How everyday people defy the norms and change the course of history: Remembering the Klondike Gold Rush

Aug 16, 2019, 09:32 AM by Denali 

gold prospector

Nothing changes when you stay in your comfort zone. Sometimes making a difference means doing away with the old and taking the leap into the great unknown.

One hundred twenty-three years ago today, gold was discovered in the Klondike river, resulting in a rush of nearly 100,000 people hoping to find their fortune in Alaska and Canada. These men defied the ordinary, leaving the comfort and security of common jobs for the belief that there was more to life. Something greater, somewhere better. Their decisions over a century ago have allowed our region to flourish and become a beacon to others who’s dreams also break the mold.

A dream, a vision, a way: The rush to riches in the North

Not knowing what to expect, but enticed by the promise of riches and adventure, thousands of men from all walks of life headed North toward the Yukon Territory. You probably wouldn’t notice anything special about the bunch by looking at them—on the outside they were just average people. But on the inside, they had one thing in common: a burning desire to strike it rich.

It was that deeply rooted determination that caused so many to make made the grueling journey through remote mountain terrain—carving their path in untamed territory, risking their lives in frigid weather, getting by with little food– all in hopes of finding their fortunes once they arrived.

Through it all, they held out hope. The harsh conditions and lack of law would have been off-putting to many, but for this rugged bunch, it meant freedom. Nobody to tell them what to do, and if they found what they wanted, they could do anything.

The journey was worth the risk.

The power of forging your own path

Not all who started the trip made it to their destination, and of those who did, few actually struck it rich. Yet, the ones who stayed managed to use their ingenuity to prosper in another way. They saw an untapped opportunity in the booming towns and quickly got to work opening businesses. Men who once dreamed of finding riches in gold wound up making their fortunes managing shops, restaurants, stores, and banks for the steady stream of miners that continued to trickle in.

The resulting economic boom not only put the Yukon Territory and local Alaskan cities on the map, but also helped pull the United States out of a depression—leaving a permanent mark on history. 

A long-lasting legacy

The stories of the gold rush have been passed down through generations, captivating all who they were told and becoming a legend that still inspires many Alaskans today.

Each year in the city of Valdez, there is a five-day festival held to honor the legacy of Alaska and celebrate the future. With parades, family events, open markets, the Gold Rush Days are highly anticipated each year and enjoyed by all in the community.

A similar event is held in Juneau. Juneau Gold Rush Days are held in June to inform the community about the mining and logging industry that boomed as a result of the gold rush, and to remember the lively past of Alaska.

You work hard, so we work hard for you.

Since the earliest days, Alaskans have been different: hard-working, tough, and fiercely independent.

The kind of people who will drop everything to pursue their dream. You might not be starting a long and difficult journey in hopes of finding gold, but you might be planning your own wilderness adventure, taking the risk in buying your first home, or watching your child take their first steps into the uncertain world of adulthood.

No matter what your future holds, we’ll support you in it. We were founded with people like you in mind, and we refuse to settle for anything less than extraordinary.

To find out more about our history, click here.