An Explorer's Guide to Atlin, British Columbia
This 4-page brochure, 5½ x 8½ inches in size, is undated but is probably from the late 1950s or early '60s.
They gathered from the length and breadth of the land. From all walks of life, from all stratas of society they came, lured remorselessly by the dull gleam of the new-found gold, with its attendant promise of wealth, security, the easing of strain, the abolition of worry. Among them were to be found bank clerks and gamblers and dance-hall girls. There were callow students and hardened thieves, remittance men with an air of devil-may-care nonchalance, and sourdoughs, hardened by the toil of previous years in other gold-fields, phlegmatic and grizzled. Gentlemen and ruffians rubbed shoulders and vied with one another for the best chance at the richest pickings. Vanity and pretension were swept aside. Manicured hands were roughened. Fine clothes became rags. Nobody noticed. All that mattered was the gold.
They swarmed up the coast to Skagway and followed the Dyea Trail. They trekked across the pitiless icefields from Juneau, or fought their way up the turbulent Stickine from Wrangell to Telegraph Creek, before accepting the challenge of the high country and moving overland. They slogged their way over tortuous mountain trails, through echoing canyons, their ears filled with the roar of boiling, white water. Ill-equipped, totally unprepared for the conditions they encountered, ten thousand men and women fought doggedly on, blind to the cruel splendor of the land they passed by, seeing only the beckoning gleam of the precious metal. Often men died where they fell beside the trail, their last conscious gesture to reach forth a frozen grasping hand towards where the gold lay. Many completed the trek and established themselves eventually on that spot on the eastern shore of Atlin Lake, where the village of Atlin stands today. The roaring community which they settled was sited only six miles from the goldfields discovered by Fritz Miller and Kenny McLaren in the month of February 1898. Thus was Atlin founded. The name was taken from the Indian dialect and means "Big Water".
Of this great throng, the majority were lured on to the more fabulous strikes in the Klondike. Many made the journey to the cities again, their pockets emptied, their clothes in rags, their souls despairing. The luckier ones remained to dig and sweat and to make their fortunes overnight, only to lose them equally as quickly in the bawdy saloons and gambling halls which sprang up in the wake of the miners. Survivors of this latter group are to be found in Atlin today, living quietly in the big country which they fought their way into, their minds occupied with the colorful memories of yesteryear.
Within living memory, the journey into Atlin occupied days, and sometimes weeks of exhausting travel. Today, the village is a short ninety-minute drive from Mile 868 on the Alaska Highway. The visitor makes his way over sixty miles of well-maintained gravel highway, excellently marked. Throughout the journey, his appetite is whetted by glimpses of breathtaking scenery, each view seeming more beautiful than the one seen previously. The view of the village of Atlin, neat and tidy, nestling against a backing of bright green and cooled by the sparkling waters of the great lake from which it takes its name is, in truth, a visitor's paradise. The splendour of the surrounding mountains serves only to enhance this effect.
Once arrived, the enthusiastic angler may troll for his lake trout on the largest body of water in British Columbia, or cast a fly over the surface of a mountain stream in a quest for Arctic grayling. The trout fisherman may safely anticipate fish weighing between ten and fifteen pounds, and be spurred on by the possibility of landing the big one which may run all the way up to the forty pound mark. If the fisherman prefers to try for grayling, the average fish varies in length from twelve to eighteen inches and will reside neatly in a large frying pan. For the camera fan, Atlin holds potential which will keep shutters clicking busily to provide an ever-green record of a memorable experience in the years to come.
In and around Atlin are many points of interest which the visitor will really want to see. A brief outline of some of these is provided in the hope that they will assist the visitor in planning his tour to his complete satisfaction.
On the outskirts of the village an interesting mineral spring may be found. It can be recognized by the small, open air shelter which is situated above its banks. The water possesses a strange, aerated flavour, and mixed with a little orange or lemon iuice and some sugar, provides a refreshing drink. A chemical analysis of the spring has shown it to contain a large variety of advantageous chemicals, and doctors have proclaimed the water to be of some medicinal value.
One mile to the north of the village is the old cemetery wherein a huge monument has been erected to the memory of the co-discoverers of Atlin, Fritz Miller and Kenny McLaren, who rest here quietly in the land they found. Here also are interred the remains of Paddy Burke, one of the originals of that famous group of bush pilots who opened up the north. Paddy was laid to rest in Atlin after he died in an airplane crash in the Liard River country. An adequate and fitting monument to the man and his profession may be seen in the old oaken propeller taken from his Junkers mail-plane.
South of Atlin, at a distance necessitating a leisurely, ten-minute walk along a well-defined trail is the Indian cemetery where the visitor may observe the old lndian graves with their little, traditional houses providing a place of rest for the spirits of the departed.
