Rush for Gold: The Klondike Gold Rush, 1897 is a 20-minute documentary, made in 1991, that provides an overview of a short but important episode in the history of Canada and the Yukon.
In this lesson, students will explore some of the social and cultural issues faced by prospectors and Aboriginal people in the Klondike. Stepping back in time, students will create advertising posters for a northern steamship company. Students will also work with a partner to decide which supplies they would need to carry into the region and to design a shelter from local materials.
Canadian Social Studies Themes in Rush for Gold
Rush for Gold can be used to address the following themes in Canadian Social Studies and Social Sciences curricula. The questions in the chart can stimulate classroom discussion or offer ideas for more research.
How does a resource discovery influence the local people?
What impact did technology have on the mining industry?
In what ways might the discovery of gold farther north, in Alaska, affect the Klondike?
What impact did this gold rush have on the Alaska boundary dispute between Canada and the United States?
Assessment and evaluation of the advertising poster in Activity 3 could be based on the student’s ability to discern the economic and social atmosphere in North America preceding the Klondike gold rush. The posters should show some understanding of the type of people who would be targeted by a steamship company’s advertising campaign and of the kinds of text and visuals that would be persuasive.
For students’ letter home in Activity 4, you may want to assess how well students recognize the dynamics of the Klondike gold rush and the multitudes of experiences that were part of the great “rush for gold.”
For Activity 6 (design your own cabin), you could evaluate the accompanying compositions. Have students listed the materials they would need? Have they explained how their shelter would be heated? Have they decided how they would store their food? Students need not be too specific in the design of their cabin; it is unrealistic to expect them to understand the technicalities of construction.
Rush for Gold shows the difficulties that prospectors faced while travelling long distances through mountain passes and along lakes and rivers, in the hope of finding gold.
This film highlights the influence of technology in this event. Entire towns were born in a matter of months, as thousands of miners sought to cash in their gold and seek entertainment and provisions after months or years in the wilderness. This frontier environment, coupled with the new prosperity that some miners enjoyed, also led to prostitution, gambling, alcohol abuse and even the rise of local gangsters.
Activities for Rush for Gold: The Klondike Gold Rush, 1897
ACTIVITY 1: Brainstorming Social Issues
You could introduce students to some of the social and cultural issues around the Klondike Gold Rush by asking them to brainstorm responses to the following questions. Note that you may first want to read students the brief background note (above).
What social issues do you think would accompany such a short and massive migration into a remote region such as the Klondike?
What difficulties would the hopeful gold miners face (for example, securing food, clothing and shelter)?
Who were the Aboriginal people living in the Klondike? How might an influx of miners affect the lifestyles and traditions of these people?
What were some misconceptions that miners might have upon leaving for the Klondike?
ACTIVITY 2: Tall Tales
As an introduction to a unit on the Klondike, you could read aloud a tall tale from an old prospector. You could also create a cross-curricular connection to Language Arts by asking students to write their own tall tales from the Klondike after watching Rush for Gold.
Here’s an example of a tall tale from the Canadiana Scrapbook:
A favorite yarn was that an old prospector was out picking blueberries and a bear attacked him. He reported: “I had no weapons of any kind and I had to run. I ran and ran, but the bear was right after me. I wondered if he would ever stop, but I ran and ran until I came to a river and there was ice on it. I slid across the ice and the bear slid after me, but he was heavier than I and he went through the ice.” One of his listeners said, “You said you were picking blueberries. That’s in the summer time and the ice is in winter.” “Sure,” said the prospector, “I ran all that time.”
W.R. Hamilton, “The Yukon Story,” p. 202, from Canadiana Scrapbook: The Great Klondike Gold Rush 1896-1904.
ACTIVITY 3: Advertising for Prospectors
After students have watched Rush for Gold, ask them to imagine they are the owner/operators of a steamship travelling north from San Francisco or Seattle to Skagway, one of the gateways to the Klondike. They are to create a poster to lure potential gold miners.
Since the poster is a kind of ad, have a discussion about persuasive language and other techniques used by advertisers. Students should think about some of the common misconceptions that many miners had upon embarking on their quest. Many believed that once they got to the Klondike, they would merely need to scoop gold out of the creeks and into their buckets.
With their poster, students should write a statement describing the reasoning behind their design.
ACTIVITY 4: Letter Home to Family
Present students with this scenario:
You are a gold miner living near a creek that flows into the Klondike River. You came to the area one and a half years ago after news that there was a huge gold deposit in the Klondike region. Before you left home, you had been unemployed and were finding it more and more difficult to support your family. Word has recently broken out in Dawson City that there is gold in Alaska and many men are deciding to head north. Write a letter to your family describing your experiences over the past year and a half and your future plans.
The aim is to make the scenario very open-ended, without too many details.
The students must bring their account to life using information they have gathered from the film or from their research. For example, one student might take on the role of a miner trapped inside a tiny makeshift cabin, while another person might be a miner has become very rich and opened a saloon in Dawson City.
ACTIVITY 5: Fifty Pounds of Supplies
In partners, students list the supplies that they would carry to the Klondike. According to the film, each miner was required by the Northwest Mounted Police to take all of his own provisions for one year because there was almost nothing available in the area.
Students should approach this task as a team of two to strategize how best to outfit themselves for survival. They should try to estimate the weight of each item in their list. They must also think about the clothes needed to travel by foot over mountain passes in very cold temperatures. What might they carry in their pockets? Every little item could make their life easier on the journey and later on.
Invite a few students to present their ideas to the class. Alternatively, students could make a chart showing the items, their weights and the reasons for including each item.
ACTIVITY 6: Design Your Own Cabin
Students doing this exercise must keep in mind that the early prospectors had very few tools, yet many industrious individuals managed to build shelters.
If you wish, give the class a brief overview of the ecology of the area and/or a presentation of photographs that show miners’ cabins.
Students can work alone or with a partner to design a rudimentary cabin. They should produce a floor plan that indicates what might be inside and the basic dimensions of the structure. Accompanying this blueprint should be a short composition that outlines the basic steps that they would need to take to construct such a building.
Let students know that their designs need not be too specific because it is unrealistic to expect them to understand the technicalities of construction. The composition should include a list of materials that would be needed, along with thoughts on how the building would be heated and how food would be stored.
Research the techniques used for panning for gold.
Compare the Klondike gold rush with the Cariboo gold rush.
Write a dialogue between two prospectors travelling through the Chilkoot Pass or White Pass.
Do research and write a short essay on the role of women in the Klondike gold rush.
Look at the effects of the Gold Rush on First Nations groups in the Klondike area.
Research common ailments of the 1890s and how they may have affected miners in the Klondike.