Hollywood in the Klondike

Dawson City’s Great Film Find

Reviewed by Kylie Nicolajsen

Posted March 12, 2023

A remarkable find in 1978 in Dawson City, Yukon — silver screen relics worth their weight in gold to film and history buffs alike — sets the scene for Hollywood in the Klondike.

Author and Yukon story laureate Michael Gates recalls how a hoard of permafrost-protected films was found beneath a demolished skating rink more than forty years ago. Some ninety hours of highly unstable silent-era nitrate film was carefully excavated, transported, and then painstakingly restored — often being copied a single frame at a time.

Regarding how such a unique discovery was possible, Hollywood in the Klondike mines the entertainment history of Dawson City — from the peak of the Klondike gold rush during the late 1890s to the decades of decline that followed. Gates uncovered valuable nuggets of historical context, including archival photographs, newspapers, and letters associated with the names and lives of myriad theatre and screen performers and proprietors.

His book gives a sense of how Hollywood and the Klondike influenced and overlapped with one another — with people, ideas, and innovations coming and going in a “make-it-or-break-it” fashion befitting the two realms of sought-after opportunities.

Gates writes that “nobody could realize what an impact these rusty, buried reels would have on the film world,” and he credits the finding of these films with having ushered in an era of renewed interest in the northern community as a location of historical significance.

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This article originally appeared in the April-May 2023 issue of Canada’s History.

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