The visitor who desires to wander abroad from the village is strongly advised to take the easy half hour drive to the McKee Creek country, following the road south, along the lakeshore. The drive is scenic and beautiful, and at its end is a rewarding experience. It is here that the visitor may observe hydraulic gold-mining at close quarters. He will see men, in the endless quest for gold, tearing at the creek banks with huge jets of water. Arriving at an opportune time, the visitor may be fortunate enough to witness the "clean-up" when the gold, in its natural form, is removed from the sluice boxes. Leaving the McKee Creek mine and journeying south for a further five miles will bring the visitor to the Warm Springs, where the spring water fills a small pool. The temperature of the water remains constant throughout the year, and is comparable to the water temperature in a warm, indoor swimming pool. Two miles beyond the Warm Springs will be found the Grotto, where a small creek flows out of an apparently solid rock wall. Water cress grows in this creek in abundance. A public camping ground has been set up here for the convenience of visitors. In this neighborhood, and along the road are excellent vantage points from which can be seen the famous Llewellyn Glacier at a distance. This glacier extends from the southern end of Atlin Lake, through the high country to Juneau, Alaska. It is one of the largest ice fields on the North American continent.
The expression "ghost town" is one which can be guaranteed to arouse the curiosity of anybody who may hear it. Situated six miles to the east of Atlin, is a genuine ghost town, where the visitor may satisfy his curiosity to the full. It is the old town of Discovery, at one time called Pine City. lt is here, in Discovery, that the visitor may view Kenny McLaren's original cabin. Here also are the old water wheels which provided a power source for the mines. The visitor may wander at will through the empty shells of buildings which once echoed to the shouts of revellers and the strains of home-made music. All is silent now and forlorn, while over the community hangs an air of brooding sadness. In its hey-day, Discovery boasted a population of ten thousand persons. Today, but one remains.
Just beyond the old townsite, the visitor may try his hand at panning for gold with a good possibility of a fleck or two of the precious yellow metal showing up in the pan.
Six miles beyond Discovery the visitor comes to the outlet from Surprise Lake. Leaning over the old bridge above the creek, the angler may cast his fly for grayling. These fish are a rare delicacy and are most enjoyable when taken directly from the icy creek waters and placed into the frying pan. Tables, chairs and cooking fires are located at this spot for the convenience of our visitors.
Returning in the direction of Atlin, the visitor will notice a turn-off, halfway between Atlin and Discovery. Following this new road is a worthwhile experience. It leads to the Spruce Creek mining area from which an approximate total of twenty-five million dollars in gold has been taken from the ground. This value was mined along a four-mile length of the creek. Today the creek is being mined again. Men, working on shifts around the clock, are operating heavy machinery which digs deeply into the scarred earth, questing for the gold which the early miners missed. It is absorbing for the visitor to stand watching this equipment at work. One can remain, relaxed and at ease in the warmth of the sun, fascinated by the power of these leviathans, while the hours slip past, unnoticed.
All this, and much more indeed, awaits the visitor at Atlin, known with just cause as the Switzerland of North America.
On the outskirts of town, a free public camping ground has been provided for those of our visitors who desire to camp out or who have brought their own trailers. The campground is immediately adjacent to the lakeshore. For those visitors who wish to make use of the town's facilities, there is a hotel with a fully-appointed dining room. Cabins are also available on a daily or weekly basis. Atlin is served by two fully-stocked grocery stores, a dry goods store, two restaurants, a Government Liquor Store, Post Office, Telegraph Office, and a Gold Commissioner's and Land Recording Office. To cater for any possible emergencies, there is a Canadian Red Cross Outpost Hospital, a Royal Canadian Mounted Police Detachment and a Charter Flying Service, operating De Havilland Beaver seaplanes. For visitors desirous of making use of water-borne facilities there is a water taxi service.
As a possible means of assistance to our visitors who are planning an all-inclusive sightseeing tour of the country along the Trail of '98, and who are journeying either up or down the Alaska Highway, the following "Triangle" tour is suggested. Using Whitehorse as either a jumping-off point or a terminus, visit Atlin and District with its many fascinating, historical relics of the "Goldrush" days. Leaving Atlin, a visit to Carcross - one time Caribou Crossing - in the Yukon Territory is a must. Carcross enjoyed fame as the railhead in the old days before the White Pass system was extended to Whitehorse. It was from this point that the miners heading for the Klondike Goldfields prepared their river-craft for the last stage of their journeyings from the Outside. At Carcross there can be seen many fascinating relics of the days when the community served as the "Head of Steel". Using Atlin, Carcross and Whitehorse as the focal points of the triangle, the visitor may be assured of an exciting and thoroughly rewarding tour.
Those of our visitors who may require further information on arrival in Atlin are cordially invited to call into any place of business, or ask the first person they may meet on the street. We appreciate having you come to see us, and it is our earnest wish that your stay should be both pleasant and rewarding.