Canada west of Winnipeg, with all sorts of modern facilities — including electricity and a telephone system.

The Klondike Gold Rush prompted many notable changes. From changing the course of development in the Yukon to influencing traditional First Nations societies and impacting the economic well-being of individuals and businesses, the Gold Rush was one of the most notable events in the history of Canada. Though such changes have been well-documented, the unanswered question is which changes had the most significant impact on conditions in the area?

Return to top of page

In this MysteryQuest, you are invited to assess the impact of changes that occurred during the Klondike Gold Rush. Was gold and the subsequent increase in the wealth of individuals and businesses the most significant aspect of this event? Perhaps the rapid influx of people and the accompanying social changes had the greatest impact? Or maybe the most significant impacts affected the environment, caused by development and population growth?

Before ranking the impact of changes in three areas — economic, social, and environmental — you will need to learn more about the Gold Rush and its effects. After considering the criteria for identifying a significant impact, you will gather evidence from historical documents about the economic, social, or environmental changes associated with the Klondike Gold Rush. Finally, you will decide which of these is the first, second, and third most significant areas of change and justify your conclusions.

Return to top of page

STEP 1: Learn about the Gold Rush

Learn more about the change brought on by the Gold Rush by reading two documents in the Secondary Sources section of Evidence in the Case:

STEP 2: Explore various kinds of changes

Reflect upon your community: what event has caused the greatest change during the last year? Perhaps it was a new megastore, changes in the physical environment, or a serious storm. What was the community like before this event? What is it like after the event? How has this event affected various areas of community life:

  • Economic changes include the paid jobs people do, how much money people have, and the goods and services that might be available. For example, if a new megastore opened in your community, the economic changes might include more jobs, a greater selection of products, cheaper prices, and possibly the closure of existing smaller stores that could not compete with the megastore.
  • Social changes include crime rates, number of people, and relationships among people. For example, if a new megastore opened in your community, there might be more traffic, more people moving to the community, and strained relationships between supporters and opponents of the new store.
  • Environmental changes include air, water and soil quality, and people’s relationship with the environment. For example, building a new megastore might result in the loss of natural spaces that serve as home to birds or other animals, and increased traffic might affect the air quality and increase the noise levels.

STEP 3: Look for evidence of change

On your own or with a partner, examine the following five documents:

As you read the documents, look for evidence of economic, social, and environmental changes associated with the Gold Rush. Use Comparing Conditions to record details about life in the Klondike before and after the Gold Rush and to indicate the major changes that occurred. Refer to the questions found in the left-hand column to guide your reading of the documents. For example, as you read the first newspaper article, ask yourself whether the character was rich or poor before and after the Gold Rush.

STEP 4: Identify criteria for assessing impact

After examining the documents for details of life before and after the Gold Rush, you are now ready to consider the impact of these changes. The impact of an event is determined by various factors:

  • Breadth of impact — How many people or how widely felt are the effects of a change? For example, if a new store opens in your community and only three new jobs are created, the scope is rather limited. On the other hand, a new store that creates hundreds of new jobs will affect many people.
  • Depth of impact — How major or dramatic are the differences caused by the changes? For example, if a store introduces a product that no one really needs (e.g., a new kind of paperclip), the depth of the impact on people’s lives would be limited. However, if a store introduces cheap, healthy food to a community that is undernourished, the changes in people’s eating habits and health are potentially significant.
  • Duration of impact — What is the length of time for which the effects are felt? For example, if a store sells a product that lasts for only a few days (e.g., fresh cut flowers, ice cubes), the impact is of limited duration. On the other hand, if a store sells a product that is useful for many years (e.g., dried flowers, fridges), the impact might be long-lasting.

STEP 5: Rank order the degree of impact

When you have explored each of the areas of change and have noted the major changes in each area, you are ready to rank order the impact to determine which type of change was the most significant. Use Ranking the Impact to rank order the changes. Consider all of the evidence you noted on Comparing Conditions and the three criteria for determining the significance of an impact. Which of the three areas of change should be ranked as the most significant? Remember that it may not be the number of changes that determines the impact. Instead, consider the breadth, depth, and duration of the impact of these changes.

Return to top of page

The evaluation rubric Assessing the Evidence about Changes may be used to assess your ability to identify relevant evidence about conditions before and after the Gold Rush and to identify the major changes resulting from this event.

The evaluation rubric Assessing the Rankings may be used to assess your success in providing plausible explanations for the assigned ranking of the changes associated with the Klondike Gold Rush.

Return to top of page

Consider the perspectives of others
The impact of events can vary according to the perspective of an individual or group. Would the following individuals agree on the most significant impact of the Klondike Gold Rush?

  • a First Nations person who lived in the area but did not join in the rush;
  • a prospector leaving Dawson after not discovering gold in 1898;
  • the mayor of Dawson in 1954;
  • the president of a mining corporation in 1897;
  • the owner of a Dawson grocery store in the summer of 1899.

After considering the information in the Aftermath, re-rank the three areas of change from each of these five perspectives.

Examine other documents
Locate other documents in Archives that provide evidence about other changes resulting from the Klondike Gold Rush.

Explore other challenges
Apply your detective skills to other mysteries associated with the Klondike Gold Rush:

  • MysteryQuest 22 challenges you to determine who should receive credit for the discovery of gold in the Klondike;
  • MysteryQuest 23 invites you to make a recommendation to a family member about travelling to the Klondike to look for work.

Return to top of page

Activity Sheet: Comparing Conditions

Activity Sheet: Ranking the Impact

Return to top of page

Secondary Sources

A History of Gold Rushes


K.S. Coates and W.R. Morrison, After the Gold Rush (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005), pp. 118–119 and 149–151

Primary Sources


George M. Dawson, Historical Notes on the Yukon District (Toronto: University of Toronto, 1898), pp. 15–16

Newspaper articles

n/a, Klondike Discoverer Dies in Poverty, New York Times, September 2, 1916

Unknown, Returning Adventurers, New York Times, August 31, 1898

Ken Spotswood, Yukon Indians and the Gold Rush, February 27, 1998