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An Explorer's Guide to Silver City (Kluane), Yukon

by Murray Lundberg

A Guide to the Alaska Highway

Explorer's Guides to Northern Communities

    About 3.4 kilometers (2 miles) down a gravel road heading north towards Kluane Lake at Km 1635.8 of the Alaska Highway sits the largest ghost town in the Yukon. It is on private property, and decades ago it was going to be restored as a theme park, but that never happened, and slowly but surely the town is disappearing as the buildings crumble and Mother Nature reclaims the site.

    A sign at the Kluane Lake viewpoint at Km 1635 gives a brief summary of Silver City's history:

    The Kluane Lake area was the site of a short-lived gold rush in the early 1900s. Dawson Charlie, one of the discoverers of gold in the Klondike, staked the first claim on 4th of July Creek in the summer of 1903. By the end of that year 2,000 claims had been staked in the Kluane region.
    The North-West Mounted Police (NWMP) followed closely behind the prospectors, setting up summer detachments in canvas tents on Ruby Creek, Bullion Creek and Pine Creek in 1904. A permanent detachment was established at the outlet of Silver Creek where a small community, called Kluane or Silver City had sprung up. The NWMP barracks, a district mining office and a post office were among the buildings in the new community.
    The Southern Tutchone, who were constant travellers, had a network of trails throughout the area. When roads began to be developed in the territory, these trails often provided the route to follow.
    Silver City was the terminus of a trail between Whitehorse and Kluane Lake. The trail was upgraded to a wagon road in 1904 to serve area miners.
    The first optimism about rich findings was deflated by low returns. By 1914, less than $40,000 of gold had been taken from the creeks, while one hydraulic mining company alone had spent more than $300,000 on buildings and equipment in hopes of striking it rich. Louis Jacquot is believed to have taken the largest single consignment of gold from the Burwash area: 220 ounces then valued at about $4,000.
    Louis Jacquot and his brother Eugene had established a trading post at Jacquot's (Burwash) Landing in 1904. Freight for the post, near the north end of the lake, was brought from Whitehorse by road as far as Silver City and then taken down Kluane Lake to Burwash Landing.
    The Jacquots also worked as big game outfitters in the Kluane Lake area from the 1920s to the 1940s. The road between Whitehorse and Kluane Lake was improved again in 1923 to serve the new boom of tourists who spent $2000 to $3000 each for a 30-40 day hunt. In 1942, when the Alaska Highway was constructed, it followed much of the route of the original road.

    Kluane First Nation people used to live much of the year at the mouth of Silver Creek, a location they called Män Shìí'aya ("where the lake branches off") near the present site of the Kluane Lake Research Station.

    Silver City began because of its location at the end of the wagon road from Whitehorse - from there, goods were transported by boat. The original name was soon changed to Kluane to avoid confusion with another Silver City on the White River, but the original name eventually came back into use. Kluane's creeks did not produce much gold, however, and Silver City was gradually abandoned, with the post office closing in 1921.

    During construction of the Alaska Highway in 1942, a large camp was built at Silver City for the same reason the community was established originally - from here, equipment and materials were transferred to boats and barges.

    In November 1951, 40 Canadian and American soldiers began building a 500-person camp at Silver City for a 6-month-long training exercise for Army Engineers. The exercise, called "Eager Beaver," began in January 1952. The most visible project built during the exercise was the airfield that is still used today.

    In 1952, the townsite was purchased by Martin Victor of Fairbanks, Alaska. Twenty years later, the Rev. Henk Huybers of Burwash Landing tried to buy it for a historical society he had formed, but Victor said that he was going to restore it as a tourist attraction. Read a Vancouver Sun article about that planned 1972 purchase here. The planned private restoration of the ghost town, however, never happened.

    Flooding along Silver Creek starting on July 22, 1988, did extensive damage in Silver City and closed the Alaska Highway for 3½ days.

    A historic milepost marker, a NWHS sign and a large wooden interpretive panel were installed by the side of the access road into Silver City in 1992 as part of the 50th anniversary of highway construction. Because Silver City is still on privately-owned land, no detailed research on the buildings in the townsite seems to have been done, although in 1997, a $9,000 grant allowed for some work. Perhaps because of possible legal issues, the interpretive sign was removed in 2001.

Historic Documents:

  • August 12, 1912: application by Mr. Walter Alexander Lamb for 5 acres of land near Silver Creek and on the wagon road to Whitehorse, to build a roadhouse.

  • April 14, 1913: Walter Lamb withdraws his application for the 5 acres, having sold 4 acres and the road house to Archibald D. MacLennan. Lamb also states that he will be applying for the remaining 1 acre, where his uncle Jospehus Lamb, is buried.

  • June 2, 1913: Archibald Duncan MacLennan applies for the 4 acres of land bought from Walter Lamb.

  • March 21,1934: a letter from the Dominion Lands Board to the Yukon Crown Timber and Land Agent requests information on the status of A. D. MacLennan's application for the 4 acres of land.

Click on the images below to enlarge them

Silver City, Yukon, in 1922
The seasonal First Nation camp Män Shìí'aya, immediately west of Silver City, in the Spring of 1922 (Yukon Archives, Claude and Mary Tidd fonds #7220).

Silver City, Yukon, in 1943
This postcard with a 1943 photo was distributed by Provincial News of Edmonton - the caption reads:
An old Indian village, at Kluane Lake, somewhat augmented by U.S. Army tents, on the Alaska Highway.
Approved by Northwest Service Command, U.S. Army.
WIB photo.

Silver City, Yukon in about 1944
Silver City in about 1944 (Yukon Archives, Robert Hays fonds #5707). Most of the buildings shown in the photo are still standing in various states of ruin, and form the heart of the current ghost town. An Army vehicle is raising dust as it veers off the Alaska Highway towards the military camp on the beach.

Silver City, Yukon in about 1965
Silver City in about 1965 (photo by the late Alastair Findlay).

Silver City, Yukon in July 1991
This photo from July 1991 was taken from the ridge above the ghost town, the same location as the 1944 one above. The complex of buildings on the right was a fox farm in the 1920s.

Silver City, Yukon, on July 28, 2004
An abandoned tent restaurant in the ghost town on July 28, 2004

Fox farm at Silver City, Yukon, in 2004
The ruins of the rear part of the fox farm on July 28, 2004.

Silver City, Yukon
August 18, 2004

Silver City, Yukon
A panorama of the northern section of the site, from the ridge above it on August 18, 2004.

Silver City, Yukon
I had no passengers on my tour bus when I stopped for a long look at the site on August 18, 2004.

Silver Creek, Yukon
Silver Creek as seen looking downstream from the Alaska Highway on May 21, 2011. Flooding of Silver Creek since about 1995 has been responsible for much of the damage at Silver City.

Photographer at Silver City, Yukon, in 2012
My final stop at Silver City with a tour group was on August 11, 2012, when I had a group from Road Scholar.

Silver City, Yukon
February 25, 2013

Silver City, Yukon
February 25, 2013

Silver City, Yukon
On the ridge above the site is a memorial which reads:

These Four Crosses Mark The Graves Of Those Listed Below
Josephus Lamb: 1867 - July 28, 1911
Charles L. Haydon, Son: Aug. 29, 1921 - Jan. 18, 1942
Horace J. Haydon, Father: 1868 - Sept. 15, 1948
Annie Haydon, Mother: June 23, 1885 - Oct. 13, 1950 Courtesy of the Brian Williams Memorial Fund and Sidrock, 1996

When we visited the site on July 26, 2015, we were unable to find any crosses.

Annie Haydon shot her husband John (Haydon) in self defence, and was acquitted in court. See related articles here.

Silver City, Yukon
The ruins of one of the few buildings left at the Army camp for the construction of the Alaska Highway in 1942-43, as it looked on July 26, 2015.

Silver City, Yukon
July 26, 2015.

Fox farm at Silver City, Yukon, in 2015
The front part of the fox farm complex on July 26, 2015.

Fox farm at Silver City, Yukon
The fence along the rear of the fox farm on July 26, 2015.

Fox farm at Silver City, Yukon
One of the fox pen buildings, on July 26, 2015. Each pen was lined with galvanized tin to prevent the foxes from chewing their way to freedom.

Fox farm at Silver City, Yukon
A closer look at some of the fox pens, on July 26, 2015.

Silver City, Yukon
July 26, 2015

Silver City, Yukon
July 26, 2015

Silver City, Yukon
July 26, 2015